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Association Bisnow
December 11, 2007

Associations on Hunt for “Advocacy Personnel”

As the ’08 elections approach, associations are gearing up for political changes.  (Health care, anyone?)  Denise Grant, a key Russell Reynolds specialist in association searches, sees a growing number of clients looking for new legislative advocates—and they’re aiming for top-drawer talent. We interviewed the interviewer.

Denise got introduced to the association world as an Assistant General Counsel with the Chemical Manufacturers Association.  She’s also served as counsel to Sen. Mitch McConnell from her home state of Kentucky.  Denise let us in on a secret:  Churchill Downs may be the site of the Kentucky Derby, but natives prefer to watch thoroughbred racing at the Keeneland racetrack.  

Denise says that associations are competing more than ever with the private sector for very top talent.  Why?  Gone are the days of companies joining associations “out of routine.”  Members want to be sure they’re getting value in return for their dues in tightening economic times, she says.  And  associations are taking on more sophisticated roles, especially in advocacy.  Member companies are often happy to let associations take the lead on policy issues, which can protect them from “being singled out by the media or regulators” for a controversial stance.  Denise notes that associations have also ratcheted up their compensation—and also offer intangible “lifestyle” benefits that are making them a more attractive environment for the best talent.

Denise contemplated our most annoying question:  “What’s your greatest weakness?”  Apparently, some people actually know how to answer that one; in the past year, Denise has found winning candidates to head the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, Manufactured Housing Institute, and the new Private Equity Council

Denise sells her candidates on the growing importance of associations in the advocacy realm, the chance to be the voice of an entire industry, and interesting aspects of association work like shaping image campaigns.  In return, she says top candidates want to know that they will truly have authority to take on the most significant public policy issues (rather than “being sidelined if the members can’t agree on positions”).  They also want to be sure board members are aligned on the association’s mission.  Working with a board at cross-purposes with each other “can handicap and even kill a person’s chance of success at an association—people have seen it happen to others and don’t want it to happen to them.”

Reznick Group
Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center
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