Why Chicago Needs a New BMA-type Group

Why Chicago Needs a New BMA-type Group

Gary Slack | November 30, 2017

My plan to launch a 21st-century alternative to the inexplicably inactive Business Marketing Association.

It was 95 years ago that b2b publishing giant G.D. Crain and an unheralded group of mostly “industrial marketers” assembled in Milwaukee to form the National Industrial Marketing Association, the forerunner to the long-lived Business Marketing Association, or BMA.

Three years ago, an acquisitive Association of National Advertisers, or ANA, swallowed up BMA and more recently renamed it “ANA Business Marketing”—three modifiers in search of a noun.

The former BMA and, with exceptions, its 20 or so chapters have not fared well under ANA ownership, IMHO. As a past national BMA board and executive committee member, an early booster of combining forces with ANA and then fairly quickly the transaction’s most vocal critic, I deeply miss what has been lost.

The Chicago BMA chapter has a long and storied history, and I am proud to have played a role (president from 2001–03 and again in 2007) in some of its most vibrant years from 2001–2015, during which time our monthly luncheon programs drew a who’s who of marketers from around the world.

Unfortunately, even though b2b marketing today is hotter than ever and with Chicago widely seen as the center of the b2b marketing universe, the BMA chapter has faltered over the past two years.

Hard to believe, but it has had relatively few true b2b speakers, no luncheons since last May, none announced for this winter and spring, no more night-before speaker dinners, no more Tower Awards (once one of the top b2b marketing competitions) and very little if any member communications. Oh, one or two YP events.

The huge and vibrant Chicago b2b community is too big and important for b2b marketing leaders, including many concerned current BMA chapter board members, to let it die on the vine, which it is doing—due in part to paralysis caused or influenced by the ANA.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and after two years of helplessly watching the chapter’s—and national BMA’s—death spiral and seeing nothing in the works for 2018, I have decided to create a BMA alternative, initially just for Chicago.

Still unnamed, it will be launched Q1 2018 with a March 6 luncheon program featuring a terrific b2b speaker at a TBA Chicago venue—doing what BMA used to do best, providing great professional development and networking.

I think I have a pretty good tagline, though—“Be More.” If you have, and want to donate, a better tagline and even a possible name or two for our fledgling organization, please email me. If we pick your name or tagline, you’ll get half a year of free luncheons!

The “new BMA” will not be a dues-based organization, at least initially, but one funded entirely by event fees and sponsors. So, no budgeting for hard-to-justify dues—just fees for killer events. And discounts on full tables.

Like BMA and unlike ANA, it will be a “big tent” organization and a society, if you will, of individual marketers, not a trade association. It will be led, overseen and peopled by b2b marketing professionals in large corporations, middle-market companies, small businesses, tech start-ups, leading b2b agencies and marketing technology, media and other services providers.

The group will be fiercely independent—no ANA involvement, no sponsor dictators—with one purpose: to serve as a community for Chicago-area b2b marketers. Over time, events may expand beyond monthly luncheons and may even include a large multiday conference. But getting monthly luncheons back on track is job number one.

I say a national conference because ANA has regrettably permitted what once was BMA’s crown jewel—its annual global conference attracting 1,000-plus b2b marketers from all over the world—to atrophy. The now ANA-led conference dropped to just 600 people in 2016 and around 500 in 2017.

We will, though, immediately resume night-before luncheon speaker dinners and run the luncheons every month of the year. Our goal will be to attract 250 people to every luncheon. Hey, we’ve done it before—503, 416 and 303 people were at three luncheons in our earlier glory years.

The “new BMA” will have an advisory board—being formed now—that will meet for the first time in mid-December to help plan the year ahead. The group will be a 60-40 mix of Chicago-area b2b CMOs/VPs of Marketing and leaders of top b2b agencies and other services providers.

To stay up-to-date on news about Chicago’s “new BMA,” please click “reply” here. In the meantime, please save Tuesday, March 6, on your calendar for our first luncheon event.

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