How Chartered status can supercharge professional membership bodies

Could the royal seal of approval transform your membership body? We spoke to Keven Bader, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys (CITMA), to find out

In short

  • Chartered status is regarded as a real badge of quality by the public and businesses, and great for members
  • Pick your timing. Don’t underestimate how long it takes to get a petition through
  • Don’t forget the change in branding that comes with changing your name

Will a Royal Charter make your professional membership organisation more successful? According to PARN’s Financial Benchmarking for Professional Bodies research (2014-15), the answer is an emphatic “yes”.

Organisations with a Royal Charter (24% of its sample) had on average 3.7 times the total income of organisations without one and 2.5 times as many members. Interestingly, although these organisations had larger member numbers, subscription income accounted for a smaller proportion of revenue. Instead, income is increasingly coming from commercial activities, and work in consultancy, research, business development and special projects, most likely driven by the selling power and authority that comes with the chartered “brand”.

Taking the plunge
The Law Society received its first Royal Charter in 1831, while the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) earned the right to that name in 1891. So why in 2014, and with 80 years under its belt, did the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys decide to petition for its own Royal Charter?

The number-one reason, says Keven Bader, was for its members: “Ultimately, we wanted the term Chartered Trade Mark Attorney to be recognised as a badge of quality by the public and businesses. People understand about Chartered Accountants, Chartered Surveyors and Chartered Patent Attorneys – there was no reason why Trade Mark Attorneys shouldn’t be seen in the same light, especially in the specialist area of intellectual property.

“Yes we have regulation of the profession through the Intellectual Property Regulation Board (IPReg), but having ‘Chartered’ in the title automatically gives a member of the public or a business confidence that it is dealing with someone suitable, who will provide them with a good level of service. The Royal Charter is a seal of quality and trust.”

Yet, Keven continues, it was recognised that there are advantages for the organisation as well. For one thing, it gives a platform from which CITMA can build its influencing abilities and gain a stronger voice. For another, it gives the organisation a chance to showcase the work that it has done to professionalise and unify trade mark practitioners.

Climate change
What was incredibly important was that the political climate seemed right. The idea of a Charter application had been approached a few times before, but in 2014, as Keven puts it: “The planets aligned for us.” In order for a petition to be successful one of the important things is to have the general support of other similar organisations, and relationships with CIPA and others in the sector have recently been at their strongest and most positive. Feedback from informal conversations with the key players was good, which gave the ITMA team the impetus and confidence to proceed with the petition.

Although of course CITMA can’t know the ins and outs of the conversations that went on between the Privy Council and its advisors, recent collaborations with the UK IPO on an IP information roadshow, a revitalised programme of free advice clinics, and the launch of an IP Pro Bono scheme are likely to have played into the ultimate decision, since a big driver for the Charter is public interest. CITMA includes a provision in its Charter to make a commitment to service and access initiatives, and Keven points out that any organisation thinking of going down the Charter route needs to think whether it has the capacity to do more in those public interest areas.

Expect to work
From a process point of view, CITMA has gone through a bit more than other organisations, confides Keven, whose duties just before the big Charter launch reception on 23 November 2016 suddenly included cutting down the precious vellum document so that it would fit its display case. (“Someone had to do it.”) There was also a delay in the printing of the document, which led to some nail-biting moments.

And, overall, Keven admits to being surprised by the huge amount of time needed to see the petition through (two years), to liaise with the Privy Council and to draft a new constitution and bye-laws, which was a challenge for such a small organisation. Any organisation thinking about a petition needs to look at what resource it has from a financial perspective but also in terms of people, Keven advises. Don’t underestimate how much effort is involved.

Adding to the workload was the decision to update the brand and logo. Not everyone will go through that much change, says Keven, but “for our organisation the Charter provided that one-off opportunity to really push our organisation forward, realign what we stand for and how we serve the public and our members”.

Communication campaign
To communicate this landmark achievement to members, regular updates were emailed and included in the members’ magazine, ITMA Review, all along the way. The official launch day then saw the mailing of a special Royal Charter issue of a redesigned CITMA Review, giving details of the petition process, how to use the Chartered title and reviewing the organisation’s historical highlights. The launch event was also featured in the next issue, mailed just two weeks later. Alongside this, an external PR campaign ensured that the entire legal community and public were made aware of the achievement.

The move was particularly important in the light of Brexit, which Keven says “is the biggest challenge we face in terms of ensuring the profession continues to be seen in a positive light”. In emerging markets like China, CITMA can use its new Chartered status to energise the work it has already begun doing. It will also help attorneys communicate that, despite the shadow of Brexit, it’s business as usual: “The fact that we’ve got the Charter is another string to our bow in terms of sending out a positive message.”

In the end, it was a steep learning curve with some surprising twists “but we got there,” concludes Keven “and we can laugh about it now”. What remains, he says, is to take stock, let the huge achievement sink in, and then continue helping members to spread the word about their new status.

CITMA in brief:
  • Founded in 1934
  • Represents the interests of 1,500 trade mark and design professionals, including Chartered Trade Mark Attorneys, those in training and support roles, and barristers and solicitors with a trade mark or design interest working in the UK and overseas.
  • Head office in London, with regional events for members in Wales, Scotland, The Midlands, Bristol, Manchester and Leeds.

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