APCO’S ‘TradeMarks’ Study: COVID-19 Bump Fades; Manufacturing Trade Associations Seize the Moment

October 18, 2023

Washington – October 19, 2023: After a record-setting year in 2021 was followed by a decline in perceived policy effectiveness in 2022, Washington, D.C., policy leaders believe trade associations are having an even tougher time advocating for their members and industries in 2023. However, trade associations in the manufacturing sector, particularly, are viewed as being effective in getting results, according to an APCO Worldwide survey of policy leaders in Washington released today.

The ninth edition of APCO’s TradeMarks study reveals the landscape in which trade associations are operating and assesses the impact associations are having with their policy work.

COVID-19 Bump Fades

Collectively, the 50 trade associations assessed by policy leaders in 2023 recorded an aggregate TradeMarks Index (TMI)—APCO’s proprietary policy effectiveness score—of 67.7 on a 0-100 scale.

With the return of the study in 2021 following a break due to COVID-19, policy leaders applauded the way trade associations had navigated the pandemic and adapted to a virtual lobbying and representation environment by giving the collection of trade associations rated an aggregate TMI rating of 69.6—the highest rating ever granted, and more than three points higher than the prior highwater mark of 66.3 recorded in 2019.

One year later, the overall TMI had slid to 68.1 and 2023 sees a continued slippage to 67.7. While this rating still exceeds the prior high in 2019 (66.3), it does suggest perceptions may be returning to pre-COVID levels. Part of this decline may stem from the fact that there once again is a divided government and that many more policy issues are being debated at the state level.

Manufacturing Sector Seizes the Moment

According to policy leaders, manufacturing, financial services and technology associations are delivering effective policy outcomes for their industries. These three sectors stand out among the eight tracked, with manufacturing (TMI = 70.7) rising to the top after advancing to the third spot last year (68.8).

“This year’s findings confirm that the U.S. manufacturing sector has seized their moment, as we have seen this sector’s perceived effectiveness rise from the least effective in 2021 to third last year and now topping the list,” said Bill Dalbec, the study’s principal investigator and managing director for APCO Insight, the global research, analytics and measurement practice at APCO. “While manufacturers stand to gain from last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, their associations are collectively doing an excellent job of communicating the value of domestic production in an increasingly complex geopolitical environment. They show strengths in making a difference at the state and local levels, building strong bipartisan relationships throughout Washington and speaking with a unified voice.”

The financial services sector demonstrates particular strength in lobbying and bringing the voice of members into their work, while the technology sector is relying on lobbying and industry reputation campaigns to help them navigate the bipartisan fire they have drawn in recent years.

Membership in the Spotlight

Previous TradeMarks studies have shown that the first year of a Congress is the ideal time for trade associations to identify and build relationships with key players for their industry across all aspects of government and this year’s results confirm the importance of doing so.

Now that Congress has fully reopened its campus, the 2023 study reveals one way to identify and build key relationships is by bringing a varied set of association members into the policy conversation and speaking with a unified voice. Bipartisanship is also valued.

“Washington thrives on information and our research indicates it is more important than before to have that information delivered by association members and stakeholders,” said Courtney Crowder, North America chair of advocacy and managing director of APCO’s Washington, D.C., office. “Our study shows that the divisions within government, whether between the White House, Senate and House or tension within the Democratic and Republican caucuses, means associations need to bring a set of bipartisan and diverse stakeholders to meetings, events and interactions to ensure that all perspectives are represented yet aligned on a singular message crafted around the ask before policy makers.”

Top Performers Revealed

This year, eight different associations were identified as top performers, including two each from the technology, financial services and business & retail sectors. The top-ranked association for each characteristic is listed below.

TradeMarks 2023 Top Associations by Characteristic

About the Study

The 2023 TradeMarks study surveyed more than 300 policy leaders in Washington—congressional staff, executive branch officials and private sector executives—to measure perceived performance on 15 characteristics that make an association an effective public policy advocate in the eyes of its key stakeholders. The study was conducted in July and August 2023.

For more information on the TradeMarks study, visit

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