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Learn about the factors that determine trade association effectiveness in the United States

What is TradeMarks?

TradeMarks is a research study which helps trade associations measure the extent to which policy leaders believe they are effective in achieving their policy goals. Grounded in more than 30 years of experience studying the attitudes and perception of policy leaders, APCO Worldwide produced the first-ever study to tackle the question of association public policy effectiveness with a systematic, survey-based and objective approach. Policy makers and influencers rate associations on both overall effectiveness and a range of detailed areas. The results show in detail where associations must excel in order to enhance their impact.

With the release of our seventh study in the series, we continue to discern patterns in the data, identify shifts in policy leader expectations and provide associations with a data-driven roadmap for engagement strategies that enhance impact. Read the 2021 press release and coverage of the study from The Hill.


APCO Insight® developed the TradeMarks Study in 2013 to identify the key characteristics that define association effectiveness in achieving the public policy priorities of its members. Advanced statistical analysis allowed us to isolate the characteristics that have the most impact in shaping policy success, helping associations to act with conviction. This same model has been used in subsequent studies.

Think all characteristics are equal? Think again.

The 2021 model reveals challenges and opportunities facing associations:

  • Association effectiveness reaches new heights. 2021 marks the highest overall TMI score in the nine-year history of TradeMarks and the fourth consecutive study the overall TMI score has improved from the previous year. While there continue to be areas for improvement, associations are perceived to be getting results in a tough environment.
  • Keeping your industry top-of-mind. With DC and Capitol Hill still virtual in many regards, associations have had to use all the tools at their disposal. Advertising is one way to promote the efforts of your industry and members. Speaking with a unified voice in your outreach and demonstrating the breadth of your membership is another. DC’s newsletters and media landscape have been crowded with such efforts and are getting the attention of policy elites. There continues to be an opportunity to better use social media, but there has been improvement since 2019.
  • A new normal, leaning on relationships. With an all-Democratic federal government, divisions within Congress and in-person restrictions due to the pandemic, the importance of relationships still shines bright. It is critically important to identify and build key relationships, across the executive and legislative branches, and within the two chambers and caucuses. At a time when there have been so many asks, lobbying has never been more crucial and associations are being recognized for their efforts, not only in terms of winning aid and legislatively, but also in terms of their effectiveness ratings.

Learn more about the TradeMarks model and the TradeMarks model methodology.

TradeMarks_2021 Model

Top Rated Sectors

For the fifth time in seven surveys, the Healthcare sector is collectively viewed as the most effective, followed closely by Food & Beverage. These rankings are certainly reflective of what’s been important to many Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The second tier contains Financial Services and Technology, both within three-tenths of a point of each other.

There continues to be more differentiation between sectors on perceived performance compared to previous years—5.1 points separate the top-ranked and lowest-ranked sectors (versus 4.9 points in 2019 and 3.4 points in 2018).


Top Rated Associations

Policy leaders recognize that different associations focus their public policy efforts in different areas. By understanding how the associations are viewed on each of the discrete drivers of effectiveness (characteristics) and the relative impact these drivers have in shaping overall effectiveness, the TradeMarks Model prioritizes the most important strengths to be leveraged and the most important opportunities to be seized to increase effectiveness.

The table displayed shows which association has the highest performance rating on each of the 15 characteristics that comprise the TradeMarks Model. In 2021, nine different associations are viewed as performing best across the 15 characteristics, up from six in the last study.



About the TradeMarks Model

TradeMarks is a groundbreaking model developed by APCO Insight that measures the extent to which policy leaders believe associations are effective in achieving their policy goals for their members.

TradeMarks is the first study to ever tackle the question of association effectiveness with a formal, systematic and objective approach. The TradeMarks model pinpoints the specific actions that can be taken to achieve optimal impact in each area and quantitatively determines the relative impact of each factor. It allows associations not only to gauge their effectiveness, but also to provide an actionable roadmap for how to increase their perceived effectiveness and achieve their desired outcomes.

By understanding how the associations are viewed on each of the discrete drivers of effectiveness (characteristics) and the relative impact these drivers have in shaping overall effectiveness, the TradeMarks model prioritizes the most important strengths to be leveraged and the most important opportunities to be seized to increase effectiveness.

Back to the TradeMarks Model

The TradeMarks Model: Methodology

The TradeMarks Model is informed by more than 30 years of conducting qualitative and quantitative research for associations among Washington, D.C., policy leaders—the Members of Congress and their staff, executive branch professionals and other influencers who shape the opinions of associations.

Based on this experience and conversations with our partners, a list of 52 characteristics that define association effectiveness on policy issues was developed. A pre-test survey was conducted among policy leaders to isolate and validate the key characteristics that drive perceptions of association policy effectiveness; the modeling identified 15 valid factors that explain what policy leaders consider when evaluating an association’s public policy effectiveness.

In 2013, a full-scale survey of policy leaders in Washington, D.C., was conducted using a mixed-mode methodology offering respondents the opportunity to complete the survey either online or over the telephone.

Policy leaders were asked to evaluate five randomly-selected associations with whom they are familiar from a list of 50 associations in Washington, D.C. The results shown on this site are limited to data for the overall association sector represented by the 50 associations. All data, including association-level data, are the exclusive property of APCO Worldwide. For information on findings for individual associations, please click here to contact us for more information.

Beginning in 2014, this study was repeated annually using the same methodology.

About the Rankings

The Rankings present the top scoring organization for each characteristic, from among the trade associations we studied in Washington, D.C., using the TradeMarks methodology. As such, rankings do not necessarily include “best in D.C.” — some organizations were not reviewed. Furthermore, top scores on a particular characteristic should not be interpreted as receiving top scores overall. Some organizations performing very high in aggregate on the TradeMarks Index did not receive top marks in any one category.

Back to the TradeMarks Rankings

Contact Us

Bill Dalbec

Managing Director, APCO Insight+1.202.778.1032