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Association Advocacy Thrives in ‘Fake News’ Era

Jill Andreu

Jill Andreu

Like it or not, the term “fake news” has entered our country’s modern-day vocabulary.

If you believe “fake news” is nonsense, devote 20 minutes one evening to cable news networks. Watch CNN for 10 minutes, then flip to Fox News for 10 minutes. Both networks—reputable in their own right with talented journalists at the helm—report the same facts with a completely different angle, agenda and host of talking heads. It’s quite interesting to watch.

Reading “fake news” is even more interesting, particularly on social media where passionate individuals often hide behind a left- or right-wing moniker and feel emboldened enough to spat about a blog or not-so-reputable news site. I’ve read one passionate individual’s claim—backed by statistics—refuted by another, calling the claim “fake news” and linking to the Trump.news site. Both claims likely imparted some version of truth or interpretation thereof, but many readers do not have time to research the facts and likely believe the claim that leans more toward their political persuasion. An intense social media volley ensues until the real news is buried among insults and exaggerations.

It is disturbing that, as a country, we just can’t agree to disagree anymore.

On the bright side, media distrust can have an incredibly positive impact on the tenor of association communications. Members should look first to their associations for information that enhances their careers and grows their businesses. There has never been a more critical time for associations to remind members that their association fights for them, and information disseminated to members is factual, reliable, relevant and necessary.

Consider the many reasons professionals join associations. In addition to networking and education, legislative efforts are incredibly important. Association executives and industry representatives spend considerable time and effort speaking to lawmakers about the importance of funding, legislation and regulations that improve their industries.

We reviewed just a sampling of the great work three Naylor association clients are doing on behalf of their industries. Each of these examples illustrates the power of an association’s voice – a far cry from “fake news.”

American Association of Port Authorities

The American Association of Port Authorities began the “America: Keep it Moving” campaign to help convince lawmakers that port infrastructure investments are not a want, but a desperate need. According to the AAPA website (aapa-ports.org), the “amount of freight in the U.S. is projected to grow 45 percent by 2045,” a statistic that impacts ports and all segments of the logistics industry that deliver goods to ports. The site refers to research completed by the American Society of Civil Engineers, statistics outlining the impact on GDP and trade losses, and information about how “employers, manufacturers, workers and farmers” will be adversely affected if infrastructure dollars are not allocated to this necessary cause.

A campaign such as “America: Keep it Moving” is anything but “fake news.” AAPA leadership pushes every day, with every Congressional meeting opportunity, to make change for its port members. Policy position papers are easily accessible on the campaign website, giving members full understanding of the issue.

Material Handling and Equipment Dealers Association (MHEDA)

Each year, MHEDA identifies Critical Impact Factors (CIF) in an effort to combat issues most likely to adversely impact members’ businesses. One 2017 CIF states, “Members must be prepared to modify their internal structure and sales process to meet the demands of multi-generational buyers and new purchasing trends.”

MHEDA supports this CIF by providing member tools such as The Four Pillars of Sales Profession Training Camp; management and sales career tracks via a learning management system; conference education sessions; and MHEDA-NET, which provides small-group networking. Like many associations, MHEDA boasts a tight-knit membership, and these types of networking and education—where members learn from each other’s successes and mistakes—make the association much more powerful than any other information source.

As MHEDA CEO Liz Richards said, “Regardless of the industry, everyone should belong to their trade association where they are sure to get unbiased information and a wealth of knowledge from a network of peers who have walked the same walk. Even if MHEDA doesn’t directly have the information a member is seeking, we will do everything in our power to find it and often will turn to other trade associations or other trusted partners to assist with the request. We are doing our jobs when a member calls us a valuable resource.”

Associated General Contractors of America

As a trade organization representing the construction industry, disseminating reliable news is important not only for member information, but also to support ongoing legislative efforts such as safety regulations, affordable health care and infrastructure funding.

Like many blue-collar industry businesses, AGC’s company members face workforce shortages. One of AGC’s current outreach efforts urges members to support reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins Act). According to AGC.org, the act “helps students prepare for secondary and postsecondary education by providing access to federal dollars to offset the cost of career and technical education (CTE) programs. Authorization for the Perkins Act ended in 2013, but it has been operating under annual funding bills since then.”

In addition to providing members “real news” about the Act and its impact on the construction industry’s future, AGC provides members a simple templated letter supporting reauthorization of the Act. The letter members forward onto lawmakers states in part, “As an individual in the construction industry I urge you to move forward with reauthorizing the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins Act). The construction industry is experiencing a critical shortage of skilled workers to fill in-demand positions. Career and technical education helps prepare both secondary and postsecondary students with the necessary academic, technical, and employ-ability skills required for successful entry into the workforce.” This is an excellent example of an association providing a simple communication that benefits the industry and its members. Like AAPA and MHEDA, AGC regularly positions its messaging as reliable, trustworthy and far from “fake news.”

While “fake news” likely will continue to be a source of frustration for many, associations should take advantage of this opportunity. Remind members that they joined an association to be part of something larger, more impactful and more relevant than anything they could have achieved alone. Associations are, now more than ever, the true voice of an industry.

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HOW DO YOU POSITION YOUR ASSOCIATION AS THE GO-TO NEWS RESOURCE FOR MEMBERS AND THE INDUSTRY?

Jean Godwin, Executive Vice President/General Counsel
American Association of Port Authorities
“We do a lot of media outreach and are fortunate to have a dedicated public affairs director who makes this a priority. We establish relationships with media — meeting with them to educate them about our industry and our issues even when they are not working on a particular story. We invite them to media briefings held by us as well as others (such as the Congressional Ports Caucus) and have hosted media tours at ports. We alert them when we think there is an issue worthy of coverage. Personal contacts and establishing trust as a source (not just press releases and social media) are important.”

Liz Richards, Chief Executive Officer
Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association
“MHEDA is a trusted resource because many of our articles and features are authored by members who are industry colleagues and peers. When the content is coming from someone working in the trenches and sharing the same challenges, it becomes more human and real. When someone has the ability to reach out to a colleague who has shared insight and advice in the pages of The MHEDA Journal or in our newsletter, that is an enormous benefit. We often refer to our publications as “for members, by members.'”

Brian Turmail, Senior Executive Director, Public Affairs
Associated General Contractors of America
“We work very hard to develop original content about what is happening in Washington that impacts the industry and what we are doing to address the issue. We also work with our Constructor magazine to create exciting original content about overall industry trends. Then we supplement this original content with well-curated aggregations of the latest news that our members should be aware of. We then share all this content with our members electronically, in print and via social media.”

 

Jill Andreu is Naylor’s vice president, content strategy and development. Jill works with a team of Naylor content strategists to bring association clients top-notch content and strategy services. Jill is also responsible for Naylor’s communication gap analysis and survey services. Email her at jandreu@naylor.com

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