With popularity growing every year since its inaugural 2015 event, NAMA recently announced that the 2017 Fly-In event has reached its latest attendance goal, the 300 attendee mark.
According to Eric Dell, senior vice president of government affairs at NAMA, the association's membership has seen the direct results of their advocacy work as well as benefitted from the networking opportunities available at the annual Fly-In events. VendingMarketWatch.com spoke to Dell about how first-time and return attendees can get the most ROI from the Fly-In experience, from participating in advocacy sessions to attending networking events with fellow industry members.
VendingMarketWatch.com: How would you advise new attendees going into their first Fly-In experience?
Eric Dell: In order to get the most ROI from the event, it’s important to come in early and network with other folks in the industry. At the request of previous attendees, we have added more networking events. On the first day of the Fly-In, we organized a lunch for folks to meet others in the industry before they start the events of the Fly-In.
Additionally, with the assistance of the NAMA Foundation funding is a really premier, top-level advocacy training program. In the past, I have provided education programs on how to advocate with your members of Congress, what to do when you go into the offices, what to expect, how to have a successful meeting, etc. This year, we hired a professional, Amy Showalter, who does professional advocacy training for associations, non-profits and interest groups. She already held a pre-event webinar and provided training to attendees to get them prepared for the event. At the Fly-In, she will be doing two separate training programs. The first will be for first-time advocates and the second will be for folks who have been involved in advocacy efforts before so it will be a higher level education program. We are really trying to up the game when it comes to educating our advocates in the industry and making sure they continue expanding their effectiveness with policy makers.
VMW.com: What educational materials have been available to attendees prior to the Fly-In?
ED: We sent out a packet that had all of the information they need to prepare for the Fly-In in terms of what issues we will be discussing with the members of Congress. We will be discussing three issues: Lowering the corporate tax rate and supporting tax reform, supporting a total elimination of the state tax, and regulatory reform to protect businesses from overly burdensome regulations.
VMW.com: What other networking events are available for attendees at the Fly-In?
ED: We have after-dinner networking events, one of which is a cruise to see the city’s monuments at night. The other is a new event we are trying out called “Connections and Craft Beer.” It’s a loosely structured event – we will provide a list of multiple bars and pubs in the area that serve craft beers and specialty cocktails for folks interested in getting together and doing a self-guided tour with their friends in the industry.
We also are providing attendees an opportunity to give back to the community through a partnership with Operation Homefront. Operation Homefront works with military veterans as well as active military to help with housing needs and family situations. They do a “Back to School Brigade” for military children who need backpacks and school supplies. Last year, we partnered with them and we donated over 100 backpacks to present to military families and children. We will be expanding that partnership this year and we will have Operation Homefront join us at our industry event on Capitol Hill where we showcase vending machines and micro markets and have members of Congress come in. We will have Operation Homefront there as well and will have members of Congress stuffing those backpacks with school supplies for the children.
We are hearing more and more attendees who are coming in early or staying late to meet with operators and potential customers before or after the event. This is an operator-rich event in terms of attendees which bodes well for meeting, networking and doing business in addition to what they are gaining with the advocacy.
VMW.com: What message do you have for returning attendees?
ED: For the members returning, I have to give them kudos. Advocacy is not a one and done thing. You have to do it over and over again in order to achieve success year over year. In fact, the vast majority of attendees for this year’s Fly-In are returning for the second or even third year. The advocacy cannot be done without our members and the industry’s participation. We are hopeful with their participation and willingness to do it year after year. It really is making a difference and it does provide tremendous value back to the association.