Representor Winter 2021 - Executive Commentary

What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger

by Walter E. Tobin
T: 617-901-4088

We listened and calibrated our products as we went along, all to make ERA better and stronger … to become an even better resource for our members …

I never really understood this saying. I thought it was a bit self-serving. Like we were super-humans who survived where perhaps others died. How could that be fair? Why should we survive when others did not? Were we better than they were? Smarter? I think not.

Why should other organizations or associations be so badly affected by something so evil that their very survival was at stake, forced to close their doors while others lived on? Were they worse managers than we were? I never understood this saying until 2020.

COVID-19 is an unbiased killing machine. It does not care if you are rich or poor. It does not care about your race, wealth, house of worship or political beliefs. It attacks — some worse than others, some survived the attack and others succumbed. Folks died and companies/organizations collapsed.

There was simply no rhyme or reason to it. We all took precautions that we were comfortable in taking and yet, these same precautions protected some but not others.
At the start of the pandemic, ERA looked internally and asked: “What do our members NEED from us? What do they WANT from us?”

What new activities or services do we have the budget and expertise to take on? How could we step up or pivot (the word of 2020) while trying to survive?

We first looked within ourselves and then took an honest assessment of our talents and capabilities. We matched our resources against the “wishlist” of what we were hearing from our members or what we felt we needed to do NOW to help our members (and non-members) get through each day.

Off we went, pivoting from our Teleforum series to our Water Cooler initiative, and also launched a podcast, ERA Talks. All in an effort to provide several different platforms for our members to share common fears, questions regarding software and hardware options, how to communicate best practices to our customers, manufacturers and fellow reps or channel partners so that they could get things done in this “New Normal” world.

We listened and calibrated our products as we went along, all to make ERA better and stronger … to become an even better resource for our members than pre-COVID.

Guess what happened? The industry responded. Attendance of our Water Coolers grew each week, the number of downloads of our Podcasts grew with each release, our membership grew even at a time when we had put our membership drive on hold to not come across as “tone-deaf.” We went with a softer approach in soliciting new members while companies were closing and many were losing their jobs.

As we began to develop a cadence, we were feeling pretty good about ourselves and how our messaging seemed to support what the industry was seeing — the manufacturers’ rep model “rose like the phoenix” in supporting the customers in their local territory. The reps maintained their existing “book of business” and developed NEW opportunities at both existing and new companies. They never missed a beat. Their customers were grateful that the reps were there to support new designs and partner with their channel partners to ensure that the supply chain was in place.

However, another challenge reared its ugly head in the June-July time frame — our annual conference, scheduled for March 1-3, 2021, in Austin, Texas. Surely COVID would be gone in nine months … “We all want to get back to Austin, to see each other again …” was the battle cry.

Unfortunately, the news was not getting any better, and we would NOT risk the health of our members or our staff in any way just to hold a conference.

So, another pivot! We reached out to the ATT Center in June and inquired about canceling our in-person conference that was nine months out! They thought we were crazy. Surely the virus would be gone by then; it will be okay to travel to Texas by February … back to normalcy, etc.

However, we wanted to be cautious and safe and concluded that the ONLY way to guarantee that we would have a conference was to do it virtually! Thus, our first-ever virtual conference will be held on March 1-3, 2021. Are you registered?

We have never planned a virtual event, but our ERA National team said: “Let’s do it!” And here we are — well-into the planning process with speakers hired, the virtual platform secured, breakout sessions finalized. Here we go!

As the saying goes: “If you build it, they will come.” So, we encourage you to sign up and be proud of your association who built this conference from ground up. We are the “Little Engine that Could,” so to speak, but think of ourselves as a giant locomotive, trust me!

EDS Update

ERA has partnered with ECIA and GEDA to reschedule EDS to late August 2021. The decision was driven again out of concern for the safety of our staff and attendees.

What does all of this mean to you? YOUR ERA will emerge from the horror of COVID an even-stronger organization! We were battle-tested and faced the challenges of 2020 with thoughtful analysis and honest introspection, and we decided, “We can do this!”

None of any of this would have been possible without the support of you, our members, and the trust that you have given to ERA! We work hard every day to never let you down … that would be worse than letting COVID win … Learn new ways of doing things.