Helping Members Stay Ahead of the COVID-19 Curve

Helping Members Stay Ahead of the COVID-19 Curve

By Danielle Leber and Julie Rogers

Communication in the Time of Coronavirus

COVID-19 threatens not just the health of individuals, but also the economy. For the 99.9% of businesses in the United States—the small businesses that employ nearly half of U.S. workers and are crucial to the economy’s success—the pandemic is a threat to their survival. The small businesses that make up the majority of the member companies in the Awards and Personalization Association are no exception. Therefore, providing timely, reliable information to members in the face of COVID-19 is of the utmost importance.

The serves a vibrant network of professionals who manufacture, customize, and sell awards and personalization products and equipment. The association’s annual trade show, the International Awards & Personalization Expo, is the largest trade show in the industry, drawing thousands to Las Vegas to learn, buy, and network. Many industry wholesalers time the release of their annual catalogs and newest products for the expo, which; has to be scheduled early enough each year to accommodate these releases and get brand new products into retailers’ hands before their spring busy season.

The February dates for the 4-day expo this year were 3 weeks before the coronavirus was officially declared a pandemic. With only a handful of COVID-19 cases present in the United States, Las Vegas was still open for business, and industry retailers were ready to see the cutting-edge equipment they could start using and the new products they could offer to customers during their busy season. However, industry members were concerned that the overseas international factories impacted by COVID-19 wouldn’t be up to speed in time to supply the necessary products. There was enough chatter about this among the thousands of members on the expo floor that Awards and Personalization Association Executive Director Louise Ristau knew her group needed to communicate reliable information about current events to the industry as a whole.

The Awards and Personalization Association keeps members updated on industry news and trends through education sessions, monthly news emails, webinars, and the print and digital versions of the monthly Insights magazine. But Ristau knew that industry professionals needed to be informed immediately, not when the magazine hit their mailboxes. From the expo at Paris Las Vegas, Ristau called Բٲ’ editors, Julie Rogers and Danielle Leber for help with creating a reliable new story that could be shared with association members to inform the industry’s thousands of businesses about COVID-19’s effects on production from overseas.

With everyone on board, Ristau talked with the owners of the three largest wholesalers in the industry, all of whom were at the expo with her. Rogers interviewed them within the next 2 days and wrote up their detailed reports about how COVID-19 was affecting their company’s products and manufacturing. The three wholesalers reassured their retailer customers that their products had already successfully traveled to United States warehouses and were ready for distribution for the busy season.

The association quickly sent out the story to the industry via e-mail and social media, posted it on their website, and published it in Insights magazine, a week before other publications for this industry acknowledged COVID-19’s impact. Retailers didn’t have to worry about whether they’d be able to get the awards, apparel, and gifts their customers wanted during a time of year that could make or break their businesses.

Then, COVID-19 became a pandemic, and the focus shifted fast.

Instead of worrying about whether international factories could produce the goods they needed, personalization business owners had to worry about the safety of their employees, communities, customers, and companies. Their concerns were shared with one another via the association’s member-exclusive online community. Even orders that had already been placed with the retailers were being canceled as public gatherings and events were canceled.

Already anticipating what industry members wanted and needed to know, Ristau pitched another timely story to Rogers, Leber, and some successful retailer leaders in the industry who could be counted on as sources. In just a couple of days, Rogers and Leber interviewed retailers from Florida, Illinois, and Missouri. Their article detailed not only the new concerns posed by COVID-19, but also how retailers were looking to protect their businesses and employees. They offered hope from lessons learned during the Great Recession, ways to cut unnecessary costs to avoid layoffs, and innovative marketing efforts to replace lost business without sacrificing social distancing efforts. This article, too, was immediately shared through the same channels as the other article to ensure this timely information got to the people who needed it most, when they needed it.

The next day, Ristau, Rogers, and Leber had a conference call with the Awards and Personalization Association’s Communications Committee. Because the article sent the previous day had addressed most of the information they felt was needed at the time, they turned their focus to resources outside of the industry that would be available to struggling business owners. This time, their focus was compiling information about the bills and laws that could help small businesses, even though such laws were changing by the hour. Rogers helped gather resources, including the industry articles previously sent, to create a starting place for awards and personalization companies that needed information amid the pandemic. The team customized the information for the Awards and Personalization Association’s membership and added it to their website, along with new banner images and links to the resources. As resources and news continue changing and evolving, Ristau’s team continues to add new and updated information, including distributing breaking news and additional articles to the members directly.

The Awards and Personalization Association’s staff and many of the members company’s employees may be having to work from their homes to ensure social distancing, but that doesn’t mean that the association won’t be working hard to ensure the health of its member companies. After all, when this pandemic is contained, there will be many, many heroes deserving of the kind of formal recognition Awards and Personalization Association members are so good at providing!

Danielle Leber is a managing editor and Julie Rogers is a senior content marketing and editorial manager on the Creative Media Services team at 911 and serve as co-editors of Insights magazine.

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