Mark Taylor, president and CEO of Apogee Exhibits, is used to pivoting. After more than 25 years in the live events industry, it’s part of the DNA of a business that has built almost 2,400 exhibits for more than 2,100 clients in 16 countries around the world.
When COVID-19 brought his 26-member team to a standstill in March, he pivoted yet again. This time he was looking for financial life-lines to keep his small business afloat.
“We’ve been busy trying to keep the doors open for the past four months,” Taylor says. “We’ve provided PPE to local hospitals, which kept us busy for a little bit. But, since the live events industry has no revenue, we pivoted to corporate interiors, safety products other ways to ramp up business. We likely won’t see any notable events this year.”
But, Taylor pivoted to advocacy, too. Having attended his first ever Exhibitions Day in June, he had the tools to reach out to his elected officials. And he did just that.
“For me, it was borne out of desperation,” says Taylor. “When COVID first began in New York, I went to work on the options for working capital. There wasn’t anything yet. So, I went to work contacting local elected officials to try to get a Small Business Administration disaster declaration. I sent emails, made phone calls with no results. Finally, I sent faxes.”
That low tech tactic did the trick. Chris Zeltmann, a staffer in the local office of Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), called Taylor. A dialogue began.
“He provided guidance and contact information,” Taylor said. “When PPP was launched, we took advantage of it but knew it wouldn’t be enough to sustain the industry. Our dialogue continues, and hopefully influences the next steps Congress will take.”
In early July, Sen. Schumer’s office asked Taylor to appear at a press conference along with other small business owners in Rochester, NY, to talk about the importance of another round of economic stimulus for small business owners. Mark reached out to the EMB team for an assist with his talking points. He had 45 seconds to deliver his message, which was carried by local television.
“I’ve never done anything like that before,” Taylor notes. “I don’t consider myself a very good public speaker. I’m not comfortable in the spotlight. But, it’s important to build awareness about this industry to our economy. When we’re idle so many others are idle, too. And, when the opportunity comes, you have to take it.”
Taylor says that advocacy “can be effective but it’s a long game. You can’t give up on it too soon, and you have to have a constant voice and consistent message.”
Pivoting to old school technology, like a fax machine, helps, too.
Mark’s Top Advocacy Tips
- Start local.
- Try different outreach tactics to (phone, email, fax, text, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.).
- It’s a long game so keep at it. Once a door opens, keep the dialogue going.
- Motivate and inspire your team to get involved in advocacy; lead by example.
When the opportunity arises to tell the exhibitions and live events story, take it!