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Advocacy Puts Action Into Your Bark, says EMB Ambassador Rob Cohen

Read DS&L Vice President Rob Cohen’s top tips on how you and your team can become an effective EMB Ambassador.

Display Supply & Lighting, Inc. got its start selling Velcro from a spare bedroom of its founders Walt and Jo Filipowicz more than 40 years ago. The company is now a leading manufacturer and supplier of lighting and supply products for exhibitions and live events.

But, what sticks in the mind of DS&L Vice President Rob Cohen and his team these days is the essential need to advocate for the small businesses that make up the exhibitions industry.

Spearheaded by Rob, DS&L first embraced the importance of advocacy when tariffs on products manufactured in China surfaced in 2019. DS&L knew the price impact that proposed tariffs would have on the company and its customers.

After hiring an attorney experienced in tariff laws, combing through executive orders, crafting position papers, and submitting comments on proposed tariff changes, Rob was invited to testify at an administrative hearing held by the U.S. Trade Office.

“Even though we weren’t successful in defeating tariffs, we learned the importance of participating in the process,” Rob says. “When the pandemic hit, I knew it was time for us to put action into our bark.”

As a past president of the Experiential Designers and Producers Association (EDPA is a member of Exhibitions Mean Business coalition), Rob was aware of Exhibitions Day. This year, he called EDPA board member Chris Griffin to say “we’re all in.”

Armed with contact information for legislative staff in Illinois and Massachusetts, the DS&L team began their outreach. Staffers for Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who sits on the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, and Representative Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, vice-chair of the House Democratic Caucus, responded.

“We were able to build awareness with key lawmakers, and their staff, that our industry even exists,” says Rob. “And, these conversations helped guide us in crafting a small business message that would resonate with decision-makers.”

But, perhaps, it was a post on LinkedIn that demonstrated to Rob and the DS&L team just how powerful advocacy could be.

“I didn’t really embrace the power of social media before,” Rob notes. “But, we issued a call to action and offered to help with the tools that both EMB provided from Exhibitions Day and we drafted from our efforts. The response floored me.”

With more than 5,000 views, roughly 80 colleagues contacted Rob to follow up and take action on their own. “That’s a powerful ripple effect,” says Rob.

His takeaway: “I feel like we’ve helped a little, but our efforts can’t end here. We have to continue reaching out, building awareness about our industry and the needs of small businesses, so that we have a voice at the tables where important decisions are made.”

Rob’s Top Advocacy Tips:

  • Give back to the industry.
  • Engage using different tactics (phone, email and text ).
  • Amplify your voice using social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook).
  • It’s a team effort … so be a part of the team at your company and within the professional organizations and coalitions you participate in.
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