Like an aging patient who has avoided his annual physical for more than a decade, the 63-year-old Amusement and Music Operators Association finally submitted to an in-depth member survey this year for the first time since the 1990s.
Good idea. There is no substitute for asking members such questions as: How many machines do you operate? How long have you been a member? How many employees do you have? What are your annual revenues? And, above all: What is AMOA doing that works well for you? What's not working so well?
As it turns out, the survey gave AMOA some excellent news. Most importantly, operators largely trust their association. They value its educational and networking opportunities, as well as its political, economic and community resources.
The survey also delivered some not-so-good news for AMOA. Many members complained about a supposed "lack of communication" from the association. Is this complaint warranted?Consider these facts. AMOA's presidents and officers make themselves available for regular interviews by trade journalists. Some even pen columns for our pages. The press genuinely appreciates this (thank you Donovan, Gary, Russ...).
AMOA also dispatches a weekly newsletter by email. It's always friendly, often useful and occasionally thought provoking. Since Vending Times also publishes frequent electronic bulletins, we know this requires effort, dedication and skill. (Nice work, Jack and team.)
All these interviews, columns and e-newsletters may add up to thousands of words per month. So how can anyone grumble about AMOA's "lack of communication"?
Conventional wisdom tells us that only a true friend will honestly discuss your shortcomings with you in a spirit of trying to be helpful. So here goes.
Diagnosis: Whether in interviews or in e-newsletters, AMOA typically makes very little news. AMOA leaders have always held their cards pretty close to the vest, believing it's the best strategy to avoid "needless controversy," to keep private lines of communication open and to keep their options viable.
As a direct result of this "close to the vest" (non) communication strategy, the average AMOA member may know the date of the next state association meeting ... but he frequently doesn't have a clue what the national association's leaders are really thinking or doing about vital issues of the day.
Happily, this is an easy problem to fix. We in the trade press know first-hand that AMOA leaders are smart, hardworking and ethical people. We know their thoughts on key issues confronting the industry are wise, on-point and deserve respect.
Prescription: If AMOA leaders shared these thoughts more openly -- and reported on their activities and plans in more detail -- then the rest of the industry would quickly come to realize what amazing service AMOA officers and board members provide, month after month and year after year.
Prognosis: A more-transparent AMOA would be more popular, more trusted and better understood. It would instantly gain even more enthusiastic support from the trade press (and we already work pretty hard to help AMOA get its message out). A more-transparent AMOA would gradually gain more enthusiastic support from existing members, too.
In the long term, greater transparency would also convert more nonmembers into members, and convert more rank-and-file members into board members, committee workers and officers.
By the way, an important part of the positive diagnosis from AMOA's member survey is hidden between the lines. Although the association often "doesn't say much," everybody in the industry listens closely to what it does say. For example, look at membership recruitment.
For the past 10 or 15 years, AMOA's recruitment strategy has been to highlight clear-cut economic benefits: "Hey, everybody, if membership costs only X dollars, but as a result you get discounts worth 2X dollars, then joining is a no-brainer."
That message is fine for the short term. But in the long term, as suggested by survey results, this message underplays the greatest value of the association: AMOA's educational, political, and community-building strengths.
At least we know operators are listening. When asked, "Why are you a member of AMOA?" most operators answered the survey in the very same economic terms that AMOA has been employing to "sell" its own value.
In other words, operators are not only speaking AMOA's language, they are also internalizing and repeating its message. Thus, even cynical operators give the organization more credibility than they might realize.
Credibility is an invaluable asset. We hope AMOA leaders will build on it with a new commitment to transparency. Taking more people "inside the tent" will mean more shouting and criticism -- but also a stronger, more democratic AMOA.