Are Fleet Professionals Going Digital?
2020 has been a strange year, to say the least. Nearly every industry in the world has been thrown for a loop when it comes to what their “normal” day-to-day looks like. The same holds true for fleet networking initiatives and conferences. As this year has progressed, we’ve seen in-person events canceled left and right, coupled with a pivot to digital platforms.
But when we have this desire to continue the previous connection initiatives that we has look forward to in years previous – is digital the right step to take? This week, I’m joined by Ann Brown-Hailey, Director of Administration for the Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference (EUFMC), to chat about exactly that.
Here’s a quick summary of my conversation with Ann:
After a year like 2020, 2021 is still up in the air. We don’t yet know when a hint of normality will return to our pre-pandemic tendencies – for example, larger in-person conferences and networking events. The EUFMC was one such conference, quick to pivot from in-person in 2021 to a digital event, ensuring that they’ll be able to provide content, connection and conversation to fleet professionals at all levels within their organization. Here’s what Ann had to say about their new digital platform:
- EUFMC is going digital for 2021 – and all you need to know for the event.
- How networking for fleet is continuing on a digital trend
- The challenges of pivoting an in-person event to a digital platform
- What to expect from EUFMC for the coming year.
Ann’s most memorable quotes:
“We know, above all, that fleet managers always like to hear from other fleet managers. So that’ll be a priority and we’ll be putting fleet managers at the forefront of the virtual event, as we always have.”
“The challenge [right now] is none of us know what the new normal is going to look like. And as I said, behaviors will have to change.”Ann Brown-Hailey, The Future of Fleet Networking is Digital…Or Is It? Navigating the Networking Challenges of 2020 with Ann Brown-Hailey | Utilimarc Fleet FYIs Podcast
Episode nine was packed full of information – not just on EUFMC, but on the digitization trends of other conferences as well. If you’d like to have a listen, it’s available to stream on all major platforms – but if reading is more your style, take a look at this episode’s transcript below:
The Future of Fleet Networking is Digital…Or Is It? Navigating the Networking Challenges of 2020 with Ann Brown-Hailey | Fleet FYIs: Episode 9
Gretchen Reese (00:04):
Hey there. Gretchen here. Welcome to Fleet FYIs, the weekly podcast by Utilimarc that makes fleet management strategy smarter, by bringing to you nearly two decades worth of data insights, industry hot topics and expert analysts together in conversation.
Gretchen Reese (00:19):
Our aim is to help you better understand your data and your key metrics by hosting candid conversations with some of the industries finest. But before we begin, if this is your first time listening to our podcast, thanks for hitting the play button. I’m so glad you decided to come along for the ride and have a listen.
Gretchen Reese (00:36):
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Gretchen Reese (00:49):
Also, if you have a topic that you’d love for us to cover, but we haven’t touched on yet, let us know. We’d be happy to go over it in detail in a later episode. Sound good? All right. Let’s get back to the show.
Gretchen Reese (01:06):
Hey everyone. And welcome back to the Fleet FYIs podcast. Who else can believe that the holidays are literally already right around the corner? Is it just me? I mean, I know I said that last week, but I mean, this time I can say that Christmas is next week. I mean, how crazy is that?
Gretchen Reese (01:22):
The year is already about to close out. And I think officially we’re at less than two weeks until 2021, which cue the huge sigh of relief there, but with a new year, as I’m sure you know, comes challenges and trends carry over from the previous year and 2021 is no different.
Gretchen Reese (01:39):
One thing that I’m noticing is the digitization of fleet. And more specifically when I say that, I mean with fleet and industry networking taking to online platforms and reliance on technology more so, and higher than ever before. And this is something to be anticipated, as COVID-19 threw us all for a loop and created this new technologically connected but socially distant normal. It’s made us rethink how we network, how we connect with our peers and how we carry out our day to day operations.
Gretchen Reese (02:09):
But to help me dig into this topic just a little bit more, I’ve brought Ann Brown-Hailey on for today’s episode. She’s currently the Director of Administration for the Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference, otherwise better known as EUFMC, and she’ll be bringing some fantastic insights as to how this conference, and their digital shift, will occur. Because if you didn’t know they’re going digital this year and they just made the announcement a couple of weeks ago. So without further ado, let’s jump in.
Gretchen Reese (02:43):
Hi, Ann. Welcome to the Fleet FYIs podcast. How’s it going?
Ann Brown-Hailey (02:47):
Oh, it’s going great. Thank you so much for the invitation. I’m really excited to talk about the conference with you.
Gretchen Reese (02:53):
Awesome. So I’d love to get started by letting our audience get to know you. Could you, perhaps, introduce yourself and maybe give us a little overview on your current role?
Ann Brown-Hailey (03:03):
Happy to. Well, I have been with the EUFMC since 1993. That was my first conference. I’m the Director of Administration for the event. So back in 1993, when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, or before the internet, which some would argue is the same thing, my background was in hospitality and administration.
Ann Brown-Hailey (03:25):
And I started part time, and the conference has grown so much, especially in the last 10 years, I became full-time about 13 years ago. And working for a group of utility people made a lot of sense for me. My father actually, although he was not a fleet manager, spent his career with Florida Power and Light Company, so I know my customers.
Gretchen Reese (03:48):
That’s awesome, and most folks in fleet know about the Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference. But for those that don’t, could you tell me about the EUFMC, for example, what’s the history? Maybe expand on why it got started, and perhaps what someone could expect if they were to attend?
Ann Brown-Hailey (04:06):
Oh, absolutely. We are all about history with the EUFMC. The conference itself has been taking place since 1953. Many people don’t know that we’re a nonprofit association. So we exist to present this conference. And because we’re located here in Williamsburg, Virginia. Colonial Williamsburg is here, which is a living history museum. The conference is known as the Williamsburg Show.
Ann Brown-Hailey (04:30):
And Williamsburg is a terrific destination for families, and it’s a place that many people enjoy returning to year after year. So when you have an event like this that takes place over all these decades in the same location, you can bet that we have a lot of traditions. And I would say that the greatest tradition is the relationships built at the conference.
Ann Brown-Hailey (04:55):
A lot of us have been around the conference for a long time, so the conference itself, the event, it’s a great reunion. We see friends that we only see once a year, and we catch up at different points during the conference. It’s a very warm event. Very friendly.
Ann Brown-Hailey (05:10):
Another tradition that you recognize about the conference is that the board members that plan the event, they’re volunteers. So the board represents usually fleets from across the country. So what the conference is, is it is planned by fleet professionals for fleet professionals.
Ann Brown-Hailey (05:30):
And then I take over from those plans and I create the events. So I’m involved with registration, marketing, sponsorship, the equipment shows, speaker arrangements, all those things. But we have a lot of traditions. One would be the drive-thru demonstration. That’s the event for which we’re known in the industry.
Ann Brown-Hailey (05:54):
The first morning of the conference, manufacturers pull equipment up in front of a grand stand full of our fleet professionals. And in just a few minutes, any new technology and equipment the suppliers want to show is brought to the forefront. So if it’s new, you’re going to see it in our drive-through.
Gretchen Reese (06:10):
That’s so cool. And I love-
Ann Brown-Hailey (06:13):
I would say, well, we celebrate a lot of our history. We actually have a history page on our website. You can view a video from the 1986 drive-through demonstration. It’s a great time capsule if anyone is interested in that sort of thing. It gives you a visual for how much the equipment has changed, and the way it hasn’t, and back when a lot of pickup trucks were brown, and men wore a lot of plaid.
Ann Brown-Hailey (06:39):
But another tradition is our round tables. Many fleet attendees place great value on our round table discussions. It’s a sharing of best practices that’s a core part, truly, of our educational content. Our round tables are also a little different from others that fleet professionals may participate in because the round table includes both fleet professionals and manufacturers.
Ann Brown-Hailey (07:05):
Which is again, a little different from some others and something that just allows for an even greater exchange of ideas. It used to be that the conference membership was only investor owned utility fleets, and that core membership has been expanded. We now include contractors, cooperatives, municipalities, and others.
Ann Brown-Hailey (07:28):
So we really try to serve a utility fleet that shares the same equipment and needs. So we have all these traditions that I’ve talked to you about, but what’s really worked for us is that we haven’t lost sight of our original mission, which is bringing together decision-makers from fleets and manufacturers in a valuable forum.
Gretchen Reese (07:54):
And I love that you brought up the whole networking piece, and really getting to know people, and almost this aspect of a reunion for a conference like this. And because the history, it runs so deep, it’s very well known in the industry.
Gretchen Reese (08:09):
And as we’re all aware, this year has been so tough, specifically for in-person gatherings and events like the EUFMC Conference. So I’m curious to know during the pandemic, what do you think has been the biggest challenge surrounding the conference itself?
Ann Brown-Hailey (08:27):
Wow. It has been a very difficult year. So in a year before this, or as I call it, “the before times,” we would attract fleet representatives from over 70 companies in the U.S., from Canada, some from the Caribbean, and over 300 reps from our manufacturers and service providers.
Ann Brown-Hailey (08:47):
And creating that network is truly what we’re all about. If you want that discussion about your challenges, find out the similarities in what you’re facing, and learn new things. And networking with suppliers helps resolve some of those issues.
Ann Brown-Hailey (09:05):
So having to cancel this gathering this year meant having to find a way to remain relevant and on the minds of our attendees in a year without a meeting. And as fast as the utility industry and the players are interchanging, not having an event for us, that we lost the opportunity to reach out to our members and bring in new ones.
Ann Brown-Hailey (09:26):
We’ve worked very hard to position the conference as an event that fleet professionals don’t want to miss. So we need to continue to present elevated quality and value in a way that works at a time you can’t gather. So it’s been difficult to determine the best way to reach our members.
Ann Brown-Hailey (09:46):
Just knowing that life is so intense and complicated right now. I know for me, as a meeting planner, I can’t plan. It’s the basis of what I do. So all process is thrown on its head. And I keep saying it’s X factor times the pandemic. It’s the pressure of work items in a normal setting times the pandemic. But as all of us have at home, it’s family life times the pandemic. The smallest things are elevated.
Gretchen Reese (10:13):
Absolutely. And you know, connection is such a huge… I mean, it’s a massive component of pretty much every industry. And in-person conferences, they really help to administer the connection between professionals, like fleet managers in this instance, and it really helps them connect with each other. How do you think that EUFMC is going to be able to still provide that connection aspect in say, for example, a digital format?
Ann Brown-Hailey (10:43):
That’s the key question. It really hearkens back some to the expectations that you mentioned before. In a normal year, our attendees can look forward to a program on topics related to fleet management that are topics actually taken from feedback from our attendees.
Ann Brown-Hailey (11:02):
So you also get that great takeaway of the content plus the network that you receive by attending. We’re all about fostering relationships, so we’ll need to find a new way to do that. Someone new to fleet management comes to EUFMC, immediately they have a significant group or network to call on, and key suppliers they can call on.
Ann Brown-Hailey (11:26):
So we need to find a format that will work for us, and something that replaces that value. So this year, when we made the decision to cancel the conference, we launched the EUFMC Education Connection. So that brought some of the same information on current and pertinent topics on a regular basis to our fleet attendees, our roster base. The Education Connection actually grew organically from our March Board of Director conference calls.
Ann Brown-Hailey (11:59):
So many issues were coming up so quickly back in the spring, and board members were exchanging about those issues on the calls. And we knew almost immediately that we could expand those conversations to include our roster of fleets. So within two weeks of announcing the cancellation of the in-person event, we distributed our first Education Connection newsletter. And we asked fleet managers to send their responses on specific issues.
Ann Brown-Hailey (12:25):
So I’m really proud of our swift pivot, and that we found a way to provide a valuable exchange, the Education Connection covered how you work with essential personnel, preventative maintenance, connecting while working remotely, handling workforce issues related to illness and quarantine, sanitizing vehicles, single drivers, single vehicle policies. And we actually created our usual education report based on the questions that we sent out, and the answers that we received, and shared from fleet professionals, and that’s actually found on our website currently.
Ann Brown-Hailey (13:01):
So we had those topics. We also branched out into some of the issues that we always present as part of our general session, legislative and regulatory issues, and some legal issues. But you’re right. We are striving to keep the conference as a top industry event, and we want to lead the effort in getting fleet concerns in front of our members.
Ann Brown-Hailey (13:24):
So our goal for the virtual conference in 2021 is a lot of the same. Continue this mission to provide this valuable information and do it in a way that’s of high quality, that’s been the hallmark of EUFMC. And we’ve been doing this for six decades, I feel certain that we’re going to be able to continue to connect with our educational sessions, some virtual exhibits, some interactive round tables, and just keep our forum going.
Ann Brown-Hailey (13:52):
One thing we’re hoping is that by removing the obstacle of traveling to Williamsburg, we’ll actually have more fleet professionals participate. And that’ll just add to the valuable interaction. We know, above all, that fleet managers always like to hear from other fleet managers. So that’ll be a priority and we’ll be putting fleet managers at the forefront of the virtual event, as we always have.
Ann Brown-Hailey (14:17):
And let’s face it, everyone has sat through virtual events that have just not been productive. Haven’t been as fun, honestly. And so we learned a lot about what we don’t want. So taking those experiences, we’re still committed to finding that same top level education content, facilitate some valuable interactions, even if that maybe has to be done in smaller groups, and provide that forum.
Ann Brown-Hailey (14:47):
But also, I guarantee you, we’re still going to have some fun along the way. And I think, at least for 2021, we’re going to offer some discounts on participation and registration, with the hope that that’s going to entice all the more people. Because the more representatives we have participating, all the more value there’s going to be across the board.
Gretchen Reese (15:10):
Oh, I totally agree. And I love that you brought up the, sometimes they can be boring virtual events, and that’s not to be rude to anyone putting them on. But I think when people are completely virtual for as long as it’s been, I think now it’s at about the nine to 10 month mark, roughly.
Gretchen Reese (15:29):
But people get Zoom fatigue, or Google Meet fatigue, or whatever video conference meet fatigue that you have. So you have to find a way to captivate their attention and really try and keep the focus on the event you’re having, you know?
Ann Brown-Hailey (15:44):
Exactly. So I think that you can expect that perhaps the sessions may not be as long in endurance, but we’ll try to make them as efficient as possible to get the key points, the most relevant information out, in bursts that’ll keep your attention, and then switch it up to something else, and then come back to yet another subject.
Ann Brown-Hailey (16:07):
So I’m really excited. It’s going to be a lot like EUFMC TV except you’re going to get to actually speak with people and ask questions. And there’ll be some fun gamifications, and some incentives to click around and make as many connections as you can.
Gretchen Reese (16:24):
I love that. EUFMC TV, that’s fantastic. So are you going to have your equipment drive through on EUFMC TV this year?
Ann Brown-Hailey (16:34):
Not exactly. We’re going to facilitate that in some other ways. Obviously we have a lot of sponsors that have supported us all these years, and many new ones. So most of the attention will be on the sponsors for any kind of video.
Ann Brown-Hailey (16:55):
But there will be, actually, a 3D virtual exhibit show where you can click around on the different booths, and visit, so that all of our vendors that are participating have an opportunity to connect.
Gretchen Reese (17:09):
That’s awesome. That sounds really cool. So actually, I’m curious now then, so since it sounds like you have a really strong plan to go digital in this coming year, but now that you’ve done so, do you think you’ll keep that option available for future conferences?
Gretchen Reese (17:23):
Say, for example, you can have your in-person event, but then also keep that digital platform as an available option for people maybe that can’t travel to come see you?
Ann Brown-Hailey (17:33):
Sure. That’s definitely an important consideration. And we have that in the back of our minds currently, as we plan for ’21. Obviously we all hope that we won’t feel the need to have a fully virtual conference after 2021. We hope that won’t be necessary.
Ann Brown-Hailey (17:50):
But what’s really fun is that the technology that’s available to us in presenting anything virtually, it’s changing, and many things are coming out. I know that just in a couple of weeks in speaking with our current platform providers, something new has already been added. So there’s that aspect.
Ann Brown-Hailey (18:11):
But I think that it’s possible we would consider a hybrid event. So you’d have the option of getting the value from EUFMC in-person or virtually. And that should help as we get into some kind of recovery. But it also, it will be interesting to see the impact that has on fleet representatives participating, that just haven’t had the opportunity to travel to us in the past.
Ann Brown-Hailey (18:40):
So we are working toward returning to an in-person conference in 2022, with all of its social and networking opportunities. But obviously the meetings industry has been very impacted by the pandemic and the restrictions on gathering. And of course everyone wants to be safe. So I definitely think there’ll be new things to consider in the future.
Gretchen Reese (19:05):
Absolutely. And have you seen, as you’ve been planning this digital event and digital conference, have you seen any trends for digitization from maybe other people in the fleet industry? Maybe other conferences, or other events that have already happened this year?
Ann Brown-Hailey (19:22):
Well, the trend that I see is the need to be flexible. So whatever format you’re using, we need to be flexible in that. And again, it will be very interesting to see what the advances in technology are going to have to offer to us, not just in terms of presenting virtually, but also some of the things that are happening in the industry.
Ann Brown-Hailey (19:44):
It’s a very exciting time for electrification, and things like that, that we’re going to want to know about. And events like EUFMC are going to be a great way to get that information out. Of course, the main thing, it’s going to be interesting to see how long it’s going to take for any in-person event to stay the same.
Ann Brown-Hailey (20:03):
How long is it going to take before anyone’s comfortable gathering? And probably a lot of our behaviors will have to change. And I’m sure that we’ll know better after ’21, what we can expect going forward, but the technology is going to make it very interesting.
Gretchen Reese (20:22):
I’m sure. And I think when people are looking at perhaps certain challenges that organizations maybe that have pivoted to a digital forum already have faced, I’m curious what you think.
Gretchen Reese (20:35):
If you have an organization that’s pivoted to this digital forum with then the goal of going back to in-person, like you had mentioned EUFMC would like to do that again in 2022, what do you think some of challenges or the roadblocks might be from that, almost you could call it a re-pivot, so to say, once the pandemic has waned?
Ann Brown-Hailey (20:55):
Right. Well, the challenge is none of us know what the new normal is going to look like. And as I said, behaviors will have to change. I mean, will the handshake ever come back? We’re used to gathering in very large groups for some of our events. So it’ll be interesting to see what mills look like.
Ann Brown-Hailey (21:15):
I think that the aspect of the education sessions and the round tables, I think that that can be easily achieved, but some of the other larger events, we may have to get really creative in how we handle that part. And there’s another segment to this, which is the cost, right? So a lot of these platforms, and some of this digitization, this is expensive. So you have to create an event with strong enough registration and interest so that you can expand into more of the virtual and digitized presentations.
Gretchen Reese (21:58):
Absolutely. And one thing I find kind of funny is if you’re putting on a digital event, it’s always much more expensive to the person putting it on rather than the person attending. Whereas it’s kind of flipped almost with in-person events because you can say, “Oh, well, if we’re covering this, then the ticket prices could be adjusted because of that.” So it’s an interesting, I would say almost, you could call it a challenge or a roadblock, but just interesting to navigate nonetheless.
Ann Brown-Hailey (22:25):
Absolutely. And that’s the challenge, right? So that’s going to be the challenge that we have is to create something that still is interesting, that is valuable, and has some takeaway value instantly for the fleet representatives.
Ann Brown-Hailey (22:45):
I have heard many fleet representatives over the years tell me that the EUFMC round table alone, they were able to come away with at least three things that were going to deliver cost savings to them in managing their fleet, and that those three things were going to pay for their participation. So I don’t see that changing. I think that the exchange of ideas in our forums are going to deliver that same value.
Gretchen Reese (23:11):
That’s amazing. And I’m so happy to hear that. And I will just say I, for one, I really do hope the handshake comes back in 2022. I’m a little tired of the elbow bumps. I’ll be perfectly honest with you there.
Ann Brown-Hailey (23:23):
And we have such a strong team. We have a very small staff. There’s two of us that are full time for the conference and we have some part-time team members as well. And we receive a lot of compliments on our warm welcome. And I really hope that we’re going to be able to do that again.
Ann Brown-Hailey (23:42):
We want you to feel welcome from the moment you arrive, and the conference in person, we actually have family, and, in particular spouse activities, so we really encourage the fleet professionals to come bring family members, bring spouses or social guests, and make it an event for your personally, as well as professionally. So I’m really hoping we can get back to that.
Gretchen Reese (24:08):
Yeah, that sounds amazing. Absolutely incredible. And is there anything else regarding either the digitization of fleet conferences or EUFMC that we haven’t touched on yet that you’d like to add?
Ann Brown-Hailey (24:22):
I don’t believe so. Just that we’re going to have a lot more details coming out in January about EUFMC ’21. The schedule is going to be a little different this year. Normally everyone would be ready to register in January and February, they’d want to get a hotel room. You’re not going to need a hotel room this time.
Ann Brown-Hailey (24:43):
So some of our registration process may happen slightly later. And we’re still in the process of changing over all the information on our website. And so this is a little bit of, in terms of timing, an in-between time for us. But you can certainly check the website for updates. We have a LinkedIn page, and anyone can always email me.
Ann Brown-Hailey (25:08):
My contact information is on eufmc.com, and the changes will be there. And I also encourage any fleet representatives out there to reach out to me. If you want to be on our distribution list as a fleet professional, with the conference information, please get in touch, and I’d love to put you in the group and you can stay in touch with us that way.
Gretchen Reese (25:32):
How perfect. That’s so great. And, Ann, again, thank you so much for taking the time to hop on our podcast today. I really appreciate it.
Ann Brown-Hailey (25:40):
Thanks again for the opportunity. This was really fun.
Gretchen Reese (25:44):
The EUFMC is such a great event that, as Ann said, it has a massive amount of history to go alongside it. And I think that the opportunity for connection that you EUFMC provides really is one of the best aspects about a conference like this, whether it’s in person, or digital like it will be in 2021.
Gretchen Reese (26:08):
And perhaps this might seem to be a bit of a cliche, but truly I do think that it’s the people that make the industry, and specifically, the relationships that are built and maintained in that community. It can be so incredibly powerful, especially when a conference such as this can make it so accessible. And I think it will be really exciting to see how EUFMC continues on with this transition in 2021 for their first ever digital conference.
Gretchen Reese (26:35):
The link for all of the information that Ann was talking about, and for EUFMC’s website will be in the description of this episode, as well on the show notes on our website, which is utilimarc.com, spelled out U-T-I-L-I-M-A-R-C.com.
Gretchen Reese (26:51):
You’ll be able to learn more about the conference, connect with Ann, and so much more. Now, if you’re planning on virtually attending the conference this year, I would love if you would let us know. You can tag us on LinkedIn with the hashtag: #utilimarcfleetfyis because, who knows, we might just see you there.
Gretchen Reese (27:07):
As for me, that’s all this year, and for season one of Fleet FYIs. We will see you next year in January with a fresh season, a new sound, and an incredible lineup that I think you’ll love. And as always, if you have any topics that you’d love for us to discuss, or if you’d like to be on Fleet FYIs yourself, just send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll catch you later.
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