A Message With Muscle

By: Julie Shoop

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers tells the story of how big rigs drive the economy.

Any kid who loves big tractors and trucks and cranes and bulldozers might dream of growing up to be Dennis Slater. As president of the Milwaukee-based Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), Slater, the organization's chief staff executive, works in a world of heavy equipment in five muscular industries: agriculture, construction, forestry, mining, and utilities.

Those industries power the U.S. economy and create social benefits that many consumers take for granted, Slater says. That's the message that AEM set out to spread in its "I Make America" campaign—a winner of a Silver Award in ASAE's 2012 Power of A competition.

The initial thrust of the campaign: jobs. "Not only jobs provided by the equipment manufacturers," Slater says, "but what other jobs depend on that? The coffee shop next door, the restaurant down the street. The people employed by the industry or related to the industry realize that the economic well-being of their neighborhood depends on these manufacturers."

Next, "I Make America" focused on "all the good things these manufacturers build," Slater says.

"So you build a farm combine or a tractor that helps harvest the field efficiently that creates food for the world—and now fuel for the world, with biofuels," he says. Likewise, the construction industry builds and maintains roads and bridges, supporting an economy "that can move goods efficiently, that can export things."

Slater says the campaign's secret sauce is the grassroots involvement of more than 21,000 employees of AEM's 860 member companies who participate in advocacy and events supporting transportation, farming, and trade legislation backed by the industry. Their voices make for more effective messaging.

It's an approach that he says can be adapted to associations everywhere. "If you belong to an association and have a good story to tell, tell that story," Slater says.

Julie Shoop is editor-in-chief of Associations Now in Washington, DC. Email: [email protected]

Julie Shoop

Julie Shoop

Julie Shoop is editor-in-chief of Associations Now in Washington, DC.