Published since 1946
The Outdoor Industry - A Partner in Waiting, With a Lot to Offer
Often, when state fish and wildlife agencies or fish and wildlife related non-governmental organizations (NGO) think of partnering with industry, it is related to either the excise taxes paid by the industry or when they are seeking donations of equipment or money to support upcoming banquets or events. It is less often that these industry partners are looked upon as “true” partners that can offer insight into resource management issues or be helpful in gaining support from the public or from elected officials for important activities. Agency and NGO leaders should not overlook the value of reaching out to industry partners and engaging them beyond simply asking them to write a check.
When thinking of industry, think beyond the manufacturers that pay the excise taxes and consider companies that do not pay excise taxes – the wholesalers and distributors that help move the products to retailers, and the retailers (including the big guys and the independents). These industry partners care about the wellbeing of fish and wildlife resources and the outdoors in general because they are typically also participants in the sport – they hunt, fish, and generally enjoy the outdoors. In addition, these industry partners have a close relationship with their customers, who are the same people that buy hunting and fishing licenses and make up the membership base of the NGOs. Finally, we should not overlook the fact that these industry partners are embedded in the local and state business community and have political and business contacts that are often beyond that of the NGOs and state agency.
Industry partners offer a unique perspective to resource problems as well as specific skills that may be helpful in developing and implementing solutions. While they are supportive of our conservation interests, they are also attuned to the business side of the equation. They know that good ideas are only as good as the ability to market those ideas to the customer, the local community, the public, and/or the politicians. Whether the ideas relate to the development and sale of a new product or to resource conservation initiatives, they know that you must convince customers of the value of the idea in order to garner support.
These industry partners recognize the importance of communicating with their customers and they interact with them a lot – often more than agencies or organizations do. Retailers have license buyers and organization members walking into their stores daily and talking about various conservation-related activities. Manufacturers maintain dialog with their customers and use these exchanges to better educate customers about their products. These are important avenues for communicating with hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts about resource conservation initiatives. All that is needed is to engage these industry partners on the front end discussions of resource management issues and make them a part of the solution development process.
What can you do?
Partnership development can be a complex and time consuming effort but when done right, it can yield tremendous results. There are a couple good examples of how to engage the conservation industry at the national level. Strong industry/agency/organization partnerships have been developed nationally through the work of the Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports (CAHSS) and the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council (WHHCC). The WHHCC is made up of NGO and industry executives who act in an advisory role with the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture. The CAHSS is made up of state agency, industry, and NGO representatives focused on the growth of hunting and the shooting sports.
The challenge is to step these partnership efforts down to a level where they can help with state or local conservation initiatives. The CAHSS is working to step down their national efforts to state level hunter and recreational shooter recruitment efforts by creating strong partnerships to address the local threats to recruitment with local solutions. This local partnership approach could be expanded to other resource conservation initiatives.
The first step is to identify local industry partners. The Wildlife Management Institute’s (WMI) work with the industry (supported by the state agencies through a Multi-State Conservation Grant) has led to the development of a partial list of industry partners identified by state. While WMI is working on expanding the list to include retailers, the current list is a good starting point for any interested state or NGO. If you are interested in utilizing this industry listing, contact Jon Gassett.
Once local industry partners have been identified, the work of enhancing or building relationships begins. State wildlife agencies or NGO representatives – or both – reach out to potential partners (face to face is preferable) to understand their resource-related concerns and gauge their interest in becoming a more active partner. Remember to be proactive in this partnership development rather than approaching them when a problem is already brewing.
The next step is bringing together the industry partners that have expressed an interest in being more involved for open dialog on important topics. There are a few important points to consider when setting up and organizing this meeting:
- Make the meeting location convenient. These partners are paying their own way so arrange meetings so that they can drive in and back home in the same day.
- Remember the day of the week and the time of year. If a meeting is scheduled in one of the busiest sales periods, attendance will be affected and the right folks might not be in the room.
- Pay for the meeting yourself. Do not ask for donations from the industry partners to support the meeting. Even though some may offer to help support the effort, reject the temptation and pay for the meeting out of agency or NGO funds. This effort alone will generate a great deal of appreciation from the industry participants.
- Spend less time “presenting” and more time “discussing” important resource-related issues. Let industry partners talk about what they think should be done to address the resource problems and how they can help. Let the solutions develop from the dialog rather than telling them what needs to be done.
- Make sure you come away with action items. There is nothing worse than having a meeting where attendees walk away wondering what will happen next.
After the initial meeting, it is essential to keep the dialog alive and follow through on action items. While additional meetings may be necessary, every meeting request means setting aside day-to-day activities in order to attend. Minimize this where possible and use today’s technologies to maintain the two-way dialog and keep everyone engaged. However, do take advantage of opportunities for one-on-one discussions with industry partners when in their area.
One last point: Don’t forget those industry partners that might not have been interested in participating initially. As they see the developing activity, they may rethink their involvement.
Partnerships are complex and require a long term commitment if they are to be successful. A carefully organized effort to transform industry “partners in waiting” into active participants in the agency and/or NGO resource management community will yield positive results.