Fun, Music, Education, Awards, Networking: I&E Comes Home to New Jersey!


Phillip E. Russo, CAE

Executive Director, NAFA

Tell us about the exciting plans for the NAFA 2013 Institute & Expo in Atlantic City.
I&E in 2013 is going to be tremendous. I am so proud that I&E will be in New Jersey; NAFA’s home base  is here and we are finally bringing our big show to the state.   It’s a big deal for us.  I think we have a lot to prove. We really want to have a nice Jersey flavor to I&E this year.  Registration opened in the beginning of December and we’re doing quite well already.

NAFA has spent a lot of time surveying our membership and conference attendees in the past few years. When we looked at the demographics of the people that have been attending I&E, we learned that over 70 percent of our attendees come from east of the Mississippi River.  We’re not trying to ignore folks on the west coast, but when you look at where the largest part of our market is, it makes sense to be there. And we’re going all out with the Jersey flavor.

One of the biggest moves we’ve made is moving the I&E to Tuesday to Friday from the Saturday to Tuesday pattern we’ve used for a while.  We’ll actually be starting the I&E with a big opening night party like we used to do back in the old days of NAFA.  The opening party will be our awards night.  We’re  introducing the Fleet Excellence Awards – seven industry awards to recognize fleet managers who  have done outstanding work in areas like safety and sustainability and simply overall work, and two  awards just for NAFA Members (Member of the Year, Affiliate of the Year).  The seven awards are open  to anyone in the fleet industry, not just NAFA Members.  Our goal is to turn the night into something
like the Academy Awards for fleet – a high class, fun, annual event with incredible networking among colleagues.

And since this will be a New Jersey party, we’re featuring a live performance from one of my favorite bands:  Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes.  These guys grew up in Asbury Park and are good friends with Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi.  They’re going to make this a truly special evening.  It’s exciting!

Of course, that’s just the fun part of it. We’re not only featuring more than 60 hours of fleet education,  but have an entirely new track of sustainable sessions produced by CALSTART.  That’s huge!  The overall  I&E sessions change each year based upon what fleet managers tell us are the most important topics of  the day.  Each year we ask them, “What are the core problems you’re dealing with this year and what do you expect to be dealing with in the year ahead?”  This year, cost cutting was number one, so we have sessions planned that look at ways to save money for you and your operations.  Fuel was another popular issue, not just with the cost of fuel but with alternative fuels as well.  Technology is important,
people want to know about the new technologies that are being implemented in fleets.  And safety is always paramount.  Obviously, distracted driving is a hot issue these days, but people also want to know about safety technology.  Those are four of the main themes that will be part of the 2013 I&E sessions. In addition, each day will have its own keynote speaker, somebody relevant to the industry.   We have speakers for three of the days confirmed and will be announcing them shortly.

We are also very cognizant of the fact that this industry is all about networking and people meeting people.   Conferences may be mainly about education, but the business that can be done while having a drink with someone or while you’re having dinner is extremely important as well.  So, we have continued to expand the networking opportunities from the opening awards night to coffee breaks, meals, and receptions.  And then at the end of every night we are going to have some sort of an after party at the Taj Mahal Hotel. So there will be great networking opportunities and fun things taking place every single night.  It’s going to be a remarkable conference.

Phil, please bring us up to date on ‘Beyond Fleet.’
I would be happy to. The program promotes fleet management and fleet managers, not just to the industry but to the outside world.  One of the main goals is to show people the value of a good fleet manager and the value of fleet management in an organization, whether it is a government or a corporate organization.

We launched Beyond Fleet at the 2012 Institute & Expo (I&E) in St. Louis.  The campaign began with some radio spots in St. Louis, followed by press releases and radio ads in New York City – the country’s largest radio market!  This was a huge step for us.  We received lots of great feedback from NAFA members who heard  the spots as they were driving into work.

As a result of the Beyond Fleet campaign, we have had several publications reach out to us, along with other organizations, who ask us, “What is this thing called fleet management, who are you, and who is NAFA?”  We have heard from the General Accountability Office from Congress, who is looking to do benchmarks and best practices for the federal fleet, from the EPA, and even from groups as diverse as the Sierra Club who all want to know:  what is this thing called NAFA? And what is this thing called Beyond Fleet? And what should our fleet managers be doing – because we all have fleet managers?

We have already seen great results from the Beyond Fleet program. One example is the partnership NAFA has formed with BusinessWeek magazine. In 2012, we had two special fleet sections in BusinessWeek and we’ll have two more in 2013. The fleet section was seen by several million readers across the globe.  It gave people an overview about NAFA, fleet managers, and fleet management in general.   In addition to running the fleet section, BusinessWeek is also going to have a major role in the NAFA annual conference that is coming up. In essence, we are going to be telling people know all about fleet management in several different ways – print, online, and radio – which will let the momentum that began in 2012 continue and grow right through 2013.

The main idea behind the Beyond Fleet program is to make fleet managers and fleet management as well known as other business fields like accounting. We want people to know what fleet managers do and what fleet management involves in the way that they know about accounting and what accountants do.  We are well on the way to making that happen.

That is great news!
It’s tremendous. The hits on have just gone through the roof.  When we first began running the New York City ads, the Beyond Fleet website traffic went up 80 percent almost overnight. We have about a half a dozen or so resources that fleet managers can download on the Beyond Fleet website to help them convince their boss about the value that they bring; those downloads doubled virtually overnight, as well. So, the value of Beyond Fleet has already been justified, even more so coming up in 2013. It is just great, great stuff.

Let’s talk about NAFA’s role as an advocate for fleets.
Advocacy is one of NAFA’s major roles. It is one of our strengths; one of the things that only NAFA can do within the fleet industry. There is not another organization out there that can represent fleet managers and fleet management in the capacity that NAFA does, and we’ve been doing advocacy for over 35 years.

We have been fortunate to have Pat O’Connor serve as our legislative counsel in Washington D.C. since the early 80’s. He is just terrific at what he does. Getting things done in Washington is all about who you know, and Pat knows everyone.  He’s incredibly knowledgeable about the issues and NAFA is looking to leverage his abilities more.  One of our central goals for the next few years is to leverage the fact that NAFA represents more than 2,000 fleet managers with millions of vehicles on the road each day.  That’s important leverage.

NAFA has a good history of legislative successes, but we’re beginning to be far more proactive on that end than ever before.  Instead of sitting back and reacting to proposed legislation and new laws, NAFA is going to take an active role in 2013 of going out and letting them know what fleet managers want.  We are interested in forming coalitions of like-minded fleet groups (whether they are non-profit, for-profit, or based on a specific fuel type) and getting everybody in a room to form a greater voice.  We’ll then take that voice to Capitol Hill and take on a pro-active role for fleet managers.

It won’t be easy, but we have thousands of fleet managers behind us, millions of vehicles behind us, and millions of dollars of assets behind us.  Fleet managers control about a third of the sales from Ford, Chrysler, and GM each year – that is a lot of clout to bring to Capitol Hill.  We want to bring that leverage to Washington to ensure that they realize the impact legislation will have on fleets firsthand.  We are all for making the environment better and safer, but we need to do things on a realistic basis.  NAFA intends to become more proactive rather than reactive in order to get our points across.

Phil Russo is the Executive Director of NAFA Fleet Management Association (NAFA). NAFA is a not-for-profit professional society of individuals who manage fleets of cars, trucks, vans, and equipment for corporations, government agencies, utilities, and other institutions across the globe. Phil began his career with NAFA in 1985 when he was hired as Assistant Editor, working on the organization’s newsletter, magazine, and other print publications. He was promoted to Director of Communications in 1989 and to Deputy Executive Director a few years later. In 1999, Phil left NAFA to become Executive Director of the International Recording Media Association, but returned in 2005 to take over as Executive Director.