Association Adviser: Tell us a little bit about ACEC California
Dave Murillo: We’re a 50-year old nonprofit association of 1,000 private consulting engineering and land surveying firms in California representing 19,000 employees. As a statewide organization with 22 local chapters, we’re not only about enhancing the consulting engineering and land surveying professions, but about protecting the general public and promoting the use of the private sector in the growth and development of our state.
AA: Is there such a thing as a typical ACEC member?
DM: Our typical member firm has about 20 employees, but it’s pretty diverse. They provide services for all phases of planning, designing and constructing projects—civil, structural, geotechnical, electrical and mechanical engineering and land surveying for all types of public works, residential, commercial and industrial projects.
AA: Sounds pretty technical. Do you have a background in engineering or surveying?
DM: No. I was a risk management and insurance major in college and worked for a large insurance company right out of school. A few years afterward, I got a job in the membership development department for an association that represented special districts, meeting regularly with its members and serving as a shameless promoter of the group. It was there that I really found a calling in the world of association management.
AA: How has your membership fared during this difficult economic climate?
DM: Pretty well. We’re down slightly from our 2007 peak [20,000 employees represented vs. 19,000 today]. But, when you consider what’s happened to building and design since then, particularly in our state, we’re pleased with our retention rates. Members are not just very loyal; they’re active ambassadors for us and one of the best recruiting tools we have. We have an arsenal of current members who keep the message out there about what we’re doing for the profession.
AA: When it comes to using member ambassadors, how do you ensure they’re delivering a consistent and accurate message to prospective members?
DM: We have a set of talking points that we share with our local chapters, but we like to keep it pretty unscripted and off-the-cuff. It’s more effective if you empower members to speak from the heart about their own personal experiences about their work and how ACEC helps them.
AA: What are your members’ biggest challenges?
DM: The regulatory environment and creating a healthy business climate for private engineering and land surveying firms so they can compete successfully for public works projects.
AA: Do you have special strategies for attracting younger members of the engineering and surveying professions?
DM: Well, they’re certainly different from older members who have a different concept of loyalty to an association. Older members still like the hard copy version of our magazine and newsletter, and those aren’t going away. However, we’re using social media and blogging to reach the younger up-and-comers. Also, as members and media buyers get younger, the digital products get easier to sell for advertising and sponsorships.
AA: Can you tell us more about your social media initiatives?
DM: We look at Facebook as the friendly backyard barbecue, LinkedIn as the office and Twitter as the newsroom. Facebook’s still a work in progress. LinkedIn has been very successful. We have about 600 members, especially in the members-only area where we communicate our legislative efforts and put them into lay terms. Twitter is our breaking news tool. Our legislative team tweets a lot, especially if something is up in Sacramento. Twitter gives us the ability to make announcements between issues of our publications—for example, an engineering project won a huge award, or something about a state election. It’s also a great tool for reaching people who aren’t regularly reading our magazine or newsletters—and encouraging them to do so.
AA: How about video?
DM: We’re still putting our toe in the water with respect to video—it’s more a matter of bandwidth. Soon, we’ll be asking member ambassadors to do more recruitment videos for us.
AA: How else do you connect with members?
DM: In addition to our website, our member magazine, Engineering & Surveying Business Review and our monthly newsletter e-Update, we have a members-only weekly legislative briefing, plus our annual conference. The conference is in April and will focus on partnering to improve the business climate. Finally, we have quarterly continuing education seminars and workshops to keep members abreast of the latest technology, business, legal and regulatory issues.
AA: How would you describe your leadership philosophy?
DM: Let people do their jobs. We have a small but loyal staff who’s been here for years. They really know the members and what they’re doing. Just make sure everyone on the team understands we work for the members. It’s our job to provide members with accurate, relevant and timely information and execute on what they want. You’ve got to be open to new ideas. It’s all about relationships. You’ve got to be willing to listen, learn and meet new people. The desire and ability to connect with people is key to success for association professionals, no matter what your job is. That’s an art. It can’t be taught.
AA: Overall things seem to be trending in the right direction. What’s keeping you up at night?
DM: How do we maintain relevance in this industry? How do we communicate the value of what we do? People’s attention span is so small. We’re not in the business of selling products and traditional services, but rather recruiting a constituency to a worthwhile cause and endeavor. Fortunately, engineers and land surveyors are good people. They’re easy to work (hard) for.