Virtual This & Digital That …

Peter Gerstenberger

Although there were bumps along the way, we are gratified knowing tree care businesses survived and even thrived during COVID-19. For the Tree Care Industry Association, an organization that advances tree care businesses by providing connections, resources and training to the tree care business community, the phrase “adapt and overcome” describes our last 13 months. Our challenge was to create a safe space for some of the important benefits of Association membership that ordinarily would happen face to face.

To meet the challenge, TCIA developed a virtual/digital strategy. Although COVID accelerated our work, the real impetus came from a desire to provide better overall service to our members, and, in doing so, to find new ways to reach members who traditionally had been hard to reach.

“We define ‘digital’ broadly to mean any content that is available on demand, and ‘virtual’ is content delivered remotely but in real time,” explains Mike Rennie, TCIA’s senior vice president of marketing & member engagement.

“TCIA initiated conversations around its virtual/digital strategy during COVID, and largely as a response to the pandemic. It was what we needed to do at the time, but we all recognized that this virtual/digital strategy held a lot of importance outside of COVID.

“Before COVID, TCIA had a well-defined overall strategy, with goals and planning set up around our member-engagement coordinators. They were to focus on specific territories in which to engage with members face to face, either in their offices or through roundtable events and workshops.

“With the arrival of COVID, everything changed. Even though our members, for the most part, were out there working, we were basically grounded and had to quickly pivot as to how we were going to have that same type of interaction,” says Rennie.

“We employed a lot of the same tactics that other companies and organizations did: Zoom calls, one-on-one phone calls, virtual mini-workshops, even spaces where members from different areas of the country could get together and share experiences, whether it was how they were dealing with COVID or some aspect of how they were running their businesses amid change – providing ideas for other members to take away. We hosted several of those virtual workshops.

“To keep arborists up to date with certifications and training, obviously TCIA had to set up our training programs to be completed remotely, while we encouraged members to use their time for training – to buy the products that allowed their staffs to learn remotely.”

In January, TCIA hosted the TCI Virtual Summit ’21, which drew an audience of more than 2,000 arborists from all over the U.S. and around the world.

Rennie reflects on this event: “We decided to host this virtual event, with no experience in how it would work, how to best promote it or what it should look like. With the event falling just after the holidays, it was challenging to get the message out and really get people focused on registering.

“Virtual Summit wasn’t just something to do only because we couldn’t hold a face-to-face event. TCIA’s leadership saw it, and still sees it, as a tool to reach members who perhaps we haven’t been able to reach through traditional methods, and as a means of extending the TCIA family.”

This coming November 4-6, TCI EXPO will be a live, in-person event held in Indianapolis. There may have to be some accommodations for COVID, but it will be bigger and better than ever. Sure, virtual/digital is an entrenched part of our future. But, like you, we are looking forward to seeing smiles, shaking hands and kicking some tires.

Peter Gerstenberger, publisher

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