During my seven years at McGraw-Hill's Fleet Owner magazine, I learned how important fleet managers were in the heavy-duty truck market. As I started Automotive Fleet, it was Armund Schoen at Wheels Inc. who stressed the key manager role in the commercial fleet market. Jim Frank has followed Schoen's wisdom (as has every FMC and OEM leader) by maintaining this mantra. It also may be why Wheels Inc. has been a major sponsor of the Professional Fleet Manager of the Year Award.
AF and our sister publication, Fleet Financials, have been "educating" and "elevating" the position for more than 50 years. The NAFA Fleet Management Association has been vocal about its "Beyond Fleet" program. Its new president, Claude Masters, is a solid veteran and I laud his platform of education and recognition for CAFM grads. He wants that designation to match that of a CPA (a lofty goal, but it won't happen).
What's it going to take to get the job done that so many in our segment of the auto industry want and need? Here are my recommendations.
A few months ago, I urged consideration of a coalition of AALA, NAFA, and AFLA to address this one recognition objective. A note from Anthony Foster, fleet manager for corporate procurement at Pioneer Natural Resources shared this: ". . . our biggest obstacle is the lack of collaboration between all of the fleet management associations."
I'm not talking about allocating big budgets, a number of national meetings, or large committees at each entity. I'm suggesting that the three groups commit to promoting the concept and share in the rewards to follow. Between Phil Russo at NAFA, Pam Sederholm at AALA, someone from the OEMs, and Mike Antich for AF/FF (who is also an AFLA board member), each could critique suggested strategies of direction, and provideany ideas toward the goals and getting behind action.
Let's identify the execs that we want to remember the "Beyond Fleet"-type message and be realistic in our choosing of the specific executive audience. It may inflate dreams by featuring ads in the Wall Street Journal, but even regional ads are pricey (and I'm a daily WSJ reader and have not seen the ad). Similarly, there may be better media selection than Bloomberg's Business Week; the last time I checked, they reported just under a million circulation and an ad page at about $156,000. Dues-paying members approve, I assume.
Let's not think of influencing every U.S. corporate company. Rather, let's start with serving association membership and their bosses. Fact: there are around 4,000 commercial fleets with more than 200 vehicles. NAFA has 900-plus members in this group; AFLA has less, and some are duplicated. It's easy to narrow the focus and hit hard at the heart of our objective.
Our annual salary survey in AF has some very interesting data and has produced a most revealing chart. Fleet managers receiving performance-based compensation incentives (51 percent, do) received the highest median income when reporting to HR ($97,500). Purchasing, finance, and general administration departments followed. Sales was dead last at $60,000.
Doesn't it make sense to carve out the departmental execs for rifle shot communications to where the fleet managers can and will benefit most? Between AF and FF, we know those 4,000 fleets pretty well from bottom to top; and we're inviting the combined association group to augment what we've been doing for so many years.
I have loved the "Beyond Fleet" concept from the beginning nearly two years ago; its objective is clear but needs some marketing (see above) help; and especially some new creative direction. The tabs on the hat may be too subtle by themselves to impress an exec.
From the industry people I've talked with, the focus should be on the huge dollar investment the fleet manager is charged with and how he or she manages the "do more with less" dictum from above. With all the award winners shouting how much they saved the company with new initiatives, plus similar case histories featured, researched and published, there's a wealth of credible copy for a promotional program that will resonate.
From my own experience, nothing gets an exec's attention more than a testimonial on a potential money-saving idea. And, why not make the benefit come back to the fleet manager?
Let me know if you agree.