Thursday, Feb 4th David Tatman, President of the Tatman Group, joins the show to discuss the benefits of a hybrid conference in today’s world.
Coffee with Jim James (Episode 43)
Jimmy Schauer: [0:24] Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to this week’s episode of “Coffee with Jim & James.” OK, my normal tangent, New Orleans, July 26, 2010. No, never speak of it again. We’re not going to do that. I was at a LGA conference. I have to tell you, there was one of the best ones ever.
[0:45] I said to my old buddy Bobby Burns. I said, “Bobby, we normally get 60, 70, 80 people. We must have three, four hundred here.” I said, “How did that happen?”
[0:54] We were at the Royal Sonesta pool. He pointed over, and there is this vision, almost like Cousin Eddie and Christmas vacation in the pool scene. The rubber ducky. He goes, “That’s David Tatman.” I’m like, “Who is he?” I said, “I got to meet him.” That’s where the friendship began.
[1:13] Before we get to David, let me bring in my co‑host, James. James, how are you today?
James Cross: [1:18] Jimmy, I was scared where that was going. One of those New Orleans stories. I’ve heard that line before. I am great. It is a rainy day here in Texas, but we’ll take the rain. We’re in a drought. We’re going to stay that way.
[1:32] Excited to have David Tatman. I actually met David this morning, pre‑show. I’ve seen him. I’ve seen pictures of him, super famous guy. I’m glad that he’s on here with us. David, good morning. Thanks for joining us. Can you give us a little bit of a rundown of what you do for the Tatman Group and a little bit about it?
David Tatman: [1:54] Sure. Good morning. Thanks for having me on. This is a lot of fun. A little different than my typical day. Thanks for having me on. I don’t know about that. I was a little worried until Jim said what it was about. When you started the story with, “We were in New Orleans. We were in Bourbon Street.” I’m thinking, “This could not end.” [laughs]
[2:15] Our company is an association management and lobbying firm. What that means is we do turnkey operations for trade and professional associations. If you’re a giant association, like the National Chamber of Commerce, you probably have a $10 million building, 50 people on staff and all that.
[2:38] There are a lot of smaller associations heavily involved, but smaller associations that it makes more sense to contract that work out as opposed to hiring an executive director, buying a building, so on and so forth. What we do is we do that as a turnkey operation. We do some some form of government relations or association management for 38 different clients.
[3:03] Of course, our favorite client is the gas associations, Arkansas and Louisiana associations. We don’t really play favorites, but what we do try to do is make sure that we don’t look like an association management company. When we serve AGA or LGA, we’re part of the family. We don’t identify ourselves as staff of the Tatman Group. We say we’re LGA staff.
[3:27] We work with the board to implement the policies of the board. That’s everything from events, conventions where I met Jim at, to board meetings, to publications, to all communications, to legislative affairs, and things like that. That’s generally what we do. We love working with with our gas associations.
Jimmy: [3:51] We love working with you, David, I have to tell you. We’re friends. We’re buddies, and we have been for years, but the amount you do for the LGA, Louisiana Gas Association, and the AGA, Arkansas Gas Association, just get on board those is going to be tremendous.
[4:08] Can you give me just a little bit more background where it all began? Did your roots begin and politics? Let’s go back…I’m not going to say our age. Let’s go back a decade or two. [inaudible] full insight to that.
David: [4:20] I’m 58 years old. I grew up in New Orleans. I went to high school there. Went on to Nicholls State University, graduated from there. I was going to be a psychologist. That was the plan. Didn’t work out because I put myself through school, so I was so hungry that I just needed to get a job.
[4:45] First job working with the Boy Scouts of America doing program management and fundraising. Then I went to Children’s Hospital and worked there in fundraising and program management.
[4:56] Then I was hired in 1990 to come to Baton Rouge, leave my home town, which was difficult, and come to Baton Rouge and work for a major trade and professional associations to do their fundraising work. Eventually, I started doing their lobbying work.
[5:13] In ’97, I left, formed my own company, the Tatman Group. Little logo in the back, little plug for us. We were doing government relations work. From June of ’97 to about 2002, that’s what we were doing. We had a lot of clients that we represented from a government relations standpoint that were trade in professional associations and were struggling to make it.
[5:38] Things were very difficult. Associations have an ebb and flow. Sometimes they’re up. Sometimes they’re down.
[5:45] After I said no about 27 times to some clients, we finally took on ‑‑ we actually took three on at one time. Now we’re the largest association management firm in the state. We began to build our portfolio of associations beginning again in about 2002, ballpark. Then we started working with the Louisiana Gas Association in 2007.
[6:13] Just had a lot of great experiences. We’re successful because we have great boards and we have great leaders. It’s a team thing. We can be the best in the world. If our boards are not strong and engaged like LGA and AGA are, we’re not going to make it. That’s really what we do.
[6:33] We know a lot of you all. When Arkansas came up, we met with that board and we took them over in 2018. We love working with them. What a great opportunity.
Jimmy: [6:47] Fantastic.
James: [6:48] I thought you were going to get to use that psychology stuff.
David: [6:52] [laughs]
James: [6:53] When Jim started with that New Orleans story. David, 2020 will forever be marked as the year we all went virtual. I am so tired of hearing that word. It was so foreign to us. You laughed about this today, how different today is to be on this. Imagine us every week. [laughs] We we have no clue of how we ended up here.
[7:17] What are your thoughts on virtual conferences? Do you think it was beneficial? Do you think it was a stopgap? Do you think this is the future? What does 2021 look like and beyond your in your educated opinion?
David: [7:33] I get asked that question a lot, not only by people outside of what we do, but by our clients cross pollination of information. The reality of it is, a year and a half ago, I would have called my board and said, “I want to have a virtual conference, and we’re going to go do all virtual board meetings,” I wouldn’t have any clients. The pandemic forced us into this lane. Now we’re here.
[8:02] Great stories about guys that couldn’t even open their cell phone. They’re now…
James: [8:08] You can’t talk about them like that.
David: [8:11] [laughs] You sit there watching. The first time we did it, we’re doing them with. People would look on cameras. They’d have funny things in the background that they didn’t want people to see. They were technologically challenged. By the way, technology. Right now, we’re on Zoom. Teams works really well.
[8:32] At some point, it was better than nothing. People wanted to see each other, wanted to have interaction, wanted to keep doing the work, wanted to keep serving, and that sort of thing. That’s where it is.
[8:47] When we talked about virtual conferences, we’ve done some really nice ones with some of our clients. Some are still a little kicking and screaming. They keep kicking the can down the road and saying, “We’ll now push it back from February to October,” or, “We’ll do this or we’ll do that,” hoping that it gets better.
[9:06] There’s a larger number in the middle that are trying to do hybrid. We have clients now. They’re meeting live. Look, the rooms are full. What we’re also doing is every time we do that, we’re suggesting that people do hybrid conferences. That way, if people want to go, they can go in person. If they want to do it virtually, they can do it virtually.
[9:30] There’s another element. That is if there is some extreme break out again where everything is shut down, you at least have the hybrid that you can deliver that product. That is where we’ve been in 2020. We think we’re getting a lot better at it. I think our firm does it better than most because I have, Jim, as you know, very talented staff and very talented young energy.
James: [9:58] Yes, you do.
David: [9:59] You asked the question about 2021. I don’t have a crystal ball, but my brother’s cousin’s sister’s son does.
James: [10:08] Seems reliable.
David: [10:10] It’s hot. It’s off the black market. Seriously, I personally don’t think 2021 is a lot better. The indications are that we frankly don’t know how it spread…We don’t really have a deep understanding of how it spread. There are variants that are coming. The vaccination is painfully slow. There are going to be a lot of people who are not taking the vaccination.
[10:39] We have a lot of clients who are in situations where they’re up the ladder on vaccines. We’re finding 30 to 40 percent of those people aren’t taking it. I think we’re resting a little too much on vaccine. I know we didn’t want to get into a vaccine conversation, but I believe that 2021 is going to look a lot like 2020 did.
James: [11:00] Unfortunately, I completely agree with you. We had a conference planned for May of this year.
David: [11:09] Big one.
James: [11:09] Going on the same notion that you just brought up, I don’t know how blinded we were. I think we were all pandemic‑blinded. We thought we were going to flip a switch in 2021. Vaccines were just going to show up everybody’s door, and everybody’s going to take it. We were all going to run wild.
[11:29] As we see it, I’m I’m preparing our teams to come to the realization that, if there’s anything that has any semblance to our old norm, we’d be lucky to see it by Q3, Q4. Really lucky. I love the hybrid approach, David. I think what y’all have done…I attended LGA’s conference last year.
[11:58] I think you’re right. I think we had high hopes for 2021, but unfortunately, we’re sputtering out of the gate a little bit, no matter where that comes from. Reality’s hitting that…We got really good last year. That’s the good news. You hit it out of the park with we had people learn how to do these things that never knew how, and that gap isn’t there that we had before.
[12:20] I think 2021, if it turns into either a hybrid or all‑virtual again, we’ll see better versions of ourselves. We saw last year, it was like, “Well, we can’t break it. We’re doing nothing right now.” I love that viewpoint for sure.
Jimmy: [12:37] David, you hit on a very important part. I like your aspect that 2020 was a heck of a challenging year, the whole bit, but we embraced it. We learned new things. You brought up your role and such.
[12:54] Thinking about a COVID environment, or God forbid what other type of environment come down the road, where do you see the the professional and trade associations? How do you see those helping assisting roll? That’s where my thought process is. Any thoughts on that?
David: [13:12] I do, and I think it’s a great question. I would tell you that I think, now, trade and professional associations are more important than ever. Of course, people are going to say, “Well, of course. You run them. You’re going to say that,” but I’ll tell you why I believe that.
[13:29] There are usually core items that are big in an association. With LGA and AJ, training and education is such a big deal. The networking aspect of it is important, too. What I have found is, with all of the things going on in social media, and with the way that news is fed to us, you don’t know what to trust or believe.
[13:54] I would suggest to you that, if your association’s sending something to you, you can you can almost guarantee it’s going to be accurate, or they’re not going to send it to you. Again, depending on the association that you’re working with, things change.
[14:07] In some cases right now, it is the association that is, I use the word lobbying, pleading with government to move some of our clients up the ladder when it comes to vaccines. They may be in contact with people who have it or servicing people who have it.
[14:24] From a either governmental relations standpoint or an education ‑‑ those are usually the two big ones ‑‑ communication has moved way up the ladder. I’m not saying it is the most important, but you news you can trust ‑‑ I think that’s one of the network’s logo ‑‑ I think that’s what associations are.
[14:41] It’s news you can trust. It gives everyone a more important set of information as they run their businesses, as they train their employees, as they do these things. We’re actually seeing increases in membership, which we did not predict. That hot crystal ball, it didn’t show that.
James: [15:02] [inaudible] market would.
David: [15:02] [laughs]
James: [15:03] David, I think another awesome byproduct to the hybrid or virtual‑only approach that a lot of people don’t talk about ‑‑ and Jim, you’ll know because I talk about this all the time with our teams ‑‑ but I love where we’re at right now.
[15:20] I’m going to be really selfish. I don’t want to be in a pandemic, but I’m saying that the atmosphere I have right now allows me more continuous improvement and development up‑skilling, than ever before. I can sign up for these virtual conferences.
[15:36] I used to do it all the time when things weren’t virtual, but now that everything is, I sign up for everything. We’re a part of ‑‑ what Jim ‑‑ probably 30, 40 associations across natural gas industry.
Jimmy: [15:49] Yes.
James: [15:50] I sign up for everything, because 9 times out of 10, I’m going to get that on‑demand option. If I am available, I can listen while I work. I can listen later. I can listen tonight, and I didn’t have that option. My teams definitely didn’t have that option, because they weren’t traveling out to the shows. They’re not public‑facing folks.
[16:11] An awesome byproduct has been the amount of education that people are getting, number one, that never would have got it, but number two, at their own speed, in their own style, which we know in training is so important.
Jimmy: [16:30] Sorry to interrupt. David, you hit it. James, you carried on with it, and it’s the idea that you said that we’ve grown because of that to the association. There might be people that, like James was just talking, that never could go, couldn’t leave the office. Now that it was virtual or this hybrid, which I really like.
[16:48] There’s going to be some of us that’ll be back on Bourbon Street. We’ll never speak of it again David. Keep that quiet, but anyways, we’ll be back, but a lot of the people that can’t go will actually have the ability to go virtually. That’s a very positive thing.
David: [17:03] Yeah, I think that’s spot‑on. I really do. There are things that change our world all the time, cell phones, the way that whole thing works, the idea that you can be doing a conference call or a Zoom meeting ‑‑ of course, you wouldn’t be looking at it ‑‑ but while you’re driving. You wouldn’t be looking. You’d just be listening.
[17:22] The technology extends, and I agree with you. The delivery is critically important. In another crystal ball I’m looking at, I think that this will always be part of the mix, though. It’s a new delivery system that people are more comfortable with.
[17:40] Look, there’s nothing like being at that conference. Here we are in the trade showroom. Jim and I see each other, say hello. There’s a lot of business not at the pool, too. There’s a lot of business done at the bar, at the restaurant. I think that the live conferences will never lose their luster, but I do think there will always be different offerings, and virtual will be in the mix.
James: [18:06] I agree. We can’t go back. We’re going to lose so many people, and I brought it up the other day Jim. I’m trying to think what guest it was. We were talking about the generation gap and skills gap and all that stuff. I brought up the fact that we were so concerned about this new generation and the retiring workforce and all that stuff.
[18:29] Look at us now, what just happened. We have a group of people that jumped onto virtual meetings in a heartbeat. We have a workforce that’s inspired to be able to work at home and be with their family. It’s a totally different world. We may have fixed the problem without even knowing it, so that’s pretty exciting.
[18:52] David, one last question.
Jimmy: [18:53] This is a hard one. This is a hard one, brother.
James: [18:56] You’ve been a fantastic guest, David, but we always finish our show with one question, so I’m going to ask you that today. David, do you love what you do?
David: [19:06] Absolutely. Love it. I’ve got the best job in the world.
James: [19:10] Why?
David: [19:13] Look, a lot of people don’t see what we see on both sides. The client doesn’t always see what we’re doing, say, at the Capitol, or in the trenches, and so on and so forth, but I like it all. I like the fact that we’re out there, and the one thing about trade and professional associations is service.
[19:31] They’re providing service to their industry. They’re trying to make things better. When you’re on a team of people who are trying to excel at what they do ‑‑ they’re not just trying to get by ‑‑ that is a spirit that ‑‑ I am fortunate to get that sort of energy from from you all, from our clients.
[19:52] I actually am better when I’m busy because I love it so much.
James: [19:56] Yeah. I’m that person for sure. Jim, you ever been on a team where everybody was equally passionate?
Jimmy: [20:04] I’ve been I’ve been on so many…
James: [20:06] You better say now.
Jimmy: [20:09] Now.
James: [20:09] That was a setup.
David: [20:09] Of course.
Jimmy: [20:09] Right now. Right now.
[20:11] Well, wait. This has been on my head. I got to say it. You know, I live in West Palm Beach, Florida, and I used to travel all the time, and I used to stay connected. Then all of a sudden this all happened, and then James said, “We’re going to have a morning scrum meeting,” is what it’s called, which is a Zoom meeting.
[20:29] I have never in my career felt more connected to a team, even though I’m 1,200 miles away. We talk. We talk about life ‑‑ personal life, professional life ‑‑ our day’s schedule, all that stuff, and it’s every day. At first, I was like, “What? A Zoom meeting? What? Get on LinkedIn? What? Get on a podcast? What? Do what?”
[20:51] Now it just becomes more and more comfortable, and I’d never been more connected to a team. Just like us picking up, David, you and I today ‑‑ we haven’t seen each other in a long time ‑‑ months. Months and months and months, but it’s just like we pick it up just by seeing your face right here, and it’s wonderful.
David: [21:09] It really is great, and although I would tell you, I’d rather be where you are than where I am, so that ‑‑ I like the travel aspect. If you do call a meeting at your place, let me know. I’ll be there. [laughs]
James: [21:21] Likewise. Likewise.
Jimmy: [21:22] You might have to have one. We might have to have one, my friend.
James: [21:29] Good enough.
Jimmy: [21:29] Anyways…
James: [21:29] Jimmy, why don’t you bring it home for us?
Jimmy: [21:32] I think I’m going to. David, we cannot thank you enough for the time today ‑‑ absolute pleasure, my friend. You’re a old and trusted friend. The things that you do for the industries ‑‑ I’ll say that ‑‑ is remarkable. Your staff, Jamie and Annie, you know…
David: [21:49] Rock stars.
Jimmy: [21:49] Rock stars, and we can’t thank you enough for what you do in the industry. All the audience out there, Tatman Group, David Tatman ‑‑ look ’em up. Explore ’em. Find out a little bit more. Coffee with Jim and James ‑‑ look us up. Follow us. See what we have to do. See what we have to say.
[22:09] Again, James and David, thank you so much for today, and to our audience out there, we will see or hear you next time on Coffee with Jim and James. Everybody, have a great week, and stay safe.
James: [22:20] Bub‑bye, everyone.
Jimmy: [22:22] Bye.