Jan 11, 2022

An Interview with ATA CEO, Jeff Poole

Talk about being at the right place at the right time – with the 2021 ATA Show being the right place and Jim Shepherd and I coming in early to the show being the right time – for us to meet with the new CEO of ATA, Jeff Poole.

Like Jim mentioned in his editorial yesterday, Poole has more experience than most with trade and consumer shows, having been a key player in the NRA’s Great American Outdoor Show - the country’s largest and longest consumer outdoor event. But I was curious about Poole’s overarching plan for ATA and what he sees as positives – and challenges – for the organization.

Poole said one of the reasons for being at the 2021 ATA Show (he doesn’t officially begin until January 24) is to interact with those on the trade show floor and receive feedback – not only on the show, but also on ATA as an organization. “We want to get feedback from them on the value ATA is bringing them, both here with the delivery of goods and services that is the show, and when they go home,” shared Poole.

This move from a very large organization such as the NRA to a much smaller entity that is the ATA is a significant change for Poole. “This is a big change, but I’m very excited to stay in the outdoor industry and lead an organization like ATA. I’ve been to this show before and I’m a bowhunter, plus there is some cross pollination between the NRA Annual Meetings and this show. I recognize many of the exhibitors on the floor. But I also realize I am not an archery insider, and that is the motivation for me to spend so much time with the companies here, at the show, and beyond to become one as quickly as possible.”

I was also curious as to the direction the ATA Search Committee took in finding their new CEO. Last go round, they found someone outside of the industry. Did they make a conscious effort to find someone who knew the industry well, first? ATA Board Chairman, Mark Copeland, was attending this interview and could answer. “We did want to look inside the industry first,” explained Copeland. “This was opposed to having a search firm do the search for us, which was how we did it last time. What Jeff offers ATA is a much more rounded experience; he does more than check all the boxes. And the first step is getting us all here, in-person, to share that enthusiasm with our members.”

Every industry has its challenges – and every organization is feeling the pinch of not seeing its members for over a year. Some members may question if they even need the organization any longer, the way the economy and climate are going. Poole recognizes that. “We need to re-establish the value the organization brings to its members. Having an in-person show helps with that. In this COVID environment, we have associations who are feeling the strain of COVID, and yet there are members who are setting sales records and are flush. It is a very strange environment we find ourselves in and we are trying to determine as quickly as possible what opportunities this holds for the organization on the other side,” he explained. “We do need to be careful how we approach that and move forward over the next few years.” One thing I know is that virtual shows didn’t work, especially for exhibitors. Poole agrees and shares that opened our eyes to other ways of doing business, and it forced companies to review their marketing spend.

When asked about Poole’s first 90 days, he of course said networking and getting to know as many ATA members as possible, but also working on ATA’s consumer membership program, Bowhunters United. “We want to get this program rejuvenated and pointed in the right direction. My experience with building consumer membership programs with the NRA is directly applicable here and we are excited about pushing it forward again,” explained Poole.

If you attended the ATA Show, you probably saw a looping reel about Bowhunters United playing in a variety of places featuring the likes of Jim Shockey, Kristy Titus, and other industry influencers. Plus, there was an entire Bowhunters United storefront on the show floor. When passing it, one of my colleagues said, “I need to go back there and get something for my son.”

As the conversation wrapped up, Poole said that My ATA – the membership portal for ATA members – means something different for everyone. There is a wide span of members involved in ATA, from media (me!) to non-profits, a government or state agency, and retailers and manufacturers. We all sit at one, huge table. Will we learn to play well together and support one another? I believe, and I know Jim does as well, under Poole’s guidance, we have a very good head start to making that happen. – Michelle Scheuermann, editor, Archery Wire