WK&T hosted it’s first ever Drive-Through Annual Meeintg during the pandemic and had a great turnout. What does a Drive-Through Annual Meeting look like and how did they make it happen?
Transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity and readability.
Andy Johns: What does a drive-through annual meeting look like? That’s what we’ll be talking about on this episode of StoryConnect: The Podcast. My name is Andy Johns, and I’m joined today by Karen Jackson-Furman, who is the CFO with TMS. She works at Mayfield, Kentucky, and Ardmore Telephone right on the Alabama-Tennessee border. Karen was nice enough to join me for an interview, getting ready for a presentation that I was working on talking about virtual annual meetings. And so we’ll just go right into that interview. But I appreciate you tuning into this episode of StoryConnect: The Podcast.
Andy Johns: Well, Karen if you don’t mind, go ahead and give us an overview of what did your annual meeting look like this year?
Karen Jackson-Furman: Okay, hi. Well, at WK&T, we have our annual meeting in July, and so we were unsure at that time what the pandemic was going to look like. So we put off making the decision to go virtual until pretty well the last minute. So it was probably about two weeks out before we actually really pulled the trigger and said, “OK, we’re going to have to do this thing virtually.” So we scrambled, and we put together a plan for drive-through registration the day before annual meeting. Our annual meeting takes place on a Saturday morning, and we did a drive-through registration.
Karen Jackson-Furman: We communicated to the customers via Web page and social media really were the two avenues. It was all online because it was too short notice to do like a direct mail piece or anything like that. So we pretty well just used social media to get the word out and put it in the newspapers. Also, that would be traditional method of notification. But then we had the drive-through registration on that Friday before at all three of our office locations. We had teams out in the parking lot to assist members for a drive-through registration. And then we conducted the business meeting Saturday Morning Live here on our campus in a gymnasium. We had very, very few people present. They were all employees and only the directors that were speaking. And then Trevor Bonnstetter, our CEO, and then the accountants to present the financial report. So we were able to social distance, we were able to wear masks. We were able to stay safe, and we streamed that live on our YouTube channel.
Andy Johns: Excellent. How do you think — you know, this has been a tough year for a lot of reasons. But how do you think that having the meeting that way, how did that allow WK&T to maintain a human connection with members during such an unusual year?
Karen Jackson-Furman: The drive-through registration component. That was the human connection because we set up cones, we set up tables, we directed traffic through our parking lots. We actually approached the car. Of course, we were safe. We had masks and gloves on. We tried to minimize what was passed back and forth through the window of the vehicle. We gave them the option to review a full booklet that included all of our financial information, everything that was going to be covered with the regular business session. And they had an opportunity to review that. Then they had a ballot. So they were able to vote. We were able to to talk just a little bit. We were able to tell them that instead of handing out prizes due to COVID and not wanting to pass things back and forth through the vehicles, we were doing a bill credit for anybody that registered for the annual meeting this year, and they would see that on their next billing statement. So it was just a good opportunity to talk to folks and actually be face-to-face with folks for that registration prize. And we were really successful. We actually have more come to the drive-through registration than we had the prior year at the actual annual meeting. So our registration numbers were actually up doing it that way.
Andy Johns: Interesting that may be a lesson learned for the future, but let’s talk about those lessons learned. If you’ve got somebody else who is looking, a fellow telco person who is thinking about doing a virtual or drive-through annual meeting in 2021, what did you learn, or what advice would you have to give to them?
Karen Jackson-Furman: Really two points. The first being, you know, if you’re going to make a decision to conduct your meeting virtually, and registration perhaps, to start early. There were some things that we wanted to do on our website, in the streaming channel that we were just not able to quite get done. And it relates back to that human connection. We were actually wanting the the member to register online so that we knew who was at the meeting, who was viewing virtually as opposed to streaming wide open. We wanted a registration process. And then we wanted to allow virtual voting for the folks that couldn’t come to the drive-through registration for whatever reason. We had people quarantined that were calling saying, “hey, I want to register, but I can’t leave my home. What do I do?” And we didn’t really have a solution for them. So I think that we would start earlier, and we would spend the money or whatever resources we needed to get the website to be more interactive so that we knew who attended so that we could reach out with a thank you. We like to write handwritten thank you for members that attend the annual meeting and just recognize that they took time out of their day and that the cooperative is important to them and that we appreciate it. And we weren’t really able to do that. So definitely this next year, should we choose to do virtual again, I’ll be starting earlier to make sure that we can do those things.
Karen Jackson-Furman: The second piece of advice, I would say, is have a backup plan in case it rains. We had all three of our registration locations outdoors in the parking lots of our three offices. And it came a downpour and lots of lightning. And it got kind of scary before we could rip everything down and get back into the building. And then even during the rain, when it wasn’t safe to be outside because of the lightning, we had a lot of people driving into the parking lot, and you could tell they were just kind of lost. They didn’t know what to do. Some left, some pulled over and waited. And then when the rain passed, we were able to go back out and help them. So have a backup for bad weather.
Andy Johns: I had not heard that part of the story. That’s a very 2020 thing to happen.
Andy Johns: That was Karen Jackson-Furman. She is CFO with TMS and worked with WK&T in Mayfield, Kentucky, and Ardmore Telephone down in Alabama. Thanks, Karen, for going. Thank you for listening. And until we talk again, keep telling your story.