Business

Lead With Advocacy: How the American Mask Manufacturer’s Association Broke Through

The year-old association formed amid the COVID-19 crisis, which brought a critical need for the industry’s products. AMMA used advocacy work and media appearances to fill awareness gaps in the months before an opportunity to collaborate with the Biden administration emerged.

The start of the pandemic brought a sudden need for masks. But confusion among consumers, doctors, and government officials has at times blunted the average person’s ability to access high-quality masks such as N95 respirators.

A number of mask manufacturers, many of which were startups, took steps early in the pandemic to solve domestic supply problems but ran into bureaucratic difficulties, consumer confusion, and even retailer bans on the sale of masks.

Faced with these challenges, mask makers founded the American Mask Manufacturer’s Association (AMMA) in March 2021. Its early work paid off in a big way when AMMA took a lead role in supporting the Biden administration’s goal of supplying 400 million N95 masks to the public. The group also recently collaborated with Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) on introducing the Domestic SUPPLY Act, a bill that would require the federal government to use American manufacturers for personal protective equipment (PPE) during national emergencies.

These achievements aren’t overnight success stories. The association and its executive director, Nicolas Smit, have worked to demonstrate that domestic manufacturers are capable of safely producing and selling masks, but it has required a lot of shoe leather and media appearances along the way.

Working Through Messaging Challenges

At the beginning of the pandemic, while it was clear that N95 respirator masks were needed, early communications from federal officials led to confusion.

“The government was telling people that there were not enough N95s for both healthcare workers and the public,” said Smit, who took the helm at AMMA last fall. “And there were enough N95s for everyone, but a lot of people were overlooking the domestic supply of N95s and going to KN95s. Hopefully it wasn’t one of the counterfeit ones.”

Following advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, large social networks and digital retailers limited domestic sellers’ ability to market masks, citing a lack of N95s.

“One of the things that was preventing manufacturers from getting a lot of sales is that social media giants like Facebook, Google, Instagram, and Amazon banned PPE advertisements,” Smit said.

But when the FDA updated its guidance to discourage N95 reuse, citing an increase in domestic supply, it didn’t heavily promote that message beyond hospitals—so awareness was low, and e-commerce bans remained in effect. Manufacturers, and later the association, responded by speaking to news outlets such as The New York Times and NPR, along with legislators and the advertising platforms themselves. Smit credits a January article in the congressional publication Roll Call for finally breaking through with Facebook in particular.

“A few hours after that article came out, Facebook updated, finally, after a year,” he said.

Next Steps

Smit says AMMA is now working to increase awareness of mask options that have gone underutilized during the pandemic, such as elastomeric respirators, which can be reused..

“This was a big blind spot of the pandemic; everyone assumed that there were no reusables,” he said.

The association is also focusing on personal protective equipment in the workplace. AMMA hopes to collaborate with mask manufacturer groups in other North American countries and to help member companies expand into international markets.

“I’m also trying to convince the government to invest in PPE donations to low-income countries to go along with vaccines,” Smit said.

(Christian/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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