Ashley Mills was recently named CEO of The Vision Council. She brings more than 20 years of trade association management, marketing and leadership experience. She returned to The Vision Council as VP of trade shows and meetings in January 2016 after serving as director of communications for the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. She was also The Vision Council’s director of marketing and shows, 2003-2006.

FRANK GIAMMANCO: What role does The Vision Council play in “Think About Your Eyes”?

ASHLEY MILLS: The Vision Council has been involved with “Think about Your Eyes” for several years. It’s time for the industry and profession to come together and promote vision health; this campaign does just that. We know we’re reaching consumers, and 2017 is shaping up to be our best year yet. We are able to significantly increase our advertising budget this year, and now our campaign will air the first, second and third quarters. We have much more high-profile media placements this year as well as a significant social media campaign.

The campaign is advised, directed and funded by a diverse group of organizations in both the industry and the profession. We’re thrilled that this year there’s a significant commitment from the American Optometric Association (AOA).

GIAMMANCO: How would you recommend getting involved?

MILLS: Our members can contact me, and anyone else can visit In terms of the profession, there’s a doctor locator, and we have 37 state AOA leadership partners.

GIAMMANCO: How is The Vision Council utilizing these partnerships, such as with the AOA?

MILLS: We have a commitment within The Vision Council to meet everybody where they are and respect the unique strategic positions and goals of all these organizations. Where we can find common ground is where we want to partner.

Another initiative we’re encouraged by is to discuss what each vision philanthropy does, with the hope of having a greater collective impact. This is under the leadership of our new board chairman, Mike Hundert from De Rigo REM. We had our first meeting at The Vision Council Executive Summit this year, and we’ll be doing it again at Vision Expo East.

GIAMMANCO: What do you hope to achieve with the emerging Optical Leaders Program?

MILLS: We now have a formal Emerging Optical Leaders Committee within The Vision Council that is also represented on the board of directors. Our goal is to engage these emerging leaders so they feel this is their organization but also so our organization can stay relevant for this emerging demographic.

They’ve already accomplished a lot. One initiative was to create a formal mentorship program within The Vision Council.

For a few years, the Vision Expo shows have also focused on cultivating rising talent among independent optometrists and opticians, so we have a Young Professionals Club. We saw a 10% increase in Millennials at Vision Expo last year.

GIAMMANCO: There’s a lot of government activity. What position is The Vision Council taking?

MILLS: Our most important role now is to make sure that the lines of communication are open and that we can be a resource to the administration. Given the strong potential change to U.S. trade policy in North America and Asia, we’re studying what this might look like, but we don’t know yet. Within the next few months we should be able to formally brief our membership.

Is there concern among members, particularly those importing from China?

MILLS: I think there is, and there’s also concern about tariffs on products coming in from Mexico. Those are very high on our radar.

How does this industry look after a decade?

MILLS: I had always hoped to come back to The Vision Council. Having worked in organized philanthropy and the restaurant industry, this is definitely the best industry to work in, vision. The people are different, and it’s such a welcoming group with tremendous pride.


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