Want to stage a successful event that attracts thousands of raving fans?
Then you should learn person from one of the greats, Mary Coppola, Vice President of Marketing & Communications for United Fresh Produce Association.
What You Will Learn:
- The strategy behind planning a major event
- How to gain initial traction and buzz (and how long it takes)
- The importance of an omni-channel marketing approach
- Tips for success in modern marketing
Play the podcast below.
In this edition of the Ignite University podcast, John Lincoln interviews Mary about her career and what it takes to build a large event in a niche industry.
[00:00:13] John: Ok Ignite Visibility University, today I’m here with Mary Cupola who is Vice President of Marketing and Communications for United fresh produce Association and Mary, what she does is develop and implement the association strategic marketing programs to promote brands, products, services, and memberships, which turned into things that really just generally elevate the produce industry. She’s also responsible for BrandStorm as well as other events such as the convention and Expo and I’m really excited to be chatting with her today. So Mary, thank you so much for being on. I really appreciate it. Thanks for taking the time.
[00:00:54] Mary Coppola: Yeah, John, thank you for having me and thank you for participating and BrandStorm just a month ago. It’s an exciting opportunity to start engaging you.
[00:01:03] John: Yeah, I was blown away by that BrandStorm event and I’m so happy to be chatting with you today and getting to know some other members of your community. You know, the fresh produce industry and the produce industry in general is so vibrant. I had no idea, you know, the level of marketing and business that was going on there. So it’s been a pleasure to interact with you guys so far.
[00:01:31] Mary Coppola: It is a vibrant industry, isn’t it? I think the color and the flavor and just the, the way that engages all of our senses. It’s one of the biggest reasons I love this industry. So happy to talk to you about it tonight.
[00:01:43] John: Yes, so vital to our health and our world well-being, not just for ourselves, but also you know, for our children and really everybody out there. So I wanted to start out today, just tell us a little bit about you and about your role and what you do.
[00:01:59] Mary Coppola: Sure. Well, your interest production was spot on, I’m the Vice President of Marketing Communications here united fresh produce Association and the association itself is a national Trade Association, which means that we represent the full spectrum of the fresh produce industry. So everybody that is growing, harvesting, fresh cut, packaging, processing, shipping and distributing fresh produce all the way to the retailer, the food service restaurant and schools, where consumers are engaging with fresh produce. We help all of those businesses along the supply chain, improve their business and overall grow consumption, which is our number one goal.
[00:02:48] John: And it seems like to me the membership has a lot of different, different benefits, you know, interacting with others, it felt like a very vibrant, great community of people collaborating, but in addition to that, events really seem like a big part of what you do. So events like BrandStorm or the convention and Expo, and tell me a little bit about the events you’re doing and how you’re bringing people together.
[00:03:12] Mary Coppola: Sure, as a trade association, one of our biggest channels for engagement with our members is to help them learn and develop. So we do that through events, mainly with some other resources, supporting that BrandStorm being one example or convention being another. As far as my vertical and since we’re talking to marketers, I’ll start withBrandStorm, which is an opportunity for the folks that are responsible for marketing, fresh produce products, to come together once a year and really interact with each other and something that’s unique that you experienced, John, with this industry is that we are very family focused and family rooted and that goes beyond being a family farmer, it really is how we interact and view our relationships with each other. So although we’re competitors, when you go into a retail store and have to choose a bag of salad between two different brands, when we’re talking about increasing consumption, we really are all on the same page and treat each other like family, which is why you felt so much camaraderie at BrandStorm.
So it’s a really exciting event for us to gather once a year and take a look at the marketing trends that are happening. Produce borrows a lot of concepts from CPG brands in the food space but we’re so unique and that we’re a perishable product that we don’t have a long shelf life and we have different relationships with consumers who are eating fresh produce or who should be eating fresh produce. So with our unique challenges, we take those lessons learned and at BrandStorm, really sit down and drill into how we can improve our own industry and our own relationships with consumers through new strategy and learning from each other.
[00:05:09] John: I absolutely just love that camaraderie and that community feel and it makes me think about, you know, my business, we work across a variety of different verticals but it makes me think a lot about one of our very large auto clients who has, you know, has hundreds of franchisees and their camaraderie as well and I just think the mark of a great organization is that family feel. So I would definitely second that and, you know, these events that you’re doing, it sounds like the one that I was at BrandStorm was marketing focused, you know, it was a little bit smaller, but your biggest event, I believe, is the convention and Expo, can you tell us a little bit about that one.
[00:05:46] Mary Coppola: Yeah. So that, you know, BrandStorm. It’s just a fraction of what happens at the convention and so this is our annual event happens each June and we gather the full industry so thousands and thousands Industry professional, again across that total supply chain, focused on marketing, packaging, promotions, merchandising but also on the technologies and the innovations that are happening, whether it’s in processing, packaging, harvesting, field technology.
So all these folks gather with us for three days of education, networking, and a trade show have over 250 exhibitors, the energy around this experience is unparalleled. We are again an industry that loves to gather and really respects each other’s businesses and doing business with each other. So when we also have that opportunity to network and kind of enjoy each other’s company, that it’s, it’s just the most amazing feeling.
So part of what we’re doing this year is trying to elevate those opportunities for this audience building in some new and fun concerts and experiences awesome to the trade show floor. So you spend your day learning, you spend your day connecting, and you spend your evenings networking and celebrating and I think that’s really the best way to package any type of large program like that.
[00:07:21] John: I love that. That’s great and so I think you know, one thing that I’m interested in, I know the Ignite visibility university community is interested in is what goes into planning an event of that size and for me, I have, I have planned some smaller events I’ve, I’ve done a little bit of it, and I know that it is it’s tough, right? There’s a lot that goes into events and I remember years ago when I was you know being a, you know, that it’s can be a crazy time. So when you start having an event of that magnitude and you’re thinking about the overall experience in the marketing, walk us through that kind of from start to finish. What, what does that look like and what advice do you have for marketers?
[00:08:01] Mary Coppola: Yeah, all, you know, planning an event is tough, but I’ll call it tough love because by the time you get to the event in person, you’ve put so much energy and emotion into it and really, that’s how you make sure that your event is successful is that you put a lot of yourself into it. What I like about how we here at United fresh plan events is that we engage the membership in the industry from the first conversation. So with any one of our events, we have a steering committee or planning committee that we connect with on a regular basis that helps us understand their true challenges in the field, no pun intended, but understand their challenges so that we can bring some we can bring the solutions to them through the events.
At the same time, we also really have to stay ahead of the curve and be able to identify trends that are happening. So we’re constantly taking a look at what’s happening not only in produce and produce media, but the broader food conversation in general. So we’re able to bring in new topics that maybe the produce industry hasn’t been focused on or specific companies haven’t been focused on yet, and introduce those ideas and concepts into the industry to advance the industry. Now, from a marketing perspective, you know, I think this has nothing to do with produce and everything to do with connecting with a consumer or a customer. You have to know what’s most important to them, right?
So, for us, those steering committees really help us in understanding what kind of time, somebody who wants to attend these events has to learn about the event before they get there. What kind of message is going to resonate with that? What types of channels are they participating in, where it should be focused on delivering my message to ensure that they’re getting a snapshot that’s important to them. So when we’re talking about any type of marketing automation, or social media content, how am I targeting that audience to ensure that they’re getting the one piece of information that is going to help them make the decision to attend, because I can promise them that once they get there, it’s going to be amazing…? But I have to be able to convince them of that and get them there in the first place…
[00:10:30] John: And I would think one of the hardest parts is probably getting that initial traction, like the first couple years, the first couple of events to kind of start to snowball after that?
[00:10:41] Mary Coppola: Yeah, yeah, that’s, that’s exactly it and with events or in the event planning side, typically the standard is to given events three years before you make or break a decision on whether or not going to be successful. We’ve had success at Brandstorm where it’s grown for the past four years. So we’ve been hosting it for four years but on the convention side, that program is a lot older than four years and it has some stature within the industry already. The really the bigger challenge on that side is attracting new audiences and convincing folks that are just coming into the parties industry, or young up and comers in the produce industry to choose united fresh, because we do have a very saturated community of events in the produce industry, from folks to choose from almost on a weekly basis. So making that case from day one, and just really proving the value in your message right out of the gate is most critical.
[00:11:53] John: Yeah, that absolutely makes sense. So you’ve, you’ve done well and you’ve been with United fresh in and kind of have gone from you know from where you initially were to somebody who’s really leading the charge there and I think that a lot of our listeners younger marketers would really, really respect how you’ve gone and kind of climbed up the ladder and become really a leader in this space. I would love to just hear a little bit about you know kind of how you got where you are today and your career path and you know just to walk us through a little bit of that journey and if you have any tips for marketers who are looking to eventually be head of marketing at association like your own…
[00:12:34] Mary Coppola: Yeah, John, thanks for that question, I’m not sure how I got to where I am and I, I think that have actually kind of a nice pieces of landing where I have, you know, I started out pursuing a career in graphic design and I think that just really made me, um, come into marketing with a different mentality which is where the value in myself in this role has comes from, that I’m able to look at things through a different lens. I’m not, I don’t share the same perspective and I think that can be refreshing on any team, especially when you get into more senior roles, to be able to offer new perspectives and new solution to any challenge, whether it’s marketing, sales, finance, you really need to be dialed into all aspects and I and I believe I got there from working for myself for a little while.
I will say that the opportunities to branch out on your own, whether it’s through freelancing, whether it’s through an entrepreneurial opportunity, the lessons learned are invaluable and that’s those the lessons are what you take with you throughout your career, not the resume, not the company that you worked for, or the titles that you had. It’s what you learned and how you built on that, that helps propel you forward. And so that’s where I would recommend that you focus on gaining experiences and identifying the experiences that are going to give you that edge.
[00:14:16] John: I absolutely love that, great, you know, one of the things that happened to me earlier my career is I was an intern at this small company kind of worked my way up, I was managing a bunch of people and at one point, you know, I told my dad, I was like, you know, Dad, I think I should be getting paid a little bit more at this job. He’s like, John, you should be paying them for the experience that you’re getting at that job right now, working from the ground up, and he was 100%, right because I got to get my hands at all the different aspects of the business, and it ended up being a really good thing.
So, as a marketer, and as somebody who’s kind of, you know, leading a big event, a big Association and, you know, I have some familiarity with that, you know, I know that sometimes there’s some, some, some pinpoints in marketing and I don’t mean this even specifically with you, but as an industry as a marketer right now, are you seeing any things that you think the industry needs to innovate on or improve on? Talk to me about that a little bit?
[00:15:15] Mary Coppola: You know, I’ve given this some thought, because things change so rapidly in marketing but I’m also an optimist and I’m a, I’m a glass half full person. But I think our biggest challenge and our biggest opportunity is one word, two syllables, Omni channel, right, as marketers, we need to have our hands and absolutely everything. Now, the opportunity there is that we get to be part of everything and I think that really is just a mindset. So how are you looking at the overwhelming pace in which technology and innovation is changing and marketing, you have so many channels on social media, you have so many email marketing service providers, you have so many SEO service providers, and website service providers, and so on and so forth and the technologies are changing on a daily basis.
It can be really overwhelming, but at the same time, it can be really exciting and so I would just suggest that take a deep breath and figure out where your audience is and that’s where you need to focus. So don’t be overwhelmed by all the channels and all the changes, embrace them and kick ass in the ones that make the most sense.
[00:16:40] John: I couldn’t agree more. I mean, I think that is just spot on. I mean, you think about it nowadays. You could build a business off of podcasting or Instagram or Facebook or Reddit or email marketing and, and, and it’s so hard for the modern marketer to build those teams and know where and how to do it right but it’s also the biggest opportunity. So you, you absolutely had some really good insight there and then one of the last questions I want to ask you and our listeners love hearing about this, where are you seeing some of the most success in marketing right now? Any secret tips or strategies that are just general things that are tried and true for you that are your go to’s for marketing campaigns?
[00:17:24] Mary Coppola: You know, so I want to take this a little higher level and talk about the fact that right now, we are in this time in space, where there is a chief marketing officer title and that was not the case a decade ago. So really embracing the fact that marketers are now part of the executive team and we have a greater voice on that executive team. So that should be celebrated, that should be coveted and we should continue to find ways to stay engaged in this conversation. That’s one of the most exciting things successes I think we’re having as an industry and function and marketing function.
Now talking tactically, you know, it comes back to human relationships and I think marketing, you know, combines creative thinking, technological innovations, but also sociological imagination and understanding human behavior. So whenever I’m getting tripped up in a channel, or with a strategy, and it’s, you know, it’s not working or performing the way that I was hoping it would or, or really had evaluated and plan for it to perform, you have to take a look at what the human behavior behind it is because as much as automation is this unicorn that we have right now, and it really is fantastic. It’s still a human on either side of that automation and so that is the, the one space that I would recommend, always come back to home base. Always come back to the human functionality and what is happening with that behavior, and that is your telltale sign for success or failure.
[00:19:06] John: I love that and that can just give you great clarity within any channel, how are the humans actually interacting with it and modifying your strategy that way… Great, great insight and I love how you took it high level and my last question is… What’s exciting coming up for you? And where can people find out more about, you know, united, fresh, and what’s coming up next with your organization and yourself?
[00:19:31] Mary Coppola: Yeah, thanks, John. So we talked about the convention and Expo that really is our next biggest activity. So that is this June 10, through 12 in Chicago and I encourage anyone to take a look at it but I also would say take a look at us from a broader perspective. United fresh is all over social media. You can find us anywhere by searching United fresh or @ United fresh, and if you’re interested in more of my marketing thoughts, I think tend to share as much as possible on LinkedIn and you can just find me Mary Cupola on LinkedIn.
[00:20:06] John: Mary, thank you so much for being on Ignite visibility University today. We really appreciate it. Everybody keep an eye out for this episode on YouTube, the blog, and also on the podcast as well. Have a great day and look forward to talking with you soon. Thanks again.
[00:20:23] Mary Coppola: Thanks, John.