The real-world consequences of not telling our story

The following post originally appeared in Produce Marketing Association’s Field to Fork blog on August 25, 2010. At the time of its writing, I was one of PMA’s on-staff PR experts. BTW, fiance graduated to husband in April. Thanks to my friends at F2F for allowing me to reprint that post here:

This past weekend I was reminded of the real-world consequences when our industry doesn’t tell our story — or worse, when we let others control how our industry is depicted.

My fiance and I had stumbled quite accidentally on a small tapas restaurant in Chicago, and were absolutely delighting in incredible dish after dish prepared right in front of us. (We’d opted to sit at the bar, which as luck would have it also turned out to double as the finishing line in this small store.) It was immediately clear to us that the menu had been prepared with love and ingredients chosen with care, and we foodies were in absolute heaven to be so surprised and delighted. So being a writer at heart, I simply had to find out this place’s story. Fortunately the assistant manager and sous chef was working right in front of us, and was quite happy to recount how the stars had aligned to allow the opening only two months ago of what turned out to be a second location of the owner and chef.

As the evening progressed, we queried her about ingredients. What was this leafy green? What kind of apples were these, and from where? (My fiance is an apple grower and marketer.) As she educated us, we also learned a lot about her perceptions about produce — and her misperceptions. While she was well educated about food and health in general, a knowledge likely driven by her own celiac disease, she had bought into Dirty Dozen-type reports. She also thought that “organic” meant pesticide-free. This was a woman who works in the food industry, and has the ability to impact the dietary habits of easily thousands of people in an average year.

Simply put, we must do a better job of telling our story, folks — and at a minimum, not letting other folks tell our stories for us (often to our detriment). If you don’t already know this, telling our story has many benefits — both intangible, such as building goodwill that can help in times of potential industry crisis, as I recently saw Earthbound Farms do artfully — and intangible, by helping us overcome misperceptions that limit our markets. And PMA can help you; your PMA staff includes several public relations experts who can help you, so just give us a call, we are at your service. …

And if you want to know where to get really good tapas in Chicago, just let me know, I’ll be glad to share [the restaurant's] contact information.

Check out Field to Fork here. Read the original post in its entirety here.