Welcome to Part 2 of this post where we continue the conversation about RDs working with brands and industry. Be sure to check out Part 1!
The “food industry” seems to have a negative connotation lately, and in this age of disclosure, transparency and criticism over corporate sponsorship, I wanted to talk with some of the RDs who are out there working with brands and industry. What do they want us to know about their role in nutrition communications and the food industry? What advice do they have for RDs who want to work in this capacity? What tips and takeaways do they have for us? Read on for some valuable information from some of the best in the biz!
I have always considered my industry-funded consulting work to be providing services that improve public health, so when people ask what I do, I say, “I work in nutrition public health funded by industry.” If I stay focused on the public health paradigm, it’s easy to decide whether I’m comfortable with taking on projects. Here are my top three tips:
1. Your reputation is your brand, so ask yourself whether aligning with an industry brand will enhance or tarnish your brand.
2. Keep in mind, there are many ways to lend your expertise in industry communications and thereby change public dialog, in addition to being a spokesperson. Many of these activities don’t rely on being publicly associated with a brand, including providing strategic insight, nutrition analysis, recipe development, recipe testing, food styling, web and twitter content.
3. View the client relationship as a partnership and an opportunity to educate industry in addition to the consuming public.
Way back when dietitians mainly worked for hospitals I got the bug to work for industry. As a single girl, I was tired of working weekends and not really bringing home any real bacon! I tried intensely for years to get a job outside of the hospital, but I kept getting turned down every time with the same excuse – I lacked business/selling skills. In spite of the disappointments, I never gave up, but instead it made me reinvent myself in order to get the new skills I needed. So I quit my job in California and went back to graduate school full-time in Chicago (long story behind that decision) and got a masters in something related to business administration, which, ultimately helped me land a job with the Quaker Oats Company. I want to say the masters helped me tremendously to finally land that job, but it was a combination of things that came up at the right time and the right place. Here are some of the top reasons: Chicago is a great city with many job opportunities for dietitians, being bilingual in the middle of the Latino boom came in handy, young with no kids helped me to put in the extra hours I needed to learn more about the industry, and a good flexible attitude was a must in order to fit in as a great team player. I worked for the Quaker Oats company for almost 10 years, which helped me develop amazing business skills that have helped me carry on with my consulting business today. I must say that my humble success today is due to those skills that I was able to build and learn from my business colleagues.
Here are my top 5 skills needed to work effectively with the industry today:
1. Be extremely flexible (projects/strategies change overnight and you must go with the flow).
2. Positive attitude – this will take you places! No one likes to work with cranky, unhappy people.
3. Learn as much as possible about the industry you’re interested in.
4. Use (and offer) your clinical and nutrition skills – companies NEED our guidance. Contrary to the belief of some that we are “selling ourselves to the industry” we provide valuable skills that only RDs (the nutrition expert) can provide. Also, If we do not provide them with the correct messages, then who will guide them?
5. Be proactive – companies are super busy delivering the goods so we have to be creative and continue to provide them with valuable information that will help them to get ahead of the competition.
I hope my story will inspire other RDs to work with the food industry. I have enjoyed my journey very much…the industry is full of super smart people that are very willing to listen to us. I truly feel like the industry values and respects my skills.
1. Be true. Many opportunities may come your way to work with different brands. But not all companies may be a good fit for you – and you need to recognize when you should turn down work, good paying as it may be. Listen to your gut, and don’t compromise your integrity.
2. Be the expert. Brands hire you because of your nutrition expertise, so be the expert. If the marketing team starts going down a path that’s more sensationalized than science-based, for example, or if you have an idea or different opinion about the direction of program plans, speak up. That’s what they’re paying you for.
3. Know your stuff. Be thorough in the work you do. For example, if you say something is a good source of a nutrient, confirm it is. Understand the company you’re working with and who their competitors are – and don’t use their competitors’ foods as examples in your writing (you’d be surprised how often that happens). Make friends with the corporate Legal team. They’re an ally, not an enemy.
Leah McGrath, RD,LDN
Corporate Dietitian for Ingles Markets
Founder of the Build Up Dietitians Facebook page and Twitter handle @BuildupRDNs to acknowledge achievements by dietitians and support the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Twitter: @InglesDietitian and @LeahMcGrathRD
Sound Bites Interview: Supermarket and Social Media Superstar
Here are my top 3 tips for working with brands and regarding disclosure:
1. If you work for a brand or food company and you are doing social media on their behalf you should disclose this in your blog, on your website (see RDs4Disclosure.org).
2. If you post for a brand in return for compensation, i.e monetary or free product the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) mandates that you use #ad (advertisement) or #cl (client).
3. If you tweet or Facebook post something that has been written or suggested by a brand or company in return for free product or monetary compensation you have entered into a business agreement with that brand and those are now advertisements and should be tagged with #ad for advertisement.
Christine M. Palumbo, MBA, RDN, FAND
Columnist, Chicago Parent
Adjunct Faculty, Benedictine University
Facebook: Christine Palumbo Nutrition
Pinterest: Christine Palumbo
My tips for landing a client include:
1. Create a media presence and hone your skills. Start with local radio and TV, then build upon it.
2. Develop a niche and spread the word. If you don’t have a specialty, that’s okay, too. Your specialty may be that you’re excellent doing a wide variety of interviews and that you get asked back!
3. Show up. While “meeting” people via social media can be helpful, NOTHING will ever replace the personal connection. Meet influencers – public relations specialists and industry staff – at dietetic practice group breakfasts, dinners, receptions and outings that are held at FNCE. The exhibit hall is another avenue. If FNCE is not in the budget this year, attend your affiliate meetings.
Bottom line: Get to know people and become known.
Now I have story to tell. In addition to working with brands that align with your values, consider the PR firms’ values. I still feel the “ick factor” after a television interview this year. During the segment, I made sure to mention that I was partnering with the food company shown. In other words, I disclosed that I was being paid as a spokesperson. Later in the day when the PR firm’s owner found out, she was shocked and a little mad! When I told her the disclosure was a must due to FTC guidelines and the Academy’s Code of Ethics, her retort was this. “I still don’t think you need to. We work with a lot of dietitians who are not following the Code of Ethics.” In addition to being speechless, at that moment I realized I was no longer interested in working with her or her firm again. Yuck.
1. Get involved! View the opportunity as a partnership where your expert nutrition knowledge can make a great impact, give RDs a voice, and have a very positive influence over accurate and sound product messaging to consumers. You are an asset to the brand/industry!
2. Maintain your credibility and know your limits. Don’t be afraid to communicate what you feel okay with doing and what you don’t. Help devise the messaging that is accurate and credible vs. negative, exaggerated or lacking in accuracy. You are the nutrition expert!
3. Is it really a match? Is it consistent with your nutrition philosophy or your brand? It can be easy to get lured in with various products but you will be way more effective and make a greater impact when you feel 100% confident in the product and messages you are communicating. Feel good about the product you are working with!
4. Establish your rates and don’t undersell yourself!
5. Read through contracts very thoroughly i.e. responsibilities, confidentiality, length of terms, conflict of interests, compensation, etc…
Jaime Schwartz MS,RD
Vice President, Nutrition Strategy & Health Influencer Communications
Ketchum Public Relations
I straddle two worlds as an RD working in public relations and an aspect of my job that I find most rewarding is identifying RDs to serve as spokespeople or brand ambassadors for my clients. This not only leads to successful PR programs but also allows me to help elevate the visibility of our profession in the media. Having a credible link to the brand, excellent media and writing skills and being reliable are all table stakes. When I’m making an RD spokesperson recommendation, I also look for someone who has a big picture view of the industry and understands the client’s business and communication goals as well as their challenges.
Here are some easy things you can start doing to help you look at current or future opportunities working with brands through a wider lens:
1. Read Up: RDs likely subscribe to daily e-newsletters such as the Academy’s Daily News, SmartBrief for Nutritionists and others that cover nutrition, food, agriculture and retail. But when working with industry in a communications capacity, it’s also important to subscribe to PR and advertising newsletters. This can help you become familiar with integrated marketing communications, understand how different disciplines work together and identify how companies measure success. This appreciation for the communications industry as a whole will ultimately allow you to better position yourself for working with brands. Some of my favorite e-newsletters are Ad Age, Marketing Daily, and PR Week.
2. Do Your Homework: You may have a personal list of brands you’d like to work with and have the items they will ask you for if there is an opportunity to work together at the ready. But positioning yourself as the right candidate is more than just being a fan of their products and a champion of their message. It’s also important to know about the brand’s parent company and sister brands as well as recent marketing and communication campaigns. Whatever the role they are looking for an RD spokesperson to partner with is most likely part of a larger strategy to either introduce a new product or build on the momentum of previous brand building campaigns. Having an awareness of how all the spokesperson duties fit together will make you a stronger and more desirable candidate for the role.
3. Be Eyes and Ears: Being a good partner to food industry clients – whether directly with the marketing or communications team or through their PR agency – is more than just delivering stellar work. It’s recognizing that your role shouldn’t stop at what is outlined in your contract. You’re already plugged into nutrition news and daily social chatters so be sure to inform your clients of any opportunities or potential threats that you read or hear about. Keeping your eyes and ears open is especially important when working with smaller brands that may not have an agency supporting them to monitor for opportunities or issues. Showing that you are looking out for the brand at all times will make them see you as a valued extension of the team and help you establish a long term relationship.
David W. Grotto, MS, RDN, LDN
Author of 101 Optimal Life Foods; 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life and The Best Things You Can Eat
President and Founder, Nutrition Housecall, LLC
Blogger, Real Life Nutrition WebMD
Former Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
I first saw the ‘power of partnerships’ after serving as a volunteer spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. When I write, I let the science speak for itself without outside influence. I refer to this as “writing clean”. It is only afterwards that I see opportunities for its promotion. It’s truly a win-win – my books are promoted without my having to hire a publicist or PR agency and the brands/commodities could align themselves with a credible, science-based publication and pitch me to media. Commodities and brands mentioned in my books see a value in partnering with me and often ask me to be a spokesperson. I seek (or am sought by) those symbiotic relationships that are in line with my nutritional philosophy. My advice to others working with brands is to be choosy and be true to what you recommend to your clients/patients/family. To do otherwise, and accept any “opportunity” that may come along, may pay off in the short term but I find that the practice of being disingenuous often results in a short spokesperson career.
So there you have it – insider info from some amazing dietitian role models! Since the suggestion to “value your services” and avoid “selling yourself short” came up a few times here and in Part 1, I wanted to link to my post about using communication skills to ask for what you’re worth. I hope you enjoy it! And don’t be afraid to ask an RD colleague for advice on pricing your services, or seek a mentor through the Nutrition Entrepreneurs DPG or the Dietitians in Business and Communications DPG.
My goal is to share tips and advice with RDs so that MORE dietitians get their voices out in the media, social media, public speaking, and other avenues for nutrition communications. By working with brands, commodities, manufacturers, retailers, and others in the “food chain”, dietitians can have a seat at the table, be a part of the solution and make a difference.