Building Relationships with Vendor Dietitians
Jaime Schwartz, MS, RD
Do you ever wish you could just clone yourself? How nice it would be to get some help with a few items on your to-do list from someone who understands how to translate the science into consumer-friendly messages and can help you develop programs and tools to help your shoppers make informed food purchasing and preparation decisions. In the absence of a “mini-me,” there are resources who can help serve as an extra pair of hands—- fellow registered dietitians who work with the brands on your store shelves. RDs who work internally at food companies and commodity boards often act as starfish just as retail RDs do, with arms in marketing, communications, consumer affairs, and regulatory. RDs also work at public relations (PR) agencies on behalf of brands, supporting the company’s communications and marketing efforts.
As you’re developing relationships with category managers, buyers, and marketing, don’t forget about how the importance of relationships with your peers on the vendor end of the retail eco-system can be. While RDs in these roles may always be looking through a specific lens, they are nutrition educators first and can be viewed as peers who can help save you time in the right situations. They can also help you navigate relationships with your vendors. Here are just a few ways that they can help:
- Materials. If you’re looking for educational resources about a specific topic, chances are there are materials that brands have already developed. Why recreate the wheel? Many of your vendors have sections of their websites for supermarket RDs, managed by the vendor’s RD(s) and/or their PR agency. Materials can also be developed or modified for your needs, and you can work with the RDs to add details specific to your retailer.
- Content. The seasonal topics and themes you are focusing on as a way to connect with consumers and provide nutrition education are often the same that topics leveraged by brands are leveraging to market their products. Before you sit down to write a newsletter article, a media pitch, or social media calendar, see if content has already been created that you can repurpose or reference.
- Samples, Coupons, and More. When planning a health fair, culinary demo, or other in-store event and you’re looking for samples, coupons, and recipe tear-offs, check with the RDs working for or with the brand to see what they can provide. Some may have a place on their website where you can request these items, but if not, having the right relationships will help you make the request to the right person.
- Program Concepts, Funding, and Measurement. Brainstorm with the RDs to develop program ideas that can be implemented in your stores and communication channels. If dollars are not available from the marketing and sales contacts you typically work, the RDs may be able to help find ways to fund a small pilot program with strong metrics in place. If the results are positive, this can help you build the case to obtain funds to expand the program.
The best way to begin building relationships with the RDs working with and for brands is at industry conferences. LinkedIn is also a great tool to identify who works for what company or agency. Networking, whether done in person, via social media or email, is key.
Ketchum Public Relations, an RDBA partner, has five RDs on staff. Ketchum’s role as an RDBA partner is to not only be a resource to you, but also to contribute to the comprehensive educational content RDBA is providing to help advance the business education and career development of retail dietitians. From media skills, to social media and measurement, RDBA members will have access to content from Ketchum industry experts, resources and thought leadership.
Jaime Schwartz, MS, RD is a vice president at Ketchum Public Relations.