As WHO drives fast-paced changes in nutrition-linked polices and regulations, it is imperative for food and beverage organizations to chalk out a well-rounded external engagement strategy. Following are 3 steps to build a holistic external engagement strategy:
Step 1: Define external engagement goals
List down the organization’s goals for your external engagement strategy. While the primary goal may be to build and maintain a relationship with key external stakeholders, some common secondary goals include:
Reputation and Brand Building
– to promote trust in the organization, brand and product.
Getting Guidance and Direction from Key External Stakeholders
– you may want to leverage nutrition experts as subject matter experts for advice on emerging nutrition-linked policies and regulations; and the organizations health and wellness
Advocating for organizations credibly
– you may want to use experts as spokespeople to promote your organization, products and health and wellness agenda credibly in industry, professional, and scientific forums.
– to lobby against impractical nutrition-linked regulations and policies; partner with external stakeholders to support the building of nutrition policies, science-based guidance on ingredients and claims, or lead nutrition education workshops.
Step 2: Chalk out external engagement talking points and align with internal stakeholders
ALIGN EXTERNAL TALKING POINTS WITH KEY CROSS FUNCTIONAL TEAMS AND BUSINESS STAKEHOLDERS – AS ONCE YOU GO EXTERNAL, YOU CANNOT WITHDRAW THE MESSAGE!
Define consistent external messaging
Work with global and local nutrition science, government affairs, corporate communications, regulatory and business stakeholders to define key external engagement communication messages. The messages must be consistent through engagement execution.
Ensure business stakeholders are aligned with the messaging!
The external engagement strategy must also be in sync with the business strategy. Alignment, especially with business stakeholders is key, as once we go external with key messages, the messages cannot be withdrawn.
Step 3: Explore different external engagement platform options and create an action plan
Once you define the goal/s and messages, list down the different platforms you plan to leverage for a holistic integrated external engagement strategy. Also, clearly define how the different platforms will link together. Following are some common platforms and tips on how you could leverage them:
Platform 1: Key Nutrition and Dietetic Conferences
Identify key markets and look for annual global, regional or local nutrition and dietetic conferences to participate in. Sponsoring key nutrition and dietetic conferences is expensive, but it offers up many benefits which you should list down in your return on investment list:
-With Sponsorship's, you build relationships with nutrition and dietetic society leads; and they can be leveraged as SMEs for guiding the organizations nutrition and health and wellness agenda.
-You get booth space to show case your portfolio of products, especially new products, share new product or ingredient-linked research, and your organizations health and wellness agenda. Sharing portfolio transformation initiatives is especially important here, as it helps build trust in the organization’s nutrition and health and wellness agenda; and boosts the organizations reputation too.
Speaker or Symposium slot:
-You also get a speaker or symposium slot, which can be used to promote new product or ingredient-linked nutrition research, results of a recently published research paper about the health food you market, and the organizations health and wellness agenda.
The challenge however, is that many organizations stop here. Hence, when the conference ends and the nutritionists and dietitians go home, they forget about your organization, brand and products.
WHEN A CONFERENCE ENDS, MANY NUTRITIONISTS & DIETITIANS FORGET ABOUT YOUR ORGANIZATION, BRAND AND PRODUCTS.
You may argue that you provide attractive brochures too, so people can go back and refer to them. But seriously – who reads these brochures? I definitely collect them and glance through them, but I don’t read them unless I am developing my own brochure and I need to refer to some examples!
WHEN A CONFERENCE ENDS, CONTINUE COMMUNICATION WITH KEY STAKEHOLDERS TO REMIND THEM ABOUT YOUR ORGANIZATION, PRODUCTS and THE HEALTH and WELLNESS AGENDA.
Some considerations for continuing to remind your stakeholders about your agenda are:
- Work with the organizer on other projects after the conference
For e.g. development of a review paper on grains; or asking them to review and present information about health and wellness agendas in food and beverage organizations, during the course of the year.
-Initiate a project or survey at the booth and announce the results via email later
For e.g., a healthy recipe competition, or a survey of eating habits of dietitians. Besides sending out recipe competition or survey results, the emails could also be used for eblasts with key product or health and wellness agenda-linked messages sent out through the course of the year.
-Write a press release about your participation in the nutrition conference
-and partner with the communications team to disseminate the press release. Event details could also be uploaded on Facebook and the website. Blog about the event too and email a link of the blog to participants.
-Organize mini symposiums at hospitals and universities
-to ensure ongoing interaction with dietitians who participated in the conference. Do ensure you upload event details on your website and other social media sites after the event. Also, get participants to respond to blogs. Young students today are willing to participate in blogs.
Platform 2 – 1:1 Meetings with key stakeholders
One on one meetings with a network of key influencers (academics, policy makers, industry peers) is another key platform that you could consider.
From a benefit perspective:
-You can use this platform to publicize your nutrition and health and wellness agenda, and also get advice on potential nutrition policies and regulations.
-You could also discuss under-nutrition and or other key projects and potential partnership opportunities with stakeholders.
This platform is ideal for building and maintaining long-term relationships with key stakeholders. To add more value and credibility to the discussion, take senior leaders to these meetings, as their presence indicates you have a strong sign-off on the initiatives you are discussing.
Platform 3 - Advisory Board Meetings
Advisory Board Meetings are a great way to leverage external experts as SMEs.
Following are some benefits:
- Senior leaders can get insights on emerging nutrition trends and issues, and feedback on the external health and wellness strategy, and opportunities for collaboration on projects e.g., under-nutrition.
-Regular meetings usually result in strong relationship building with key external stakeholders; and they will be more receptive to a discussion on the organizations challenges.
A clear definition of the end goal is of essence at advisory board meetings, to ensure senior leaders get what they want out of the meetings. Also, it is not advisable to abruptly stop the meetings after one year. For continuity, at least one meeting a year should be considered. Alternatively, senior leaders could consider 1:1 meetings with advisory board members individually, to maintain the relationship with board members.
Platform 4 – Sponsorship of government projects
Sponsorship of government funded nutrition education projects in schools, universities and worksites, is a great way to build and maintain a relationship with government stakeholders and boost an organizations and brands reputation. This support also helps the building of an informed consumer base who will be more likely to consume the healthier products you develop, as you transform the portfolio. CSR funds should ideally be diverted here, if the organizations plan is to grow their healthier portfolio of products.
FUND NUTRITION EDUCATION PROGRAMS IN A SUSTAINED LOW-COST MANNER and TARGET KEY CONSUMERS. LOW COST WILL ENSURE PROGRAM CONTINUITY, AND MAINTAIN ORGANIZATIONS REPUTATION, AS THE ORGANIZATION WILL BE SEEN AS BEING COMMITTED TO THE CAUSE! EDUCATION WILL ALSO CREATE AN INFORMED CONSUMER BASE, WHO ARE MORE LIKELY TO ADOPT A RENOVATED RANGE OF PRODUCTS.
Also, once you commit to funding these projects, think long term, as dropping these projects after a year could adversely impact the organizations reputation and the relationship you build with government and NGO entities. For a sustainable long-term commitment, keep your cost down by working with university students to roll out education initiatives with a wider reach. Also, to motivate the business to pay for the program, focus on programs that are targeted at your key consumer and can help encourage your product consumption. Don’t target kids, if your target market is adults.
Platform 5 – Industry-sponsored organizations e.g., ILSI, IFIC, FIA, FICCI, CII etc.,
Industry-funded organizations bring diverse stakeholders i.e., regulators, policy makers, academia and industry members to one table, and gets them to work towards one common goal.
This platform has two key benefits:
- it allows multiple stakeholders from the public and private sector to work together;
- it is ideal for driving science-based issue management.
INDUSTRY-FUNDED ORGANIZATIONS ALLOW THE PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SECTOR TO WORK TOGETHER, TOWARDS ONE COMMON GOAL TRUST, COLLABORATION and SOUND SCIENCE IS OF ESSENCE WHEN PUBLIC-PRIVATE STAKEHOLDERS COME TO ONE TABLE.
The challenge however, is that some external stakeholders are sensitive to working with industry-funded organizations. They need to step back and assess the overall agenda of the project on hand – if the project is science-based, with the end goal to deliver sound science that will benefit public health, they should go ahead. Industry members need to re-assure external stakeholders about their commitment to promoting and supporting public health.
A well-rounded external engagement strategy needs clearly defined goals, key messages and alignment and support from multiple internal stakeholders, especially the business teams. The strategy must be integrated with the overall business strategy to succeed. In terms of platforms, you can use a combination of different platforms to build the strategy, but you must always ensure continuous interaction with key external stakeholders through the course of the year, to remind them about your external agenda. And yes, build measures whenever feasible e.g., with nos. of stakeholders you reached at a booth or symposium; their before and after symposium responses and reactions to what was shown at the booth, for a return on investment assessment.
For An Additional Read
To learn about evaluation of external engagement platforms, you can read the article titled 'Nutrition Engagement And Evaluation' here.