Guest Column: Persistence, patience lead to results

First published in Landings, June, 2016.

Matt Jacobson is the Executive Director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative. Photo courtesy of MLMC.

Matt Jacobson is the Executive Director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative. Photo courtesy of MLMC.

In the movie The Karate Kid, a martial arts master agrees to teach a bullied boy how to defend himself. One of the first lessons is to wax the master’s car – wax on, wax off. The boy fails to see the connection between chores like waxing a car, which teaches patience, and his specific goals, which are to defend himself.

In the same way, we sometimes get questions at the Collaborative about how our efforts connect to the industry’s goals of increasing demand for and interest in Maine lobster, ultimately leading to more stable economic conditions for everyone involved.

Because we know that more than 85% of all seafood consumed in the U.S. is eaten in a restaurant, we have focused our attention on chefs and people who go to restaurants. We know that chefs are becoming more important in determining food trends and can have significant influence on other chefs and general food tastes and desires.

While we use many mediums, the Collaborative is focused on telling stories that appeal to our target audiences. Storytelling in this way requires authenticity, since chefs and restaurant-goers are typically savvy about the things that matter to them. They want to know who caught the lobster – what sort of people are lobstermen? They want to know that lobster from Maine is sustainably and responsibly harvested. They want to know about the culinary options and the diversity of dishes they can prepare using Maine lobster. We focus on these stories every time we communicate. Simply put, we are storytellers.

Ylan Mui, Washington Post reporter, meeting with John Leavitt, Ready Brothers Seafood, at the company’s Portland facility. MLMC photo.

Ylan Mui, Washington Post reporter, meeting with John Leavitt, Ready Brothers Seafood, at the company’s Portland facility. MLMC photo.

Sometimes opportunities come to us. Several weeks ago a reporter for the Washington Post called. She was interested in doing a story about lobster and China. To be honest, China export stories are hard for us to use as a way to convey our messages to our target audience. What made this opportunity even more challenging is this person was a financial reporter, someone not likely to be interested in our message.

After speaking to her, however, it seemed there was a way for us to incorporate our messaging points, even in a story that was primarily targeted to a different group. Since the Washington Post has such a large reach, and since we are planning a big chef-centered event in Washington this summer, we decided to fully engage with the reporter.

First, we arranged for her to visit the processing facilities at Maine Coast and Ready Brothers Seafood in Portland.

From there, we arranged for the reporter and her photographer to join lobsterman Bruce Fernald on Little Cranberry Island for a day on the boat. When the reporter had questions about any part of her story, we arranged for her to speak with the people who knew the answers.

In the end, while the story was centered on the financial aspects of lobster exports to China, we managed to get information about the culinary diversity of lobster, its sustainability and responsible harvesting practices, and the people behind the lobster industry highlighted in the story. At the time of this writing, more than 40 million people saw the story in the Washington Post, 400 people shared it on social media, and several other news outlets ran the story. Altogether, more than 250 million people in the U.S. and China saw the story (www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/05/15/this-tiny-american-town-is-staking-its-future-on-chinese-foodies/).

Washington Post reporter Ylan Mui and John Leavitt, Ready Seafood, view the company’s lobster holding tanks. MLMC photo.

Washington Post reporter Ylan Mui and John Leavitt, Ready Seafood, view the company’s lobster holding tanks.
MLMC photo.

As you know, while the Collaborative responds to inquiries like that of the Washington Post often, we also reach our target audience directly. By now, you’ve had the opportunity to visit our social channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, LinkedIn and our Web site). It is important to be on all these channels because the people we want to influence are on them. We work to identify creative ways to get the attention of these folks in an increasingly cluttered online space. But how do we make sure our message is getting through?

You might be familiar with Bill Simmons. Bill started a Web site called the “Boston Sports Guys” and ended up with ESPN. While there he created ESPN’s on-line presence. Recently, Simmons signed a $5 million-per-year contract with HBO. He was asked not long after if he thinks people will follow him from ESPN to another online platform. In late May he tweeted, “The best thing about making content in 2016 – if you have a good content, people are going to find it no matter who you are and where you are.”

He’s right. Content matters. In the next couple of weeks, you are going to see the MLMC launch some amazing videos about Maine lobster that hit on our messaging and will be targeted very specifically to our audience. You’ll be proud of them – and they will definitely generate more interest in Maine lobster.

Wax on, wax off.