The Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative Board of Directors selected Marianne Lacroix, the Collaborative’s marketing director, as its new executive director in late April. Lacroix served as interim director of the Collaborative during its first year of existence, from 2012 to 2013. She began working for the Collaborative’s predecessor, the Lobster Promotion Council, in 2006
“Over the past several years, we’ve done important work with chefs and tastemakers across the country, spreading the word about Maine lobster as a premium product,” LaCroix wrote in a release. “I’m thrilled the board has placed their faith in me and look forward to moving ahead with our plans for the year, which include broadening our scope to all aspects of the supply chain.”
Lacroix began work in the advertising field in Boston soon after she graduated from college. She eventually moved to Portland to continue her career. Later she worked for herself doing freelance marketing and consulting, during which time she became connected to the Lobster Promotion Council.
During her thirteen-year tenure with the Council and Collaborative, Lacroix has experienced the ups and downs of the lobster fishery. “A truly challenging time was in 2012 and 2013, when I was interim director,” she said. “It was a transition internally from the Council to the Collaborative and also there was great turmoil in the industry.” In 2012, unusually warm water caused an early start to the lobster molting season. Prices plummeted and both lobstermen and lobster dealers felt the economic shock. That disruption led in part to the Maine Legislature creating the Collaborative, whose budget is funded by a fee placed on the licenses of commercial lobstermen and seafood processors.
“Under the Collaborative it’s been the first time that there’s been a consistent marketing strategy for Maine lobster,” Lacroix noted. “I think it’s made a big difference. While in the past we’ve been reactive, now we have a proactive approach.”
The Collaborative, which was reauthorized for three years by the
Legislature in 2018, contracted with Weber Shandwick, a public
relations firm in Boston, to conduct a coordinated marketing plan for
Maine lobster, concentrating on educating influential chefs and food
writers. Since then, “we’ve created a marketing foundation on the web,
in social media and the press,” Lacroix said. “It’s a strong public
relations campaign that both promotes and protects the brand.”
The notion of the Maine lobster brand is key to the Collaborative’s strategy. “Make it Maine, Make it New Shell” is the slogan used by the organization to promote the state’s soft shell lobster, which make up the majority of its annual landings. “It’s been exciting to make that connection between chefs and lobstermen,” Lacroix said. “And it’s a great time to be doing this. When chefs connect with lobstermen, they are so excited because it’s a sustainable fishery with an authentic story line.”
She recalled a time several years ago when she and Board chair Frank Gotwals, a Cranberry Isles lobsterman, traveled to California’s Napa Valley for a California Culinary Institute of America gathering of executive chefs. “A chef was doing a presentation about Maine lobster. Frank was there and was called up to be with the chef. He was mobbed with questions then and for the entire time afterward,” she said. “People wanted to know the story from a real Maine lobsterman. I think that’s when we realized that we really had something here.” The Collaborative capitalized on that interest by staging “Maine at Midnight” events around the country where celebrity chefs and others could meet Maine lobstermen, sample soft shell lobster dishes and learn more about Maine’s signature seafood.
After reviewing its marketing campaign late last year, the Collaborative decided to shift its focus from chefs to food buyers, those who make the buying decisions for larger entities. “Our priorities during the next three years are to be as effective with our marketing dollars as we can be,” Lacroix said. “We have expanded our strategy to include the entire supply chain [for lobster].”