With consumers demanding more natural, less processed food and transparent, responsive relationships with companies and brands, giant, long-established CPG companies are under enormous pressure to adapt quickly. But successfully introducing significant innovation in companies traditionally known more for discipline and consistent performance than for being first adopters or cutting-edge marketers takes an unusual combination of passion, persistence, persuasiveness and practical business know-how.
By all accounts, Stephanie Moritz brings all of those attributes to the table and more. As senior director, public relations, social media and experiential marketing at ConAgra Foods since 2009, she oversees external brand communications for all of the national and private-label brands produced by the giant company, a $20-million budget and a team that's grown from three to 12.
Social media wasn't part of her original title at ConAgra. She joined in December 2007 as director of product publicity, having previously led communications and product publicity at The Hershey Company and Jim Beam Brands, and held communications jobs for the Illinois House of Representatives and Walt Disney Attractions, among others. In fact, social media was a proverbial blip on most marketers' radar screens when of her own initiative, Moritz dove in, learned everything there was to know about the emerging channel, developed an enterprise-wide social strategy for ConAgra, and even conducted social media training for the C suite.
Her boss Brett Groom, SVP content integration and activation, credits her "relentless innovation," drive and business acumen — including her ability to convey her social media vision and perseverance in addressing top management's requirements to win implementation approval — with ConAgra's now being quite far along the curve in social media in comparison with many other companies.
Her work in integrating social into ConAgra's operational and business models has enabled building it to a scale where it's possible to track and quantify ROI for a growing number of socially-driven programs.
"The learning is ongoing, but we now have a body of evidence" proving that socially-driven PR and other programs frequently yield better ROI than other channels, says Groom. "Our models are getting better and as a result, our spending on social is increasing."
A Moritz-developed, cross-company social insights model has also created a pipeline for findings and social surveys that are helping to shape packaging, marketing, products and recipes. Not surprisingly, she serves on ConAgra's Global Marketing Content Integration & Activation leadership team.
Moritz has also innovatively employed other digital channels and formats, including SEO and paid amplification. But social and other digital media —and traditional media, for that matter — are of little use without effective content and messaging.
Here, too, Moritz has helped push ConAgra forward, introducing a news engine strategy and a full-blown content marketing strategy and structure well before the term "content marketing" became a buzz phrase. "When I started here, ConAgra was in the infancy of brand communications, focusing mostly on press releases," she says. "There was a great opportunity to integrate publicity and communications into marketing and advertising campaigns, and leverage owned, earned and paid media tactics, to help drive volume and awareness."
Her multichannel news engine strategy keeps brands in the news year-round through stories planned around key brand occasions, seasons and sales periods, and incorporates a spokesperson platform.
One initiative of which she's particularly proud is developing a "Real Food" concept — since adopted as a strategic growth platform for the whole company — around which to build brand stories addressing consumers' interest in food origins. More than 30 variations on "Real Food" stories have been produced so far for use across channels including social media, online recipes and cooking instructions content, PR and advertising. One example, the story of the California farmers whose carefully-tended fields produce the tomatoes for Hunt's' sauces, also became the heart of the brand's current national advertising campaign.
Even more ambitiously, Moritz created a multibrand content hub — Forkful.com — and recently established a full-fledged in-house content newsroom. The news team produces articles, listicles, video and other content for pre-planned occasions throughout the year, but it's also ready (in part through daily meetings) to jump on current events with concepts that drive social buzz and other media exposure. Case in point: in response to news about consumers complaining about the iPhone 6 bending, the team created an image of a bending Slim Jim. The clever content pulled a 45% engagement rate on Twitter, and was picked up by media including USA Today and Mashable, reports Moritz.
During Moritz's eight years at ConAgra, brand PR coverage has increased 57%, and the team has generated 7.5 billion earned media impressions, not counting owned and paid impressions.
Groom says that Moritz, who is a self-described teacher at heart (and in fact teaches digital and social media at the Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy), is an exceptionally inspirational team leader. He, like others, also describes her as indefatigable and in constant pursuit of the next incremental advancement.
"Stephanie's track record stands as someone skilled at pushing the boundaries of what’s needed, what’s possible," sums up Pamela Von Lehmden, EVP, integrated strategies, Edelman–Chicago, an agency partner and professional friend. "She indexes high as an 'intrapreneur'; a tireless advocate for her craft, her teams and her company; a compassionate leader; and an astute marketing professional."