PRL Blog 614.2 10- Vermont Experiences

Hello All!

This will be the final blog for PRL 614, but the start of a great blogosphere for me to continue writing about my other classes over Christmas break and hopefully a little more than I did this semester, during spring classes. A thank you to my boyfriend Michael Spieler for helping me spruce up the space a little. We chose photos that are some of my greatest accomplishments so far since graduation in May 2011. It been six months this month since we both graduated and I am amazed at how much I have learned and grown in that time.

Our last blog is a free blog, so I will be discussing my trip to Vermont that I took last week for the case study I am writing for Public Relations Theory. I am studying Lake Champlain Chocolates, which is located in Burlington, Vt., and am discussing how a small organization can build such a strong positive reputation and how it maintains this reputation through an era of health and fitness. Introductions and proposals have been submitted and approved and now it is all about the data collection and analysis. For a part of my data collection, I decided that shadowing (field observation) at the main headquarters/factory would be extremely beneficial.

I started off the journey Thursday morning with a tweet:

Into the land of @LCChocolates and @gracepotter I go! Have missed Vt a lot. #gradschoolprojectsarethebest

If that doesn’t show how excited I was, I don’t know what does.

My father and I drove from 9-3 to reach Burlington on Thursday and were able to spend the evening looking at old places my dad had visited in the past. It was a cool experience to see how things had changed, AND I was about two blocks from where the original Ben and Jerry’s had opened (If you don’t know it yet, I am OBSESSED with Ben and Jerry’s and did my bootcamp media kit on the organization). If anyone ever visits the area you have to go to Sweetwaters restaurant on Church St., their food is absolutely fabulous.

On Friday morning I made my way to the small headquarters of LCC on Pine St., about 3 minutes from the hotel my father and I were staying at. I met Meghan Fitzpatrick, the director of marketing and communications for LCC. She is a wonderful person and very nice. I can’t believe I was lucky enough to find a company that would be willing to work with me on such a project. So I need to thank her and the organization in advance for giving me this wonderful opportunity. I was given a short tour of the offices, which are extremely colorful and smell of fresh chocolate (my dream for an office). I had been to the factory as a visitor before, so I had a general idea of what the store looked like. I was offered my favorite hot chocolate from the company (spicy aztec) and sat in on the 9 am factory tour (this tour is done through a glass window so nothing is contaminated). Though I had already done the tour before, I was focusing on things such as the interaction between the guide and the visitors, how much information they were willing to discuss, how open to questions, etc. The guides of these tours are the only contact visitors have with someone from the factory unless consumers order over the phone. What I remember from the summer and of this trip was all positive. The videos shown were very informative and any questions no matter how complex was answered to the best of the guides ability. If she didn’t know the answer, they told the group they would find out at the end from someone and let them know.

I then sat in on a very small meeting that Meghan had with a few employees working for the Christmas season on corporate sales. The list of companies that ordered last year from LCC has been printed and it was noted that a lower number had ordered so far this year than had ordered at this time last year. Ideas were discussed as to how to change the current situation and the five came to a consensus. It was interesting to see how a meeting (though small) ran and how agenda items were discussed and decided. It was extremely refreshing to see people work in a team rather than all have different ideas and insist that their idea is the best. The group was more focused on what was better for LCC and not just themselves.

Meghan then took me into the actual factory. It was fascinating to walk around all the machines one at a time and see how they work. My favorite was the enrober. It is a conveyor belt and at the end it has a chocolate waterfall. LCC’s infamous truffles and other bars go down this belt and are enrobed in chocolate. Every time someone says “Chocolate Waterfall”, I immediately feel like I’m about to see Willy Wonka. One of the greatest messages LCC sends to its audience about its reputation is that its product is completely kosher and works with all-natural local ingredients. The vats of honey and creme smell amazing.

I spoke with Meghan for a while on some of the PR/media events LCC had been working on with its firm PMG PR, which is also located in Burlington. PMG helps LCC mainly with larger events and national coverage. In September LCC did what it titled a MediaFam (media familiarization). LCC invited a group of top food writers to Vt. for a weekend. The writers had a tour of the factory and the packaging facility down the road, sampled chocolates and had Saturday night and Sunday to explore Burlington and the surrounding area (with a focus on the organizations LCC receives their ingredients from). To my surprise, almost two months later LCC is still waiting for some type of coverage. Meghan told me that other than trying to get coverage from this event, LCC doesn’t usually because they are almost 30 years old, so nothing is particularly new, LCC is consistent in making its products so they haven’t presented anything deemed “newsworthy”; but they are working on building that coverage. After our conversation about press, I went through the binders of all of LCC’s clippings. After having gone through two binders, I realized that LCC has mostly product placements. This week, for example,  they were listed in Martha Stewart Living as a top ten stocking stuffer idea. This is huge for LCC, but realized that product placement is probably more important for LCC along with “getting the chocolate into peoples mouths”.

Social media was something that Meghan was able to bring to the table and begin monitoring, when she started working for LCC about two and a half years ago.  LCC views it as a branding tool instead of a selling tool and focuses on having two blog posts a week to keep the information fresh and consistent.

Meghan and I then had lunch with the director of sales, Allyson Myers, who has been with the organization since 1993, and knows just about everything there is to know about LCC. It was really interesting to see a marketing and sales perspective of the company.

My final piece of the day was to sit in on some customer service phone calls. I was really impressed with the way that LCC had implemented a 100% satisfaction guarantee. They have multiple people on shifts ready to take calls at anytime during their business hours. I was sitting with a woman named Jan and she told me that when people call they usually feel like they have to get angry or anxious for something to be done. This IS NOT the case. LCC takes care of their consumers because they want them to love the product and come back to LCC for all their chocolate product needs. LCC also has a large donation request base and does a lot through their community outreach, so many inquiries come in through the telephone lines.

It was that time for me to wrap up and head back to Syracuse. I thanked Meghan for all her help and  told her that I looked forward to interviewing her and a few others in the coming weeks. The experience of being at the factory during a work day was really eye opening. I hope one day to be able to work for an organization like Lake Champlain Chocolates. I am positive that I have discovered the reasons why LCC has such a positive reputation and hope to see them continue to thrive in the future. Looking at the company as a PR practitioner vs. being a visitor was really cool. In the four months that I have been in classes at Syracuse, I know that I have been taught to objectively look at everything when you have the opportunity to. With the skills and information I have been given in the past four months, I don’t think I would have been able to make as many connections and theory based answers/results as I have currently. Having the opportunity to do this case study and go to Vermont, again solidified for me that public relations is the field I want to succeed in.

*Just so everyone knows, Lake Champlain Chocolates (center of picture) goes amazing with every food item possible*

Thank you everyone for reading. Expect more posts in the coming weeks.

I’m going to be very excited to write them.

Thank you again. Comments or question, please let me know!


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