Friday, May 14, 2010

10 Questions or Less with Rob Borella

In my first blog post, I mentioned that I am a student trying to learn all that I can about the food and beverage CPG and retail industries. I believe that there is no better way to learn than posing questions to experienced professionals.

This week, meet Rob Borella, Senior Director, Marketing and Corporate Communications, at Giant Eagle. With stores throughout Western Pennsylvania, Central and Northern Ohio, Northern West Virginia, and Western Maryland, Giant Eagle has been serving communities the freshest foods at everyday low prices since 1918.

1. What is your background? As Senior Director of Marketing and Corporate Communications for Giant Eagle, I lead the company's corporate and customer communications, sponsorship, and community relations efforts.

I am the primary spokesman for the company and am responsible for all external and internal communications, our customer call center, sports marketing, and other community sponsorship relationships in our four-state footprint. Additionally, I manage the in-store sampling program offered to millions of our customers each week.

Prior to joining Giant Eagle and entering retailing in 2002, I led the marketing communications and investor relations functions at multiple Washington-area technology companies including Online Resources (Nasdaq: ORCC), Etensity, and InteliData. Previous to my experience in the technology sector, I was a lead spokesman for Amtrak's Washington headquarters, in addition to beginning my career in communications at the world headquarters of Sunoco oil company.

2. What drew you to this line of work? As a teenager, my passion was for two things: cooking and being on-stage. I suppose I wasn't quite talented enough to become the next celebrity chef on the Food Network, so the job of doing corporate and customer communications for a leading supermarket retailer was the perfect combination for me! I am lucky enough to interact with some of the best culinary folks in the world – some of whom work for Giant Eagle – as well as a long list of food celebrities who have made appearances at our stores including Martha Stewart, Guy Fieri, Paula Deen, Curtis Stone, and many more.

3. What do you love about your job? I love the energy and excitement of a fast-paced retail environment. On any given day, we can simultaneously be faced with the opportunities of launching a new store or a chain wide loyalty program, be a part of a national product recall, and have several other local and crisis communications issues to which to respond. The results of our efforts are measured every day, nearly instantaneously, with press stories and customer feedback online and via our call center.

4. How could a student or new professional gain relevant experience? Find an organization that is in the news frequently and apply for an internship program or similar opportunity. I started my career at the headquarters of Sunoco and Amtrak – two companies in the national news spotlight on a daily basis. My crisis communications experiences at Amtrak set the stage for the rest of my career. After dealing with transportation industry issues that often involved fatalities, there is very little (if anything) that can rattle you as a spokesperson. It was a tough job, but incredible experience to deal with any media crisis situation thereafter. It really puts into perspective the press issues you may face thereafter in your career.

5. How has your work in this field changed over the years? Many technologies have changed the way corporate and customer communications take place, making it immediate and multi-faceted – in print, via broadcast, online, and so on. Even after decades of technological change, the basic tenants of corporate communications still hold true: be open and honest; accurate and fair; timely; and open to course corrections based on feedback. No matter what future technologies will bring, the fundamentals remain.

6. Please tell me one place where readers can go to learn more about the field. There is a cool online "e-marketer" e-mail I get every day.

7. What is your favorite new food or beverage product? I took a tour of the McCormick headquarters last fall and have been very impressed with the company's passion for food and consumer marketing efforts. My wife loves the great recipes and background materials they provide, along with their annual "flavor forecast" that identifies upcoming trends. My favorite new product from McCormick are these "Recipe Inspirations," single-dish blister pack spices with a quick recipe on the back. It's an ingenious way to allow consumers to try a new dish and a new spice, all in one easy package.

Rob, thank you so much for your time! You have such a cool job and lots of great experience. Thanks for sharing your background, tips, and advice!

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