founding farmers ronn torossian

Can Founding Farmers go National?

At first blush, it seems like an impossibly idealistic dream. A cadre of farmers trying to turn the “farm to table” concept into a chain restaurant. Ronn Torossian explains how they are making it work.

It began in the likeliest of unlikely places – North Dakota. A group of local farmers got together with a simple plan. They wanted to begin an upscale, farm-to-table restaurant chain along the east coast. You read that right. A bunch of guys in North Dakota wanted to open not just one, but multiple, restaurants on the densely populated east coast. And they wanted to do that without anyone playing middle-man.

It’s not that the direct to consumer sales idea had not been floated before. It had been a near-constant agenda item for local farmers unions. And why not? According to Businessweek, in the 15-year period between 1992 and 2007, farmer’s markets and farm-to-table restaurants had “tripled the direct sales of food.” Tripled. Obviously, there was a market. But where…and, more importantly…HOW?

Most restaurants work on a multi-tiered success premise. Founders develop and market a brand; local chain location managers or franchisees manage the operations of individual locations, and independent suppliers get them everything they need at wholesale prices. However, when you are dealing with perishables and slim margins, the restaurant business can be notoriously fickle. Failure is epidemic, even with established chains. So, of course, cutting out middle-men, which cut into profit margins, has always been a desirable option. But it’s tough to make it work. Particularly on a large scale.

And, truth be told, the guys behind Founding Farmers nearly tanked as well. Their first foray into the unforgiving world of the restaurant business was a 14,00 square foot eatery in Washington D.C. Costs were astronomical, and not even beltway denizens were crazy about paying the menu premiums expected.

So the guys went back to the drawing board. Two years later, in 2008, Founding Farmers was launched. And it has REALLY taken off. With three massively successful locations in the D.C. area, the owners are considering expansions along the east coast. They know the formula, now they just have to expand into areas that will take a bit more massaging.

After all, D.C. is a hotbed for foodies in proximity to family farms that provide all the perishables the restaurant needs to keep fresh food on the menu. Currently, Boston is on their radar, and that’s certainly an apt choice. Dense population, high culinary expectations … and less competition than NYC. The key here will be effective and impactful consumer and restaurant PR. Founding Farmers already knows how to make the business work. Now they just need to make their target market care enough to give them a shot.

ronn torossian charity foundation

Charity Jobs Grew During Recession

According to new data obtained from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, charity organizations and nonprofit groups are becoming an increasingly vital segment of the American economy. Consider the fact that the nonprofit sector is one of the few that grew during the Recession. In fact, according to Trib Live Media, the nonprofit sector, with an impressive 11.4 million jobs, is the third largest employment sector, when compared to all other industries in the United States. Charities accounted for more than ten percent of all non-government jobs in 2012.

Plus, nonprofit organizations, as a whole, experienced employment gains every single year from 2007 to 2012. This is the same time frame in which most other industries were taking a beating thanks to the Great Recession. Right, and nonprofit employees earned more than $500 billion in wages in 2012 alone.

This success, Torossian believes, is the linchpin that will begin to change perceptions about nonprofits in the business world. Bottom line, doing good works can also mean having a great job.

Leading the charge among all nonprofits were the education and healthcare industries. In 2012, more than 67% of all nonprofit employees worked in either healthcare or social services. Education added nearly another 16% to that total. These are skilled job areas where employees can earn a good living while contributing to the overall mission of the organization. So, if more than 8 out of 10 nonprofit sector jobs are in good-paying, professional fields, why aren’t more people more bullish about nonprofit employment?

Industry insiders are calling it a failure of perception. On one hand, many job seekers don’t equate healthcare or education with nonprofits, so they don’t give that marketplace more than a cursory glance. Further, these industries have failed to establish a message that working with them is about more than making enough to pay your bills. It’s about being a part of something bigger and better. About helping a specific community and addressing specific issues. That’s the strength of any nonprofit PR message, and it can become the strength of these market leaders as well.

People will look longer and harder at better jobs if they can benefit their hearts as well as their bank accounts.

ronn torossian foundation blog

Public Funds, a Troubled Charity and Enough Bad PR

Controversy. This sums up the claims made by Community Action of Minneapolis, CEO, Bill Davis that low income families need additional, federal assistance to help them pay their heating bills as the weather chills and water freezes. The nonprofit supports heating, job training and food-stamp amenities for low-income Minnesotans. The obstacle in these claims, of more necessary funding for the nonprofit, have been clearly exposed after staff persons at the Commerce Department were baffled when attempting to decipher where Davis’ nonprofit misspent over $1 million in specific energy funds. These funds are to be returned with the objective of redirecting it to people in need, who qualify under certain guidelines.

The analysis by staff members at the Commerce Department shocked both Ronn Torossian and other onlookers as the resulting data showed that money, meant to supply energy for low-income qualifiers, was rationed to residents who are not eligible for the aide. Unfortunately for CEO Bill Davis, the examination revealed to Mike Rothman—the Minnesota Commerce Commissioner— that funds were misplaced and misrepresented in 2011.

Yet despite these warning signs, the state continued to source money into what has become a severely controversial nonprofit. Apparently, Mike Rothman could not detach his ties with Community Action, though he claims that his relationship with the nonprofit has been strictly professional. As a result of the investigation, several staff members were informed that, “…political ramifications are greater than [the staff] would understand,” and this led to staff members becoming silent as an operation continued to illegally spend the people’s money. When staffed employees complained further, many lost their positions or were severely punished for speaking out.

By the time the Minnesota Department of Human Services got involved, Community Action had to close down from an intensive audit revealing how Bill Davis overcharged grants, both state and federal, of over $600,000 in administrative fees. The non-profit also spent over $226,679 to cover pay bonuses for employees, food, spas, alcohol, golfing and trips to the Bahamas. The state is now attempting to return money from the nonprofit where 41 employees became jobless.

This is a deep ditch of troubles for CEO Bill Davis. Some have lost their jobs and others have sat home without heating during the winter. Though Davis still hails himself an advocate for the poor, his former employees continue to complain of his excessive salary reaching $273,000.

Ronn Torossian on Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday Works for Nonprofits

First there was Black Friday. Then there was Cyber Monday. Then, finally, came the Most Wonderful Day of the Year for many American nonprofits, Giving Tuesday. Ronn Torossian explains:

The concept started as both an extension and a response to America’s bacchanal of avarice in the days after Thanksgiving. Giving Tuesday exploded onto the scene with a passion, motivating millions to counterbalance their getting with a healthy dose of giving.

This year, according to recently released numbers, nonprofit groups took in nearly $46 million on Giving Tuesday.

The movement has, by and large, been driven by social media campaigns and reflects the nearly limitless potential that can be found in crowdfunding and online giving. Begun in 2012, the movement included about 2,500 groups receiving about $13.5 million. The numbers were up about 63 percent in 2013. More than 15,000 nonprofit groups participated this year. Nearly 700,000 tweets were sent mentioning Giving Tuesday. Talk about viral!

From a PR and marketing perspective, the success is largely about connecting with a convergence of consumer attention, ease of use, and personal will. People WANT to give after spending so much on themselves. They are ready to do something altruistic. The online forum makes it easy and the social media push increases peer pressure to participate. All of this comes together to present a tremendous opportunity for organizations who are smart enough to take advantage of it and wise enough to maximize the opportunity.

Unfortunately, far too many nonprofit organizations fail to understand or realize the potential in both online donations and crowdfunding. They are unsure about the benefits or unaccustomed to the medium or simply stuck on “This Is How We Do Things.”

Well, for those organizations, here’s your wake up call. 15,000 groups split about $46 million dollars. You could have been one of them. Now you have to wait until next year. What do you plan to do about it?


Tactics to Take Your Charity Fundraising Efforts to the Next Level

Spreading the message of a charity for a good cause is not always easy, especially when you are attempting to do so on a local level and if you have a limited budget and support. Learning new tactics when managing a charity is a way to stand out while also having the ability to spread any message you have in mind to a designated target audience of potential customers or shoppers.

Build a Social Media Presence

Building a social media presence is essential for all charities when doing so online. Launch a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest account to reach thousands if not millions of users who are interested in charities and following or supporting good causes. Be sure to stay actively involved and engaged with hashtags and phrases that are relevant to your charity and the type of giving back you are participating in.

Create Contests and Giveaways

Hosting giveaways and contests using online pages, your official website and social media is also a way for spread the word and message of your charity whenever you are seeking new methods of fundraising. Spreading the word of the fundraiser you are hosting online is a way for you to get more donations while also sharing the actual charity you represent with other users right from home.

Stay Consistent

Having online fundraisers is ideal when you need to maintain consistency any time you are sharing new products, services or information regarding your charity and the message you are trying to convey. The more consistent you are with updates, the easier it becomes for others to identify your charity as a valid and legitimate brand or company.

Go Viral

Going viral similar to the ALS video challenges is another way to make a splash and influence as a charity in the online world. When you choose to host contests and charities by making the content more interesting and fun, it is easier to gain traction and responses you are seeking.
Knowing how to take any launched campaign to the next level of success is a way to truly get the most out of advertising products, services and brands entirely. When you have a charity you want to share with others, doing so with the use of online advertising, websites, and promotional material is a way to cut back on funding requirements while still getting you the exposure you need for just about any charity or cause.
Ronn Torossian Bill Gates

Gates Understands Timely PR

Ebola. It’s a hot word in the world these days. Hot and incredibly terrifying. It conjures up horrors without cure … and with dubious cause. It feels Old World, Medieval, something from a darker, less modern time. And these days, it’s everywhere.

There are countless groups, large and small, out there working to help, to heal, and to find a cure. And Ronn Torossian says these groups would be well advised to add PR to their programs. Consider the recent ALS Challenge. While the jury may still be out on how much the challenge “helped,” there is no doubt that many people know a lot more about ALS than they did a month ago. When it comes to funding movements, knowledge is value.

And now the fight against Ebola has found an ally who knows a thing or three about publicity. Microsoft founder Bill Gates has directed his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to pledge $50 million to fight the viral Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The donation was pledged via a press release that also intimated that it was the “Largest Ever” toward a humanitarian cause.

Gates and his PR team understand very well how much the press loves a “bigger, better, or more” headline. If you can be the best or biggest, or beat the best or biggest, you have a great chance of getting ink.

Another aspect of PR that the press appreciates is timeliness. The Gates Foundation announcement stated that the specified funds would IMMEDIATELY benefit the UN agencies and international organizations involved in fighting the viral outbreak and spread.

Next, the release offered specifics as to what could and would be done with the cash. Medical supplies would be purchased and emergency operations would be conducted. These specifics fit nicely into the press’ 5W format of “who, what, when, where, and why.” Making it easier for them to make a story makes it more likely for you to be recognized.

And then there’s the nuance of the statement. The press appreciates headlines that allow them to use superlatives such as “historic” and “global” and “epidemic.” If you have that reach, keep that in mind. And, if you don’t, consider the superlatives that would jump off the page in your sphere of influence. If you can do something to build those headlines, you will go a long way toward increasing the media’s response to your nonprofit public relations efforts.


How Simple ideas can Create HUGE Charity PR Returns

als-ice-bucketIt began with a series of videos. Then it went viral. Random people dumping buckets of ice on their heads in order to get attention – and, hopefully, bring attention to various charitable causes. Those who get doused are encouraged to “pass it on.” As a PR stunt, Ronn Torossian says this trend has feet. What it lacks, Torossian argues, is substance.

Sure, people are going to watch other people doing something fun and a little bit silly. And, yes, other people are going to give it a shot. But then nothing much happens. This presence in place of substance is so prevalent in today’s Video Everywhere culture that it even has a name – Slacktivism. The pejorative relates to simple, purportedly charitable, actions that don’t actually accomplish anything. And they are everywhere. When NFL players are sporting neon pink socks for “awareness,” then you know a cause is in grave danger of jumping the shark.

But that doesn’t mean an idea that might lean toward slacktivism doesn’t have merit. Even the ice bucket challenge can make a difference if applied in the proper context. While a charity cannot coerce people to give, they could create fun ways to encourage donations and volunteering based on activities as simple as the ice bucket challenge. In a world of immediacy and microdonations, you don’t always need massive events to bring in the bucks.

That’s not to say major events are not worthwhile. Statistics bear out exactly how profitable major events can be, and that doesn’t seem likely to change. But there is a large – and largely untapped – generation out there who looks at, and engages with, the world in a very different way. You reach those folks with ice buckets.


One Mistake that can Destroy your Business

Assumption. You all know the old joke about what happens when you ass-u-me… but did you know that there is one assumption that most businesses make that can literally derail your entire PR and marketing program, and eventually, send your business crashing into anonymity? Worse, this assumption is so common that, when surveyed, more than 7 out of 10 business owners got it wrong.

We’re talking about branding. More specifically, we’re talking about understanding what your brand “is” in the marketplace, and knowing how to accurately communicate that information. While, as we said, more than 70% of business owners firmly believe they have an actionable understanding of their brand, the statistics show us that less than 15% have actually defined it in a workable, applicable, real world way. That’s fewer than ONE IN SIX business owners who have an adequate marketplace understanding of their brand. Dramatically worse, less than 5% are actually practicing that brand in any appreciable way in their day-to-day business at work.

These are otherwise intelligent, business-savvy professionals going about their day, ignoring the core of their public relations messaging. So where does that breakdown occur, and, more importantly, how can it be fixed?

Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5WPR, said, today more than ever, your brand is more than just your calling card; it is how you communicate your value in a constantly-evolving multimedia world.

Not your “values” … your “value”. See, one of the reasons for this brand confusion was the trend a few years back to make your brand all about your values. In truth, your brand is more about how your customers see you, and what you can offer to them. That is how they establish your market value.

Notice we did not say brand had anything to do with the products or services you offered the marketplace. Instead, it is about how customers see you. What can they get from you? This question encompasses more than just products. It’s about service, price, convenience, respect, appreciation, knowledge… those things, and all the other reasons people will make a buying decision. It’s the reason people will stand in line to buy the next Apple device, and barely bat an eyelash when anything else is released on the market. Don’t think for one minute people are buying on features and benefits. They are buying based on what the brand means to them.

That is why this question – and the horrific set of assumptions that began this article – is so central to your business success. Your brand is absolutely core to your public relations. It is the WHY, and the HOW, and the WHO of your marketplace interaction. For far too long, too many businesses have settled on the WHAT, and the WHEN … and they still don’t know why no one cares.