Thursday, February 5, 2009

Chat - Kathy Means

Kathy Means began her produce career at The Packer, spending about nine years at the paper before moving to the Produce Marketing Association. Means, vice president of government relations and public affairs for the Newark, Del.-based PMA, on Jan. 30 took time for a chat with Tom Karst and the Fresh Talk blog.

1:31 PM Tom: Thanks for making time for another Fresh Talk Chat. First of all, I know your roots are from the Midwest/KC area. I like to start off with a question about roots. What do you like about life in the Eastern U.S. compared with your days growing up near KC?
1:35 PM kathy.means.pma: I wouldn't change growing up in St. Joseph for anything, and I love Kansas City. Love getting back there to visit my family and see my favorite haunts (including KU!). And I also love living in Delaware. We do have a few things that are impossible to get in the Midwest — an ocean, for one. We also have the advantage of being within a couple of hours of New York City, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Baltimore and more. But ultimately what's most important about where you live is having strong relationships with family and friends. That transcends any geography.
1:36 PM Tom: You bring up Delaware. One question about Newark...what's the favorite lunch spot for PMA staff? What kind of town is Newark, anyway?
1:38 PM kathy.means.pma: Newark is a college town. Great Main Street, wonderful restaurants, college activities -- sports, arts. Probably no single favorite restaurant — we have a lot of employees, so a lot of different tastes. But some of the favorites are Iron Hill Brewery, Daddy O’s, Applebee’s, and the Blue Crab.
1:40 PM Tom: I need to get back there — hopefully in good weather. Something about you that most but not all people know is you spent about 9 years with The Packer. Do you consider that experience helpful to what you do now? If so, how?
1:45 PM kathy.means.pma: Yes, I spent nine great years at The Packer — four in the KC office and five as eastern editor, based outside Philadelphia. My schooling is in journalism — University of Kansas, the best! When I first came to PMA it was to create the association’s communications department. That department expanded to include issues management, and from that we built the government relations and public affairs team. For me, journalism and association work are founded in one of my favorite things — the first amendment: the right to free speech and press, the right to assemble (at the heart of associations — that's what we are, an assembly of like-minded people) and to petition the government. (Freedom of religion is in that amendment as well — but less relevant to this conversation.) Not only is there that constitutional connection, but my work at The Packer built my connection to the produce industry — learning from many of the greats — often in associations (Danny Dempster, Bryan Silbermann, Bob Carey), but also in industry companies and the government.
1:47 PM Tom: It's hard to believe how PMA has expanded its service to the industry over the years. If I'm right, you supervise about 20 in the marketing/communications/customer service arena. In your years at PMA, how do you think the industry has changed in terms of how it engages with the association?
1:54 PM kathy.means.pma: I used to supervise the marketing, communications, and customer service area, and you're right, that's a big group. Now, however, I’m over a smaller group of three — the Government Relations and Public Affairs team — Lee Mannering and Cynthia Clifton. And we work with Tom O'Brien as our Washington DC representative. I’ve been with PMA 19 years (hmmmm, how old does that make me?). And, yes, things have changed a great deal in the past 19 years. PMA has always had a strong supply-chain-wide approach to everything. And that's been a great approach because it builds solutions for the whole industry (think PLUs as just one example). In the past, though, we've been known as a convention and exposition. In fact, for the longest time (and even to some extent today), our name was used in two ways. There was PMA, the association, and there was The PMA, the convention and expo. Certainly Fresh Summit (the convention's real name) is a critically important event for the entire industry. But more and more members are finding year-round value in the services the association provides — training, information, issues management, government affairs, research, other events (foodservice conference, Fresh Connection events). We’re more than five days in October and that value has increased significantly over the past 20 years.
1:56 PM Tom: You have been right in the heart of food safety/regulatory affairs for some time now. As you look ahead to that appears to be a revival of regulation with the Obama Administration, how do you see upside and downside realities for the industry?
2:01 PM kathy.means.pma: It's unusual for an association to call for regulation, but after the past three or four years we find ourselves in a position where we must do that. Though the economy has rightly pushed all other priorities aside, I think we can still expect to see food safety legislation and regulation moving forward. We're already seeing that — the Dingell bill has reappeared and FDA is very active in GAPs and third party certification efforts. Our job is to work with those who are crafting this laws and regulations to be sure they recognize the realities of the marketplace as they improve food safety. And we have definite ideas about how this should be accomplished.
2:02 PM Tom: Kathy, great insights. I appreciate your time and don't like to keep people longer than 30 minutes. One more question. I know you have a Blackberry, er crackberry as it is affectionately called. Do you ever leave it behind?
2:05 PM kathy.means.pma: I do. It’s an invaluable tool, and sometimes I refer to it as a tether. But it actually frees me up. I can be working anywhere — so important when we’re having a crisis or regulators need to find me or we're watching legislation. But it’s just as important to set it aside and remember real life — those relationships I was talking about earlier.
2:06 PM Tom: I don’t have one, but it is hard enough to get away from this laptop. Again, thanks Kathy and hopefully we can chat again soon...

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