Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the March 4 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.
Gracie Ziegler wasn’t actively seeking another job when she learned about another position on social media site LinkedIn. She was innovation brand manager at Springdale-based meat producer Tyson Foods, a company she’d worked at for 10 years, but she took a chance on the opportunity to work at Fayetteville-based public relations firm Mitchell.
She started in August, and in her role as director of marketing, she tells the story of the company as if it were her client.
When Ziegler, 38, was named to the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class in 2013, she was customer development manager at Tyson Foods. She was in the position, which was rebranded to channel marketing manager, for more than five years, and she worked to introduce Tyson Foods products to convenience stores like 7-Eleven, Casey’s General Store and Kum & Go. She was part of a team of two when the company first ventured into selling prepared foods products in the convenience store business, and it grew to about 20 employees after Tyson Foods acquired AdvancePierre Foods Holdings Inc. in June 2017 for $4.2 billion.
Tyson Foods began offering its prepared food items in convenience stores after outbidding the existing supplier. In a year, the company started to offer several chicken products, such as wings and sandwiches, and pizza toppings.
Ziegler moved into a new role as innovation brand manager and worked with culinary staff to develop beef and pork products for foodservice. Six of her ideas went to market, including a line of gourmet sausages and sous vide products. Sous vide (pronounced sue-veed) is a cooking technique in which one vacuum seals a product and cooks it in water bath to a set temperature, allowing for consistent, restaurant-quality results. She worked in the role for about 10 months before starting at Mitchell.
Not to say one is better than the other, but working at Mitchell is different in that Ziegler was used to working at a large corporate office — with an on-site cafeteria. Now, her office has about 40 people, adjacent to the old courthouse in downtown Fayetteville. She is a team of one, talking to about 50 employees throughout the company weekly, and she has a direct connection to CEO Sarah Clark.
The most exciting thing about working for Mitchell is the company keeps its local roots, said Ziegler, a Fayetteville native. One of the first projects she worked on was the company’s OmniLocal report looking at the changing mindsets of Millennial and Generation Z consumers and how they perceive local. For 74% of consumers, geographic location doesn’t best define a community; however, 55% said shared interests and mindset do. More than half said connecting digitally makes them feel local can be anywhere, the study shows.
“As an agency that has been a leader in hyperlocal PR for more than 20 years, we wanted to take a fresh look at local through the eyes of consumers,” Clark said. “The data indicates that the brands that are going to win in this new age of OmniLocal marketing are the ones that understand how to be local at all times. Whether a consumer engages the brand online with their phone or in a store, whether they are buying from the boutique down the street or the website on their mobile device.”
Mitchell, the flagship PR firm for the Dentsu Aegis Network, has offices in Fayetteville, New York, Boston and Nashville and produces local, national and global PR campaigns for companies such as Marriott, Mondelez, P&G, Sam’s Club and Walmart.
In five years, Ziegler would like to work internationally, such as a stint in Europe, and with Mitchell’s parent company being a global company, an opportunity could present itself. But in the meantime, she plans to focus on what local means and to tell the company’s story in Northwest Arkansas.
She serves on the boards for the Washington County Economic Opportunity Agency, Emerge Arkansas and Brave Woman, and as president of Democratic Women of Washington County, she spent the past 18 months working on the elections of progressive candidates. She and her husband, Mike, enjoy traveling, home projects and tailgating at Razorback games.