Bringing Fierce Competitors Together to Drive Change – Guest Blog

By Kimberly McConville, CAE

No matter your industry, chances are there’s a community issue you champion and support. Consider distracted driving, education, poverty, health. While we can forge ahead as individual organizations to deliver solutions, what if instead we joined forces?

In the non-alcoholic beverage industry, we are achieving progress by doing just that. Through our experience, I can share some strategies that can transfer across other verticals to strengthen communities.

My job as executive director of the Ohio Soft Drink Association means I represent some of the world’s fiercest rivals: Coke, Dr Pepper and Pepsi. In 2017, we needed to unite Ohio bottlers of those iconic brands to work toward a national goal to reduce calories and sugar in beverages consumed 20 percent per capita by 2025. Called the Balance Calories Initiative, this program was developed by the American Beverage Association and is being implemented across the U.S. Ohio ranks among the initiative’s leaders, having launched in August.

Looking back on the launch, four strategies contributed to setting the stage for our success in Ohio. Consider how you can implement them in your industry, too.

1. Develop a Meaningful Message

What are you trying to accomplish? What is the best way to communicate that message, and how are you going to move people to change? When you’re developing a cross-industry message, special care must be taken to ensure that all the players have ownership and are committed to the campaign. For the Balance Calories Initiative, this thoughtful work took place on a national level with the American Beverage Association along with leadership from Coke, Dr Pepper and Pepsi. The message: “Balance what you eat, drink and do.”

2. Create a Working Task Force

Start by identifying the right members to serve on a working group.  Make sure all key stakeholders are represented. Each team member should understand the underlying goal, but also feel empowered to make it their own. In our situation, we brought together an Ohio team of 16 individuals representing our member companies. We met for weekly conference calls leading up to the launch and continue regular calls. This team is an invaluable asset. As subject matter experts, they bring unique and actionable ideas to the table.

3. Cultivate Community Partners

Consider the issue you want to solve. What non-profit organization or government department is tied to that issue? Community partners can help spread the reach of your campaign, as well as provide third-party credibility. For Balance Calories Ohio, we cultivated two key partnerships. The first was with Mid-Ohio Foodbank, which saw our program as a way deepen their commitment to fresh foods and balanced eating. This partnership not only includes product donations for Foodbank clients, but also beverage aisle education so moms and dads can understand the choices available to them.  Next, we approached Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther. This paved the way to bring the balance message to residents enjoying Columbus recreation centers and parks.  The collaborative effort is another example of “the Columbus way,” which he defines as the city working with the private sector to solve complex problems.  Don’t be afraid to think creatively here. There may be groups that on the surface don’t have a connection to your cause, but actually hold similar values and can provide a perfect platform to reach your intended audience.

4. Leverage Your Assets

Look at your team and identify and leverage existing assets to support the initiative. What platforms are already in place to engage with the community?  For example, G&J Pepsi is a long-standing sponsor of Red, White & Boom!, so we quickly capitalized on the event’s 5K race to educate runners about Balance Calories.  Similarly, Coca-Cola Consolidated’s relationship with The Ohio State University gave our collective effort exposure during the back to school Buck-i-Frenzy.  Moving forward, it is critical to stay focused on the goal. Listen to member ideas and find ways to play to their collective strengths. Even more importantly, always leave room for those serendipitous moments when a question or conversation sparks something new.

Kimberly McConville, CAE is executive director of the Ohio Soft Drink Association. She represents the interests of the Ohio non-alcoholic beverage industry in all legislative and regulatory matters. Member companies produce a full-range of drink options including soft drinks, diet soft drinks, bottled waters, ready-to-drink teas, 100 percent juice, juice drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks. For more information visit