By Mark Ward, SR., PHD 2014-07-28 23:39:42
Two master marketers offer ideas and inspiration for building engagement with customers and community alike. Meet Wesley Delbridge The food and nutrition team at Chandler (Ariz.) Unified School District (CUSD) took justified pride in their awardwinning printed school menus. But awards can lose significance if the product isn’t resonating with its intended audience. According to Food and Nutrition Director Wesley Delbridge, RD, a 2010 survey of parents found that 87% wanted an electronic version. Indeed, he notes, “Parents weren’t using our printed menus to plan their children’s school lunches for the week,” explains Delbridge. “They were looking at the menus that morning, before school, to decide what to do that day.” The data led to an epiphany for Delbridge. “Is there an app for that?” he asked himself. In 2011, the team launched the nation’s first inhouse mobile school menu app, called CUSD Food, offering real-time menu details and much more. “Now the app is our biggest communication tool with families,” he relates. Delbridge—who was recently promoted to the operation’s top spot after serving as program supervisor for several years, when former director Catherine Giza, SNS, opted to retire—is a genuine devotee of using new technologies as a means to connect with the community. On the Cutting Edge Delbridge worked with a digital design and marketing agency to develop the CUSD Food app, available now in iOS and Android versions. Users can access student payment accounts, check balances and add money; receive notifications of daily menu changes and updates; and view cooking demos, recipe videos and health and nutrition news. “We’re also leveraging today’s technology in other ways to get out our story,” continues Delbridge. For example, “Our Facebook and Twitter pages are like blogs—running conversations with our community,” he details. Collecting and responding to student feedback are essential steps. “The district purchased some iPod Touch tablets that we give out to students when we do taste tests. Compared to doing paper surveys, we get more responses, because being ‘high tech’ has a coolness factor for kids,” explains Delbridge. Still, there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction. “I sat down to eat with a group of girls, and they told me that they’d like to have their favorite band play a concert,” he recalls. “I took from their comments the underlying point—school lunch should be entertaining.” In a recent pilot, Delbridge had digital displays installed in the dining area of one school. “One day we tried a boys versus girls contest to see who was eating [more] fresh fruits and vegetables. Students would send us photos of themselves eating fresh produce, via their phones, and we’d flash the pictures on the digital signboards. They loved it!” he reports. Digital cafeteria signs are rolling out in the near future in all 50 CUSD schools. Flying High At CUSD, food and nutrition is set to soar, but Delbridge originally had very different plans for taking flight. He enrolled at Arizona State University in 1998 for pilot training. “But when I took a nutrition course,” he recalls, “I loved the subject and changed my major. And when a professor told me about school nutrition, I walked into the CUSD foodservice department and asked if they had any jobs.” That first day, Delbridge cleaned floors. Over the next two years, while still a student, “I learned everything I could about operations,” he recounts. After graduation in 2002 and a dietetic internship with a county public health department, he returned to CUSD as a 22-year-old field supervisor. Delbridge has worked steadily to build his school nutrition career. Mentors helped him learn the ropes. Professional involvements include a 2012-13 term as president of the School Nutrition Association of Arizona and current service on the SNA Professional Standards Task Force. Recently, he was named a national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Delbridge is positioning CUSD’s meal program to thrive. “The goal isn’t just to maintain, but to create,” he exclaims, “and not just to solve problems, but to revolutionize school nutrition by giving people what they [didn’t realize] they really wanted.” Meet Linette Dodson A marketing course teaches that crafting an effective message starts with analyzing your target audience. A major city school district, then, might market its meal program through an array of media. But for Linette Dodson, PhD, RD, LD, SNS, nutrition director for the Carrollton City Charter School District in Carrollton, Ga., a face-to-face approach, applying a personal touch, is the most effective way to meet the needs of her community. Dodson, named by the Georgia School Nutrition Association (GSNA) as its 2013 Director of the Year, works with her team to schedule a full calendar of school and community events designed to promote a singular message: School Food Is Good Food. As Dodson sees it, this tactic “fits the size of our community, builds relationships and lets students, parents and the public know that we’re approachable.” Visible and Vital National School Lunch Week (NSLW) is one occasion to go all-out at the district’s four schools. Parents and guest speakers are invited for lunch. Cafeterias are festooned with decorations that promote good nutrition. But NSLW is just one of a long list of special events on Dodson’s calendar. For example, the school nutrition department participates in the annual “Taste of Carrollton” downtown food fair. Dodson and her team also sponsor booths at the city’s annual Mayfest and its Relay for Life fundraiser. They provide support for the local Empty Bowls food drive. And with the help of a federal grant, the department has created a branding strategy and marketing campaign for its farm-to-school initiative. Few in the community have not heard the slogan: “Eat Healthy, Eat Local, Eat at Carrollton City Schools.” Within the individual schools, numerous face-to-face events help to promote the nutrition program. Student taste tests are conducted throughout the year. “And we have student Nutrition Advisory Councils active in all four schools,” adds Dodson. Though Dodson has prioritized face-toface marketing, she’s no technophobe. “We have a website and a Facebook page. And we use traditional print communications, such as write-ups in the local paper and announcements we send home to parents,” she explains. “But in the last four years, we’ve made a conscious decision to increase our face-to-face contacts.” Introducing Dr. Dodson The message also has gotten out that Dodson is a school nutrition leader for her state. In addition to her 2013 award from GSNA, she was appointed last fall by Governor Nathan Deal to the Georgia Board of Examiners of Licensed Dietitians. Her most recent award was particularly hard-won: conferral in May of a doctoral degree in nutritional sciences from Iowa State University (ISU). “I went for my PhD, because your career isn’t just the jobs you’ve held; it’s how you’ve developed yourself,” Dodson asserts. With her three children flown from the nest, Dodson began the ISU program in 2011, capping her studies with a dissertation on registered dietitians in school nutrition leadership. “I found that dietetic students aren’t getting enough exposure to school nutrition as a career choice,” she reports. “But RDs who enter the field, though they often stumbled into it, can do well and potentially fill leadership roles in our profession.” Dodson’s own journey is a case in point. She started college to become a chemical engineer, but a personal interest in wellness led her to earning a 1985 bachelor’s degree in dietetics from ISU. Drawn to foodservice operations, she entered a manager trainee program with a regional cafeteria chain in Texas. After a career respite to start a family, she applied for a position as a site manager at her local school district and was rejected for being over-qualified! Later, after a move to Georgia, plus a few stints in dietetics, she landed in her current position in 2000. The rest, as they say, is history. Dodson went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Alabama and now adds “PhD” beside her name. “But what keeps me going,” she says, “is my passion for the kids and the impact we can have on their lives!” Mark Ward is a freelance writer in Victoria, Texas. This summer, he marks 20 years writing the monthly profile column for School Nutrition.
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