UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#13: The 360° CPG Experience With Notley's VP of Marketing, Emily Kealey

Austin’s food, bev, and better-for-you packaged goods community is growing at an ever-more rapid pace. But, industry leaders like Emily Kealey, Naturally Austin, and Notley say it’s an atmosphere of collaboration over competition. 🙌

With such online events as HEB Combo Loco and Women in CPG Summit (coming March 8), entrepreneurs can look to Naturally Austin and like-minded organizations for endless education and invaluable networking opportunities.

Learn how Emily Kealey went from spreading the good word on mangos (it’s true!) all the way to the CPG expert she is today.

Let us break it down for you…

[0:45] To start off, Emily Kealey’s background – began in PR. 

Interestingly, she’s always had a passion for CPG. In fact, she worked at a global-level agency called Manning Selvage and Lee – and, gained experience representing such name brands as Red Bull and Friskies Cat Food.

[3:35] Then, Karin also shares a background in pet food marketing – specifically, with Nulo! 

[4:28] Soon, she moved to Austin. In no time at all, she started working with whole foods. At that moment, she backed the National Mango Board and National Lamb Board. 

[5:33] Before too long, she left to start her own pie business! Wild. Of course, this put her on the other side of CPG. 

[7:40] Transitioned to their current position at Naturally Austin – SO helpful for CPG owners, giving them the resources they need. You don’t have to go it alone!

[8:40] So, she dropped the pie biz when she became a parent. Even so, she never gave up on the entrepreneurial spirit – the same spirit she feels from the Naturally Austin family.

[10:30] Then, she started her own agency. Basically, a haven for women to be themselves and do great work.

[12:00] We bet you’re wondering, how’d you set the tone for work-life balance? Asked employees, what do you need to reach your long-term business goals? Really, you can never require people to show up 100% day in and day out – we’re only human!

[14:00] The value to have that CPG experience prior to mentoring is truly awesome!

If possible, ask your clients if you can observe what they’re doing IRL to better understand their biz. Really, it’s so important to find empathy.

[16:00] How’d you find your way to Naturally Austin?

Obviously, COVID has made things more challenging. But, she’s already felt connected to the board.

[17:40] Okay, what does your day-to-day schedule look like at Naturally Austin? Calls, event management, and driving initiatives. In partnership with SKU.

[20:30] Gotta know, is the Naturally Austin team growing? 

[21:30] Favorite aspect of working with CPG brands at Naturally Austin and beyond? Austin is primed to be one of the biggest CPG cities.

[23:00] How important is having a community like Naturally Austin? It’s what you make of it! Collaboration over competition.

[26:50] Which Naturally Austin events have you had to pivot from IRL to online due to COVID?

What’s that like? In a word: interesting!

[30:00] The life cycle of CPG brands in Austin, from Naturally Austin to SKU and so forth.

[30:40] What’s your best piece of advice for CPG brands? Branding. Target audience.

[33:40] How to hone in on your customer persona – also known as an avatar.

[36:30] And, what are your ‘favorite’ CPG brands as of late, in the Naturally Austin family and beyond??

[39:15] So, what challenges do you most frequently see Naturally Austin brands facing? Local to Austin, our production facilities need to be expanded.

[43:00] Finally, what should CPG brands focus on to accelerate their growth? Know your numbers and competitors! Plot out where you want to be.

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[Disclaimer: At the time of recording this podcast, Kealey was positioned at Naturally Austin. She’s since transitioned to a new role as VP of Marketing at Notley!]

Read – #13: The 360° CPG Experience With Notley’s VP of Marketing, Emily Kealey


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Welcome to UMAI Social Circle, where we talk consumer goods marketing tips to help business owners and marketers alike grow.

We are Karin and Alison co-founders of UMAI, and we’re being joined by Emily Kealey, executive director of Naturally Austin, the leaders in crafting a community around CPG here in Austin. How are you, Emily?

Emily Kealey:
I’m good, guys. Thanks for having me on. Really, I appreciate it.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, thanks for joining. Well, let’s start off with your background. I know that you have a PR background. So, did you always have an interest in this? How did you get your start?

Emily Kealey:
I did always have an interest in PR right out of the gate. I’m actually from East Texas originally. And, I got to attend a all girls high school in Dallas called Hockaday, and I’m very grateful for that opportunity.

Then, I went to SMU and knew immediately that I wanted to get into corporate communications and public affairs. And, I gravitated naturally towards CPG.

I come from a family of entrepreneurs and so CPG and food was always my passion. And, after SMU, I moved to Los Angeles and got into cell phones, doing cell phones back in the day when there was other cell phones besides the Apple’s iPhone.

This was like the clamshells and like the Motorola Razr, stuff like that.

While I love that I really missed doing food, so I had the opportunity to move over to a larger global agency called Manning, Selvage & Lee.

From there, I got to do Red Bull, I got to do Friskies Cat Food, and I think that was probably one of my most interesting ones that I’ve ever done client-wise was I traveled the country to like 18 cities with the Friskies Cat team.

And, we had cats that could dunk basketballs, we had cats that would roll over and it was really about getting… And, it was a large house you guys with the cats and they’d put on a show.

So, this was like my job. I got to go do this. And, so my job was to go pitch to local media. And, what was so fascinating was as I was pitching local media, we’d have media fight over who got the cats first. I was like, “This is like a PR person’s dream.”

But, it was really where I fell in love with doing CPG across the board.

It was Nestle Crunch bars, Sonicare toothbrushes, all sorts of stuff that really helps people live a better life. And, I think there’s a stat that I read the other day that on average Americans use 44% CPG products a day.

So, it’s a really interesting stat there. And, I think about… If you think about all the things people touch and use daily, that’s why I love this because I feel like it serves a purpose, right?

And, it can bring you joy, it can give you function, it can help you out in your day. So, I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed doing CPG and that’s why I’m here now.

Karin Samelson:
Friskies. So, I have a background in pet food marketing at Nulo-

Emily Kealey:
Oh, you were in pet foods?

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Nulo, here in Austin.

Emily Kealey:
Oh, that’s very… Oh, awesome.

Karin Samelson:
We did not have cats dunking stuff, but we did have this woman who was on America’s Got Talent with her Border Collies. And, so she came one time and it was like a trick day, but if I could have done that every day, like that was my job, I might still be there.

Emily Kealey:
It was really… I mean, we had people wearing sweatshirts. Everything’s better with cat hair on it.

Like we go to cat shows… I’m an animal person. I have a cat right now. And, I’m a cat person, but I was like, “These are serious cat people, like really…” I am not a cat person like these.

I mean, it was just fascinating to watch and it was one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. And, then I moved here to Austin and really worked on food, so having food.

It was like, National Mango Board, National Land Board, California Table Grape association. So, Mango Board was our biggest client. So, it was actually promoting mangoes in the US. And, if you think about, well, it’s a lot longer than I care to admit now about probably 12 years ago, mangoes were not prevalent in the United States.

And, so we were doing things like mango salsa, which people also didn’t know about.

So, it’s really fun to get to bring mangoes to the center of the plate, lamb, things that people eat. And, it was all healthy, delicious foods. And, I got to do really cool stuff with chefs and go to New York all the time and set these big dinners and… It was just really, really fun. So, I really kind of run the gamut of fresh foods to CPG and everything in between including cat food.

Karin Samelson:
That, is so interesting. What a great background in CPG and food in general! So, how did you like working at those big agencies?

Emily Kealey:
I said I come from a family of entrepreneurs and while I like agency work, it was a lot, it can be definitely a lot. And, I actually I got to… I was here at FleishmanHillard running the overall mango program and I decided to do something totally different, and I left and started a pie business.

So, I owned a pie company for three years. And, it was this idea that I really liked pie. I come from Southern roots. So, I grew up-

Alison Smith:
Who doesn’t like pie?

Emily Kealey:

Alison Smith:
Who doesn’t like pie?

Emily Kealey:
If you don’t like pie you need-

Alison Smith:
That’s weird. Yeah.

Emily Kealey:
I love pie so much, and I love making pie. And, I had this idea because every time I get in front of a case of pies, I’m like, “I want all the slices.”

But, that’s not really great for caloric intake. And, so I was like… I had this idea for a bite of pie that the crust is on the outside and the filling is in the middle. So, we actually made it, we made this product and we called it Crimps, and we had all sorts of flavors.

We had strawberry basil, we had chocolate cream. So, it was really, really fun. And, what I appreciated about that experience was it put me on the other side of CPG, it made me realize all of the things from supply chain to cooking in the kitchen, marketing, P&Ls.

I mean, you had to… As a CPG owner, you have to wear so many hats all the time and it’s can be crushing, right?

And, I actually was just telling somebody earlier, that’s why I love Naturally Austin.

I think if I had Naturally Austin and the resources and networking and getting to great people like you guys to help me out with social and all of that, it’s just a really powerful organization because it helps, to me, provide that education and networking and resources there.

That just weren’t here when I had a pie company. Oh, my gosh. Like, nine years. Oh no, my gosh, like 12 years ago. It was like so long ago. I forget how old I am. But, that was a really great experience that I had.

I’m so grateful for it. Because, as I took over the job at Naturally Austin, I was able to take a look at it from, obviously the marketing and PR side of all of it and scheduling events and all of the stuff that comes with it, but I also was able to relate to the, I think the CPG members who own companies and I listened to them and hear like, “I really need help here.” And like, “I understand.”

I remember being up until two o’clock in the morning, looking at my P&L like, “What?” And, margins and all of these things that you’re…

You have this dream for owning a CPG company, you’ve got this wonderful idea. It’s all the other things that come with it to build the house. It can be very overwhelming, and that’s why I’m grateful that we’re here and we get to do this and work with you guys. So, it’s a wonderful experience overall.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. I mean, CPG is such a robust industry. There’s so many moving pieces and parts. So, I’m curious though, what happened to your pie company? Did you sell it and that’s when you got in to your PR agency?

Emily Kealey:
I had kids.

Alison Smith:
That’ll do it.

Emily Kealey:
We had kids and I think it was… After that you… Waking up at four o’clock in the morning to go to the kitchen to bake pies is not really realistic.

I was very, very pregnant. Thanksgiving, the last year we had the company. I was like eight months pregnant and I’m walking around the kitchen so huge and I’m standing so far back trying to roll dough, and I was like, “This isn’t going to work. This is not going to work.”

Alison Smith:
Like, not physically possible.

Emily Kealey:
It was impossible. I didn’t know. And once again, I’m so grateful for that time of my life and it’s when you think about those things of starting a company and ending a company and the lessons you learned from that, it can be really heartbreaking too, right?

And, I think a lot of people in CPG experience that. It’s a very real experience that you have, but you never give up on the entrepreneurial spirit that you have, and I’ve never ever given up on that and that’s why I think I’ll always have that.

And, I’m grateful for that. My husband’s like what is known as a corporate athlete, and I don’t know how he does it you guys, like he is a machine and he’s so great at what he does and I was like, “I would just die on the vine if I was in corporate…” Because, it’s just not my spirit.

So, I think that’s why I love working with the members at Naturally Austin, because there is that spirit, right? And, you’re going to have peaks and valleys.

You’re going to go through all of this. You’re going to have what’s… what I don’t even like to call failures.

It’s not even a failure. It’s just it’s always a learning lesson and you’ll learn something from it.

I learned so many great things from that, owning that pie company.

But, I really wanted to get back into marketing and PR, because I actually really missed it, but I wanted to kind of do it my own way. Because once again, entrepreneurs are like my way or the highway.

So, I started my own agency and the reason why I started my own agency was I really wanted to champion everybody. But, the PR industry is heavily women… full of women, right? It’s more women focused.

And, so I wanted to help create a place and a haven for women to come and be themselves, do great work and have a work-life balance. That was the most important thing to me because I think public relations people and you guys, as you know, it’s a lot.

And, I know that women also carry the burden and of a lot of other things. We carry that weight too.

So, I wanted to provide a place that you could come in and do great work. And, I think what was most interesting when I had the agency was I didn’t require… This is back when we had offices and you could go into them, but it was like, I never required that you come into the office.

I was like, “You can work from… I don’t care what you do. You can get work from anywhere. You can go work from Paris. I don’t care. Just figure it out and do your job.”

But, every day everyone showed up to the office and every day, that’s because we love being together. Because, there wasn’t that expectation. It wasn’t this kind of like drill sergeant which it can feel like sometimes. And, it never felt like that.

So, I’m really proud of that aspect because we really worked together as a family and everyone showed up every day. And, that was just so great to see.

But, we really did focus on CPG as well and helping CPG brands get off the ground. Then, I took that knowledge from owning the pie company and from working at the larger agencies and apply that to these brands who are trying to get their start.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. How else did you set the tone for work-life balance? I mean, I think that’s so important, like you said, for not only agency owners, but business owners and CPG and whoever.

Emily Kealey:
Yeah. It was really one of those things that… Like in our handbook that I have it was, welcome to the team.

You may not be here. We love to have you for the rest of your life. We also know that you’re probably not going to, so let’s get you the things that you need to get, the experience you need to get to move on.

If you want to go work at ESPN, let’s find a way to make that happen for you. Very realistic about people and how people work. And, our core values were really based off that idea, that ethos that we have this work-life balance and that we are one team, one dream.

And, I believe in doing great work, but I also believe in turning work off, very French about it, I guess. Like, you kind of… What is it? You don’t work to live… Or, you don’t live to work, you work to live kind of thing. And so, I really want to embrace that.

And, I think once you set that tone in your handbook when you’re onboarding and every day you set that tone and if you’re having a bad day, take the day off, take the day off and go to the park or go wherever you need to go.

But, I don’t expect you to show for me a hundred percent every day because you’re a human and that’s what we’re supposed to embrace.

So, I was really proud of that and I’m still… I saw them, all of my old employees a few weeks ago, and it still felt like just family, like you just… They’ll always be family to us together. So, it’s great to see.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, such a great point. We aren’t machines and if we work ourselves out hard, I mean, we’re going to get burnt out. So I think-

Emily Kealey:

Alison Smith:
It’s a good point.

Emily Kealey:
And, I don’t want burnt out. I’m like a very utopia. I want just happy workers.

Karin Samelson:
I love it. That’s such good advice for everybody, not just agency owners or… But, I love most of all with that story about you, how important it is as an agency owner, as a consultant to CPG businesses to have that experience, you had the… You did it, right?

So many consultants I find are just consulting based on what they know through research, but firsthand experience is so different. So, I think that’s super powerful and so helpful for the people that you’re working with.

Emily Kealey:
And, I would say my recommendation is to view our consultant. You’ve never been inside a kitchen, ask your clients if you can go into the kitchen and just observe. I was at Wunderkeks yesterday, the cookie company.

Oh my, god! They’re killing it first of all. But, they’re like seas of boxes and people are just churning out these delicious… It was like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory in there, even watching that experience and us watching Luis and Hans do the magic that they do, getting to see the background like how…

the behind the scenes is really vital. You don’t have to go work in a kitchen. You don’t have to, but going in and learning more about your clients and their day to day and the struggles that they have with production and everything else is really important for you to, I think provide empathy.

I think emotional, the EQ there is really important for your clients. They are doing a lot.

And, you have to be able to understand where they’re coming from of, “Hey, we didn’t get the garlic powder we needed and now we’re on delay for two weeks and I can’t get products to retail.”

You should be asking those questions of how they’re doing in their whole 360 life, not just what applies to marketing and PR or social or wherever it is, you really have to look at the whole ecosystem and understand that.

And, that’s your job to understand like production delays, supply chain. Like, “Oh my gosh, HR is doing…” All these things that happen, that’s really your job and being a trusted advisor to your client.

That’s how I’ve always seen it, which is why also I love to shop at Naturally Austin because I get to go talk about all those things with members and try to… If I can’t help, someone in our ecosystem can.

Alison Smith:
Definitely. And, that brings us to our next point. How did you get led to Naturally Austin? How did that come to be?

Emily Kealey:
Yeah. So, I was with my agency and I was kind of just… I was just me kind of there doing my own thing, helping out CPG companies and the opportunity came up. I know Genevieve Gilbreath over at Springdale Ventures and she’s like, “Hey, there is an opportunity here, would you like to explore it and learn more?”

And she was like, you know it’s an executive director position and I was like, “I don’t think I’m ready for that.” I was like, “That feels really big.”

And she was like, “I think that you’re going to be okay.” And, I’m so thankful that I did. So, interviewed and was able to take on the position in February of this year.

Then COVID hit and that was… I was brand new to the job in February and then I had COVID and I was really sick and then… But, that’s how I kind of got my start was just-

Alison Smith:
In the middle of a pandemic.

Emily Kealey:
Middle of the pandemic. Got through it, but I was thankful because I had known Gen for quite some time and I’d actually known people inside, like Albert Swantner, Felipe Vega, just because if you are in the CPG space here in Austin it’s very incestuous, correct?

And, overall it may feel like a big industry, but it’s actually quite small. And so I was able to… I knew a bunch of people that were already there on the board and so I was really grateful for this opportunity because it’s led to this. We’ve gotten through 2020, but it has been a challenging year for sure.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. So tell us, like what is your day to day look like as executive director? Just a breakdown.

Emily Kealey:
It’s a wide array, but you know what I like about it too, is that it kind of feels like a PR firm to be honest. It’s like when you have multiple clients, it’s like, I’m going to do this for mangoes, this for [Lam 00:18:04], this for Friskies, this for TurboTax, this for…

And, you’ve got all these items that you have to do. Same concept though, is that you just have different stakeholders, you have different clients, right?

So, it may be having a sponsorship call, a fundraising call, a member call, setting up programming, setting up an event virtually by this point and then kicking off major initiatives like we’re doing with minority owned initiative which is a big thing that we’re actually about to unveil here next week, so get ready.

But, we’re really fortunate that we’ve had sponsors come on and already, and they’re supporting this initiative that supports minority owned companies and CPG because we really, really want to, as I look around the room and on Zooms, it doesn’t feel very good.

And, we know that there’s companies out there that need the support and that we want to support, provide these resources and education and networking for them.

We just need to go find them and hopefully get them into the system. And, then what’s really exciting is that it’s in partnership with SKU and this accelerator is going to be a little bit different. SKU actually usually takes equity out of the companies.

What we’re actually going to be doing is providing funding for these companies, which is wonderful because as we kind of approached this, we knew that networking and resources was one facet and then funding was the second. So, we flipped…

We’re hopefully answering a lot of… are helping a lot of those issues that minority owned companies are finding.

So, I’m really excited about where Naturally Austin is heading. We were working in a women in CPG in March. We’re working on sustainability for the whole year.

We’re working on minority owned and then we’re doing a youth in CPG and I have two children, two beautiful girls who are also… One has an entrepreneurial spirit that’s like, “I’m just going to go make all these products.”

And I’m like, “Great. You can be a part of this program that we’re doing.” But it’s in partnership with Boss Club and it’s going to be supporting youth who want to do things in CPG. And, I cannot wait to kick that one off. I’m so excited to see all these little kids do stuff.

Just like, “This is going to be so fun.” So, that’s what we’re working on and I think that’s really… I’m really excited to see where Naturally Austin is headed because it’s heading in a really, really cool direction and the growth there is just, I think can be… is just unstoppable if we do it right. So, I’m excited.

Alison Smith:
You are one busy lady. I’ll just say that.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Is your team growing right now?

Emily Kealey:
It’s growing and we’re actually [inaudible 00:20:33] an announcement. Yes, it is growing. Thank goodness.

Yeah, because it’s been me and an intern and thankfully we have a really wonderful board who steps in and helps lot because otherwise…

Well, I’m already gray anyway, but I’d be very gray guys. But we have a really great board that does a lot and steps in like Aimy Steadman, Genevieve Gilbreath, Philippe Vega, Albert Swantner. They really step in and do…

And, Jennifer Cobb Moynihan is another one who’s just… They all step in and do great work. So, very lucky to have a board that works with us and with the staff.

But, our staff will be getting a little bit more robust. We’re actually making an announcement by next week in our newsletter.

Alison Smith:

Emily Kealey:
Yeah, I know. That’s fun. I know.

Karin Samelson:
Awesome. Sorry, I’m on mute a lot right now because my dogs are going crazy and we’ll cut this out.

Emily Kealey:
No worries.

Karin Samelson:
[crosstalk 00:21:27]. So, what is your favorite aspect of getting to work with so many CPG brands right now?

Emily Kealey:
I’ve always loved helping people. That’s why I chose PR because I like being really creative and I like thinking outside the box and I feel that that kind of marries those two together.

So, I’ve always just really liked helping people and I love watching other people succeed, especially in an industry like CPG, which is just so challenging from the get-go.

So, that’s why I love this job because when I get a phone call and be like, “Hey, I need help doing this.” I’m like, “I got it. I got it for you.” And, they’re like, “Thank you. This actually helped saved my bacon.”

I think that’s my favorite part and getting to really help entrepreneurs and just watching people grow, like I was saying about Wunderkeks yesterday. I walked in there and I was like, “You got to be kidding me. This is insane, the growth that they’re going through.”

And, you think about Golden Ratio Clark over there, like watching them grow the way they are is just so fun to watch because it’s success. So, I think that’s great.

But, I think the more success we have in Austin… I do believe that Austin is really primed to be one of the top CPG cities in the country. I think that we are getting there really quickly and I think it’s really cool to watch how our industry is really growing up. It’s pretty cool to watch. So, that’s my favorite part, helping people.

Alison Smith:
In your opinion I mean, how important is community? So, Naturally Austin is the Austin community for CPG business owners. Like, how important is that for people to join into the Naturally Austin community or otherwise?

Emily Kealey:
Like I said, I mean, like I mentioned with like I owned or co-owned the pie society, I wish I would’ve had this resource when I owned the company.

I wish I would’ve had a place to go to and I view… Thinking about joining it’s $65 a year, which is pretty cool. I think it feels pretty affordable, but what you get out of it. And, I will say it’s really what you make of it too.

I mean, come to the webinars and when we have in-person events again, which is soon, hopefully.

When we have those again, come make those networking and… Make those networking opportunities. We are launching out a new networking webinars series in 2021, but I think that just come on and come check it out, come to the webinars, come meet us.

And, then I think getting to meet other CPGs, like what we did with Combo Loco in October, where we asked our members to pair up with each other and tell us why they [inaudible 00:24:11] Combo Loco with them. Frankly, it’s like a week a nod to H-E-B’s Combo Loco.

What we do with that I thought was really cool because we saw them be creative and work together, and they made these connections that I don’t think could have been made before. And, they’re still doing things together.

Like, now they might have a retail play that they can go to H-E-B with. Like, they wouldn’t have thought of before. So, that’s really our job is to make those connections and provide that education. This has been a challenging year to do so, but watching the numbers come together and then I think make magic happen has been just wonderful to see.

So, they’ve all been in good spirits about it, and I’m really thankful for that.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, that was a great event by the way, Combo Loco. And, it was really nice to see it instead of thinking that you’re in competition with each other.

I mean, connecting and helping each other grow is maybe the more successful way to go about things. So, I really love what y’all did there.

Emily Kealey:
Thank you. And, I think that my biggest thing is that CPG is a blood sport everywhere else, because it is, as we know, it can be highly competitive, but Naturally Austin it’s about collaboration.

We are all about that. It’s not meant to be a blood sport under our tent. You can go do that outside of our tent, but inside of tent we need all of you guys to really kind of play along together and get to know each other because we’re stronger together if we can collaborate and be as like one unit.

I think that that’s going to be really powerful for not just yourselves, individually, but as overall as the CPG industry and really putting ourselves as a bright spot in the CPG map across the US.

Karin Samelson:
Absolutely yes. Yeah. It’s so important, I mean, your struggles as a CBG owner are probably very similar to other people’s struggles as a CBG owner. So that community is so important.

I feel like really Naturally Austin is so supportive. It’s kind of nuts. And, especially with that Combo Loco, it was like direct competition, but everybody was rooting each other on. I thought that was so nice.

Emily Kealey:
Yeah, it’s pretty cute. It was really cute. I got a little teary. I was like the heart of this event and this mission that we set for us to do really came out in that video and I was super happy about how it turned out. We got a lot of great response.

I think H-E-B was really happy about it too because it really had a good heart to it. And, that was the point of it was that we show the heart of our members. So, that was the goal.

Karin Samelson:
Very cool. Well, obviously events have shifted so much. You guys used to do so many amazing in-person events. Hopefully it’s on the horizon, soon enough we’ll get back to it. But like the Combo Loco, have there been any events that you’ve had to pivot to online that you really found to be successful?

Emily Kealey:
Every single one of them. I just remember like in March when everything started shutting down and then I got sick and I was like, “What are we going to do? What are we going to do?” We were sitting on his couch like, “Oh, my gosh. I don’t even know that organization yet.” I was like, “I don’t even know how all of this works yet and”-

Karin Samelson:
Right. Because, when did you start with them?

Emily Kealey:

Karin Samelson:
That is so nuts.

Emily Kealey:
I know. I was-

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Thrown in.

Emily Kealey:
I just remember telling my husband, I was like, “This is going to be really interesting.” Because, it was kind of-

Alison Smith:
I love that you say interesting instead of difficult.

Emily Kealey:
I knew that we-

Alison Smith:
Good mind shift.

Emily Kealey:
I think we knew that we would work it out, and I think it’s from 20 years of doing this that you know it’s not going to be difficult, you know it’s going to be interesting. And I think if you position it as it’s not… nothing is difficult.

Things are just really interesting, correct? And, sometimes the best things come out of adversity and this was obviously a big mountain to climb of how do you organize these things when people so heavily rely on in-person events and really cherish them.

And so, I think through virtual happy hours, the joint when we did with SKU, that one was, I think also hilarious because there was booze involved and watching people have so much fun in these breakout rooms was hilarious to me. I have not laughed that hard.

And, I think everyone also really needed a release. You get on these webinars and you have to feel really polished and you’re wearing jogging pants below and-

Alison Smith:

Emily Kealey:
[crosstalk 00:28:36] like, I’m literally doing right now you guys.

Alison Smith:
It’s fine.

Emily Kealey:
You guys, like sick. Like, it’s fine. This is like a maternity shirt actually, but I still love it. But, I think that being able to provide safe spaces to relax and network was still really important and that’s why with the virtual happy hour and then the Combo Locos was really important.

We’ve got a lot of key learnings from this year and so that’s why programming has been a shift. It still will be virtually obviously. I also don’t see… We will be moving to in-person events in the fall. We have a big fall event.

That’s going to be massive, but our three-year anniversary is going to be a virtual happy hour. Because our three years is coming up in March and we know that March is still not going to be set, but I also don’t ever see events not being hybrid anymore.

I think we are continuously going to have in-person and virtual events together now. We don’t think it’s ever going to go away. I think it’s going to be the new norm, especially in 2021.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. So, sign up for Nationally Austin y’all. It’s fun.

Emily Kealey:
It is fun. [crosstalk 00:29:36]

Alison Smith:
Yeah. No long story. Sign up.

Emily Kealey:
It’s super fun. I think that the way we looked at it there some… [inaudible 00:29:41] Duswalt Epstein over at UT and she runs the CPG program there and she is amazing.

The way we’ve always put it as like, I think… UT is obviously a university, but UT is maybe like high school and actually Austin is college and SKU’s like PhD.

We’re lucky to have this ecosystem of the lifecycle of an entrepreneur where it starts with where you are in college, moves you into here at Naturally Austin or this like larger tent that’s meant to be like a really familial fun place to be and then SKU’s where you go get your PhD and you come out as like a doctorate of CPG.

So, I think that’s how we like to position it as like this three legged table.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Well-

Karin Samelson:
Well, and affordable for the most part-

Alison Smith:
I know.

Karin Samelson:
[crosstalk 00:30:29].

Emily Kealey:
Exactly. Right. You’re welcome.

Alison Smith:
Austin’s CPGers are lucky. Yeah. So, big question. What would be your best piece of advice for a small CPG business owner?

Emily Kealey:
Oh, dear.

Alison Smith:
If you had to give them one thing.

Emily Kealey:
One thing. So, the thing I always told our CPG brands whenever they first joined on in the agency was you need to get your messaging and your branding down.

Your messaging has to be solid and I should be able to point at everyone on your team, even if it’s two people and ask exactly who you are and you both should be able to say the same thing pretty much. You really need to make…

And, by branding, I do mean personas, your target audience. You really need to know that and I think a sharp brand, and that’s where I would start. If you don’t have that, and you can have a great product and everything else, but if you don’t have…

The way I see it is like you have a really pretty framework of a house, but if you choose really crappy looking brick, it’s not going to work. So, everything has to be like that Curb Appeal, right? And, you have to be able to…

So, you have to know your audience, your audiences and what they do, where they go, who they talk to.
And, thankfully with you guys and the knowledge you have on social media, that’s very easy to find.

But, I think that setting those personas is really, really, really, really, really key. That’s the first thing I pushed was, you know your personas, because if you don’t know those…

You guys know what personas are. Sorry. I should try to explain what personas are.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, explain. Yeah.

Emily Kealey:
The personas are me. So, think about me like I’m a… When people target moms.

Like a mom’s age, 35 to 45, 2.5 kids, household income of X amount, she reads the New York Times, Buzzfeed. She watches The Right Stuff and The Undoing on HBO. I know, right?

Alison Smith:
It’s so good.

Emily Kealey:
That was intense. But, she loves Chris Evans and Marvel, but whatever it is, you’ve got to find your people and how your product helps those people. And, you can have multiple personas, like my husband’s a big tech dork and he uses tech terms that I don’t understand any of them, but he gets targeted with these things and he buys these things and like, “What did we buy today?”

And he said, “Well, I bought Cat 6 cable.” I’m like, “Don’t know what that is. That’s cool.” But he’s super excited, right? Because he’s like, “I got Cat 6 cable.” And I’m like, “Fabulous.”

So, thinking of those personas where David shops versus where I shop and what is important to him versus me, it’s really important and that your product specifically supports them and helps them either enhance their lives, helps their lives, anything it does to better that persona is really, really important to set down.

Because, then everything you do around it, from like your brand personality exercise to your messaging fits in with that person and it really has to resonate with them because otherwise you are not set up for success.

Alison Smith:
So, what are some of your tips for brands to really define and hone in on their customer personas?

Emily Kealey:
Well, yeah when you think about like… I think about, like there’s a brand here in Austin called Chinook Seedery, and sunflower seeds are a fascinating subculture, I will.

Like, there’s an affinity for sunflower seeds. And, I remember my mom actually used to eat sunflower seeds. I’ll never forget she had David’s sunflower seeds and she would eat them.

And, if you have an affinity for it, there’s a passion for it. And so as we’re looking at the people that gravitated towards Chinook, because they’ve done such a great job building up their audience, I was like, this is the most fascinating group of people I’ve ever seen.

Because, there is this [inaudible 00:34:24] for it.

So, really looking at… And, you guys know this, looking at like Instagram, who’s following you and who’s tagging you and who’s all this other stuff, looking at the ecosystem that surrounds it.

And, I think looking at what’s adjacent to your brand, that they will latch onto as well. So this culture was Yeti tumblers, Yeti… like fishing, hunting, outdoors, really… Like sports, outdoor sports, baseball is one.

Baseball was obviously the given, right? Because, sunflower seeds and baseball are best friends, but when you start to expand out into the ecosystem, we started to see there’s a huge culture that was actually really had an affinity for sunflower seeds outside of baseball.

And, we thought it was a cold audience, but actually was a hot audience. We got to it. Like this hunting culture was also… I was like, “This is fascinating to me.”

That we found it and then once you start talking to them and you start doing influencer campaigns and all the stuff you guys do, it was a remarkable Hubble that took off.

So, I think that that’s what you really, really got to think about is finding those people and finding who is going to resonate with your product and making sure you really hit them and hit them hard.

I’m just trying to think of things like in my life that I have… Like, a main state that I have, but I’ll never get rid of. There’s some things I’m never going to not do as a mom.

Like, I’m just always going to have these certain products in my house that I will never get rid of because I’m a mom and it’s been a dependable product. So there’s just things you got to think about and how it really enhances your target audiences’ lives.

Karin Samelson:
I love the advice to not only just look at your direct…

what makes sense, what’s the obvious, but look at things that are adjacent to your brand and make multiple personas. There are so many people, so many different kinds of people that are going to buy your product, so you shouldn’t only have one, we call them customer avatars, personas, all the same thing.

That’s so smart. So, without playing favorites here, what are some really amazing CPG brands in Austin and beyond that you think are just like killing it right now and who we could be inspired by at the moment?

Emily Kealey:
Yes. So definitely not favorites. I have no favorites.

I really make that super clear that there’s absolutely no favorites here, but I do think, like I said, Wunderkeks, I said Golden Ratio. There is YaYa Tea, which has gotten across like sprouts everywhere and [Rachel’s 00:36:49] there is killing it.

There’s obviously any seven from Beatbox Beverages and Future Proof. I’m so impressed with what they’re doing over there and the success that they’ve had and there’s… What was the other one I was thinking of? Oh, Stroop Club waffles, who I just love.

I think they’re doing a really amazing job. Meli’s Monster Cookies. If you haven’t had those.

Karin Samelson:
Ooh, I’ve never heard of that.

Emily Kealey:
Oh, my gosh. They’re so good. And, I love the team over there. I hope she’s listening because I just love them so much. I love everyone equally, but I just [crosstalk 00:37:20].

Alison Smith:
No favorites.

Emily Kealey:
There’s no favorites. But, thinking of overall growth and just out there, Disco is another one, the brand here. Preppy products is another one that’s just killing it with their teenage focused line. There’s a new line here that I had known for quite some time.

They used to be Primal Pit Paste, and now they’re Pretty Frank and it’s called hey Pretty Frank. And they’re a great brand and I really… I actually use a lot of their hand sanitizers and stuff. They’re doing a great job. We just have such a really diverse ecosystem.

Oh, there’s another one called Gratsi Wine. It’s a brand new red table wine and I’m really digging that wine over there. It’s really great.

So there’s just so much, I mean, I could probably go on for like 85 years about all of our members that are just… Boozy Bites is another one. Like she’s also like… I just think about her growth and it’s just nuts to watch her and they’re also really fun, the Boozy Bites are really fun.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. I’m definitely going to check out the Gratsi Wines. I’ve had Boozy Bites.

Emily Kealey:
They are at Tom’s Market right now. Tom’s Market on Barton Springs, but they’re also one of my favorite-

Alison Smith:
Nice. It’s almost a weekend.

Emily Kealey:
[crosstalk 00:38:33]. Gratsi Wine.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. I mean, we just think it’s so important to look at these brands that are killing it and dissect as a smaller brand or even a bigger brand and dissect and learn from that. So, thank you for sharing.

Emily Kealey:
Oh, there’s another one, [Afia 00:38:50] Foods is the other one. She’s-

Alison Smith:
What is it?

Emily Kealey:
Afia Foods. Oh, my gosh. Yeah. She’s also over there. They got into Walmart, I think just now-

Alison Smith:
Oh, nice.

Emily Kealey:
It’s like something crazy. Yeah. Our little… Not little, our big little CPG members are just out there slinging and banging so I’m so proud of them.

Alison Smith:
So, what are some of the biggest challenges though that you’re seeing with your Naturally Austin CPG brands? Two part question, how can they overcome these challenges?

Emily Kealey:
I think the biggest thing that we’re seeing and that’s where… If you look at the Boulder ecosystem can take something from their playbook is production and storage and all of that.

We need more production. And I remember even with my pie company, trying to find a commercial kitchen to make something in, thankfully we got Joy Chevallier’s cook snuck over there. We have a lot of commercial kitchens. There’s Max with Wingman Kitchens that does stuff.

But, I think that it can be more. Like I remember one time I was talking to somebody, I forget who it was. This is a long time ago. And, she’s like, “I need an enrober.”

And, I was like, “A what now girl? What’d you need?” She said an enrober. So, it was the thing that covers… it takes chocolate and covers that thing that you need covered in chocolate, but it does it in a consistent manner. But, she’s like, “I’m flying to Orlando tomorrow to go purchase a $15,000 enrober.”

I was like, no CPG company is going to be able to do anything if they have to go buy a $15,000 one piece of machine to make your product work. That is where I highly, heavily and one of the things I’m championing across the board is production… places to produce, places to store, cold storage, just overall storage overall production needs. We need to have more of it.

I think Michael [Brandon 00:40:47] from Michelangelo’s just built one of the ground rock, which is a huge coal storage space. We need like 24 more of those and I think we need was more of that. So, I think the production side is where I just don’t want to see our members…

Like, if you need an enrober for two days a week, you know what I mean? But, you’re having to go by this or you’re having to go send it outside of Austin.

I do know some that produce outside of Austin too. I think that that would also help our local economy if we could help keep the jobs here or have opportunities for growth there and create those jobs here with the production piece of it. So, that’s the part I think we’re missing and that’s really hard to overcome.

It’s like someone needed a bottler the other day because their bottler was… Oh, someone needed another aluminum can maker because aluminum is short right now because of COVID and it’s like, “I don’t have anybody, who do I go to?”

So, that gets really complicated and that can hurt your business. So, I think just more of that is going to be really valuable for the industry as a whole, for us to grow and continue to thrive.

Alison Smith:
Well, if there’s any entrepreneurs listening, we need production, probably a profitable business in Austin.

Emily Kealey:
Yeah. Can you please go make this happen? And, that’s really what I want to try to champion. And, I think there are some people who are heavily thinking about this right now of what the ecosystem needs to continue to grow.

Karin Samelson:
And, that’s so good to know. And, I loved your advice earlier and I’m taking it into account, if you are a consultant, if you are helping CPG businesses grow to know all facets of the business. I did not know that that would be a top challenge right now, but it makes so much sense. Nobody can afford a $15,000 piece of machinery and… Where can we find that? Where can we share that? Yeah, so that’s interesting.

Emily Kealey:
And, do you set up success and how do you make the… how do these people make those investments that ensures there’s an ROI there? Of course, there’s a business there, but I think it’s doable because once again, I am like this utopia. I think that we can figure it out. So, that’s my dream.

Karin Samelson:
I love it. I can’t wait to see you figure it out.

Emily Kealey:
I will.

Karin Samelson:
No doubts.

Emily Kealey:
Somehow, some way.

Karin Samelson:
Well, we talked about your best advice and I love that you were focusing on messaging and branding and knowing your customer personas, but what are some other things that you think CPG brands should focus on to really experience some of this growth that we’re seeing with the brands getting into Walmart and… Yeah. What should they focus on?

Emily Kealey:
Finances. You should know your P&L like the back of your hand. At all times, you should know your numbers. When someone asks you anything about your P&L like that, it should literally roll off.

I mean, that’s the best thing to me. That was the thing I learned with the pie society and my husband is a finance guy and he was like, “You have to know your…”

He owned the flight school here in Austin. So, he owned like eight airplanes or something crazy, and like flew people and taught people how to fly.

So, he was used to owning a business too. And, watching my father who works in the gas business, that was… I mean, he got a P&L daily report every day. And, he would look at his numbers every morning was the first thing he did.

The second thing is look at your competitors. I think you need to know who’s a competition in your space. If you don’t think you have competition, you’re wrong, you do.

And, I think you need to take a look at that and you need to be reading… I also highly encouraged my clients to… I would always send our clients articles like every day and I be like, “Look, who’s coming up on the horizon. Look who just got $175 million in funding. Just, look who just did this…

Really, need be paying attention to who’s out there and what newspapers are really getting the coverage out there. Here’s a trend piece for you. Here’s how this relates to your business.”

You really have to stay on top of that as well.

Karin Samelson:
Really quick on that. So, how are you finding all of that news? Like, what’s the best way to find that kind of news?

Emily Kealey:
Definitely Google, just Google Alerts. I think it’s also… I don’t know if you guys subscribe to the [Eros 00:44:57] [inaudible 00:44:57] reporter out. It’s free.

I take a look at Eros because that’s always a good, I think crystal ball to see what people are starting to talk about.

And, I’m like, “Oh, it looks like there’s a lot of topics coming up about X.” Definitely we are in a year COVID so that’s changed, but typically I would look at those and be like, “Hey, there’s a lot of people talking about at home testing.” If we think about Everlywell.

“There’s a lot of people talking about at home testing right now.” Obviously right now, they’re really talking about it. But, back in the day, it was also like, this is really becoming a thing, like this is really something we should think about.

And, how do you relate to that if you happen to fit in with the conversations happening amongst media? So, I highly recommend doing that.

And, I think that’s kind of the two biggest thing is finances and keeping a part of trends and making sure that you really are on top of both those things. And, if you can’t have somebody… Set Google Alerts.

You can set up Google Alerts to your competitors and your industry and anything that’s adjacent to your industry and you can just scan it.

Or, if you can’t scan it, get like your niece to do it or something like do a summary just as so you know what’s going on. Because, it’s really important that you keep your ear to the ground as well.

Karin Samelson:
And, it’s free.

Emily Kealey:
Yeah. It’s free.

Karin Samelson:
It’s free. You just set it up. Yeah.

Emily Kealey:
It’s free. And, I would say really determine if you are going to be D-to-C or if you’re going to be brick and mortar.

Obviously that has changed right now too, but retail is still going strong. Make a decision on where you want to go and plot that out, don’t just put it up there. And, this goes back to having a good brand and brand experience.

Once you’ve got that settled, once you’ve got your finances in order and you know where you stand then create that online experience. What does that look like to you? And, if you’re going to do retail, how is that different?

If you’re going to do Amazon, it’s a large, large lift to go into Amazon. You can’t just put something out there and you should not do that. Don’t do that. So, I think there’s a lot of things to consider and carving out those paths.

If you can’t hire someone, go find a mentor, come to Naturally Austin, go find somebody. There’s a lot of people who will help you and give you good advice and that’s really what that’s for.

Like, I can’t hire a PR person. That’s cool. You can find a lot of people who will definitely help you out, including me. I’ll tell you how to write a press release. I’ll take a look at your press release for you, but there’s plenty of people who are here to help.

And, if you feel alone, you’re not alone. And, I think that’s the thing to remember. There are a lot of people who are willing to help you out and provide guidance and find those mentors, find those people, find the people that have not only been successful.

Find the people who have admitted to failure. I like learning from them more than I learn… like learning from these. And, I really try to shy away from entrepreneur porn.

I think that gets really dangerous for people. While I think success is really great and we can put these people on a pedestal, they did a lot of work to get there.

And, I think the thing to remember too is like, “Gosh, this brand just like happened overnight.” I’m like, “No, it didn’t. Y’all that brand’s been around for 10 years.” Yeah, you know what I mean? Really, don’t even start with the-

Karin Samelson:
And, they had two other successful brands before that.

Emily Kealey:
And, they got billions behind them.

Alison Smith:

Emily Kealey:
So, I think that this entrepreneur porn gets very, very, very dangerous. I try to really shy people away from that. This is blood, sweat, tears, duct tape. And, it’s not for those who don’t want to really hit it and get it.

So, I really think find people who you look up to and not only ask them for their successes, ask them where they failed, ask them where they failed over and over and over and over again, because that’s where you’re going to learn too, because you are going to fail. It’s going to happen.

And, I don’t like to call it failures, but you’re going to have valleys. But, how do you get through those valleys and how do you overcome it? So, that’s really important to remember. Then, find people that can help you out.

Karin Samelson:
Such great advice, Emily. It’s inspiring. It’s so autonomous.

I feel the same way. People get stuck in like wanting to talk to the big, big success stories and it’s just like, I don’t know how much they’re going to offer you.

Emily Kealey:
They’re not.

Karin Samelson:
Your path is nowhere near theirs, right?

Emily Kealey:
And, you’re not even the same human being. I mean, that’s the thing. And, I think that people want to replicate what people’s success looks like and that’s a very deadly thing to do because then you negate who you are as a person for your own success, because then you’re starting to take…

You’re like leaning on a crutch. Like, “Oh my gosh, well, this guy did it this way. So, I have to go do it this way.” He did that 10 years ago. You know what I mean?

And, he’s a different person. You go be your own person, take that knowledge and then take the pieces out of it and throw the rest away because you are your own person with your own brilliant brain and you can do this too.

So, I think that just gets dangerous. I try to really get people out from, I think, doing… from thinking that that’s what they have to do in this entrepreneur porn really or speed.

Karin Samelson:
I got to Google that term. I’ve never heard it before.

Emily Kealey:
It’s like the… You guys were talking about with the Barbies on Instagram. Like, this doesn’t drive me… Just pop it. And this idea that you have to, but you do have to be up all night working and like, I only get four hours of sleep and like…

And I’m like, “Shut up.” You know what I mean? I’m like-

Alison Smith:
Yeah. That’s not cool.

Emily Kealey:
That’s not cool that you get four hours. I mean, if you do that’s new, but like, “Yeah, I haven’t slept in like two weeks in a global…”

And, I’m like, “Shut…” If that works for you, that’s really cool, but don’t make it a thing that other entrepreneurs feel that they have to go do.

Like, if you need 10 hours of sleep a night, girl, go get 10 hours of sleep a night. You do you and you make what’s best for you, but don’t put people on this pedestal and try to follow what they do and make it where it’s like this… It doesn’t make any sense. You know what I mean?

It really kind of drives me nuts. My husband does this. He’s probably over here laughing at me. Because, I get off my little soapbox and I’m like, “I’m just so tired of all these people.” I just want people to really respect who they are and find the best path for them and that’s what I’ve always believed in and that’s what I always try to champion.

That’s why I’m so thankful at Naturally Austin I get to do that because it’s really important that you respect who you are and your dreams and taking those lessons from others and then applying it to yourself and going out and being your best self and what you think is best.

Alison Smith:
That’s a great message to leave everyone with. Really, Emily from Naturally Austin this has been such a pleasure to talk to you.

Emily Kealey:
You too, guys.

Alison Smith:
If you guys don’t know about Naturally Austin, go check it out and join ASAP. It is one of Karin’s and I’s top favorite communities to be a part of. So, go check Naturally Austin out. And Emily, are there any links or anything that you want to leave anyone with?

Emily Kealey:

Alison Smith:
How can they contact you?

Emily Kealey:
Yeah. So, it’s is the website and you can always email me directly. I’m Emily, E-M-I-L-Y

I’m always happy to take calls. I think you guys know I’ll talk to anybody and I’ll talk to a brick wall. But yeah, I’ll talk to anybody. You guys let me know and I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.

Alison Smith:
Thank you again.

Emily Kealey:
Awesome. Thank you, guys.

Karin Samelson:
UMAI Social Circle is a CPG agency driven podcast based out of Austin, Texas. We’re excited to share more behind the scene insights, chats with industry leaders and whatever else we learn along the way.

Follow us on Instagram at UMAI Marketing or check out our website, Catch you back here soon.

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