By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
The founders of the Portland Farmers' Market didn't set out to create a business incubator, but it has nonetheless served as one for more than two decades.
"It has been an accidental purpose of Portland Farmers' Market since day one," said Trudy Toliver, the organization's executive director.
As companies like Dave's Killer Bread flourished and eventually outgrew the market, organizers have come to recognize the role it plays in the evolution of its vendors, she said.
"The businesses create a following," said Toliver.
The nonprofit, which operates eight markets in the Portland area, is now trying to bring more sophistication to the process, she said. Vendors were recently invited to a "beyond the market" workshop that sought to hone their marketing and publicity skills.
Before a company can develop an effective marketing plan, it needs to do some "soul work" to define its identity, said Lee Weinstein, founder of Weinstein PR.
"You're all brand managers," Weinstein told the roughly 80 vendors at the workshop. "If you want things to add up in people's minds, you need to be consistent."
A brand is essentially the promise of value and experience, he said. When defining its brand, the company should understand the attributes it represents as well those it doesn't.
The company logo is often the most common expression of a brand, so the design should be memorable but simple, Weinstein said.
Marketing involves finding the company's "key message" and then sticking to it, he said. "Reiterate, reiterate, reiterate."
To gain favorable media attention, companies should try to pin down which outlet is the best fit for a story, said Deborah Pleva, an associate at Weinstein PR.
"Think about what you read and what your potential customers read," she said.
Reporters are generally looking for a new or unexpected angle for a story, particularly if it impacts many people or provides an example of a larger trend, she said.
Before pitching an idea, Pleva said she tries to think about the likely structure of the story and then zeroes in on the main points to emphasize. She also compiles helpful elements, like third-party sources and photo opportunities.
"We try to work backwards," she said.
Lisa Sedlar, former CEO of New Seasons and founder of Green Zebra Grocery, offered a retailer's perspective on food products.
Companies should pay careful attention to their packaging, ensuring that it's more than just "visual graffiti" at the store, she said.
Aside from a simple design, the package should work with the features of the store, Sedlar said.
As an example of what not to do, she pointed to a company that unwittingly created packages on which the label was obscured by part of the shelf.
"See how it looks objectively compared to everything else on the shelf," Sedlar said.
Farmers' market consultant Vance Corum likened food displays to art for consumers and encouraged vendors to be creative with decorative elements like small wheelbarrows and farm implements.
The perceived popularity of a farmers' market stall can also attract customers, so vendors should be generous with samples if traffic from paying customers lags, he said.
"Make sure to get some action at your stall," Corum said.