My TOCA Experience, from Across the Pond

By Ellie Parry, Forte Marketing & Public Relations

I was thrilled and excited to be informed that I was the recipient of an international stipend, which enabled me to attend TOCA’s 30th Annual Meeting in Charlotte.

I arrived a day early so I could take advantage of the sunshine and location, and explored the area on foot. I love urban architecture and the diverse neighbourhoods of the Queen’s City provided some wonderful vantage points – from the eclectic arts district of NoDa to the beautifully preserved settlers’ homes in the historic Fourth Quarter. I couldn’t visit the city without seeing the sports fields and I was fortunate to have staff from both the BB&T Ballpark and Bank of America Stadium recognize my English accent and invite their curious visitor in to see the playing surface. The newcomers’ dinner later that evening was my first opportunity to meet everyone. A great evening was spent getting to know more about the other attendees and their roles within the industry.

The event program got underway on Wednesday as we congratulated TOCA’s Environmental Communicator of the Year Norman Goldenberg and Volunteer of the Year Scott Hollister, and heard from media intern Parker Stancil, who was also volunteering at Quail Hollow that week. We were then introduced to Mick Mixon, radio announcer for the Carolina Panthers. His session, “Professional-grade curious,” not only provided fantastic guidance for creative and courageous interviewing, but made us all think about the deeper benefits of human connection.

The behind-the-scenes tour of Well Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow that afternoon was a great privilege and an event highlight for me. Visiting on Pro-am day, the venue was buzzing with energy and it was incredibly generous of Keith Wood, superintendent, and Lee Patterson, tournament communications director, to take time out to welcome us and talk us through the preparations and logistics of hosting an event of that size and profile. The golf course looked incredible in the sunshine as we followed Phil Mickelson’s team’s progress.

After joining Den Gardner’s early morning TOCA 5K Run/Walk Club on Thursday morning, I was energized and ready for a full day of education. Ren LaForme opened the morning session with a great keynote presentation on digital tools, which revealed some great must-try apps for personal organization and image creation. He then delved a little deeper into analytics and how to turn understanding into actions.

The afternoon panel debate on branded content and native advertising was particularly interesting for me. McGavock Edwards, Greg Hillyer and Sheri Seger used their roles as content creator, editor and advertising director, respectively, to give well-rounded insights into the wider considerations of this increasingly popular marketing approach.

Finally, we heard from Kim Meyer and Liz Vickerman from Kynetec about best practices in market research. They opened my eyes to further opportunities to undertake research beyond those I had already considered. They also gave me some ideas to take home for discussion with my clients.

The awards dinner that evening provided an opportunity to acknowledge the great work our peers produced last year. It is really motivating to see co-workers and competitors celebrating each others’ achievements. I congratulate all the winners and nominees.

The TOCA Annual Meeting was a great experience for me in so many ways. Each place I have visited during my 18-year turf industry career, at home and overseas, has been a valuable learning opportunity, but I was particularly excited to meet other communications professionals and take part in an educational program specifically created to develop our skillset.

I appreciate how much hard work goes into organizing events, so I’d like to thank Kristy Mach, Den Gardner and the annual meeting committee for all the work they put into staging a great week. I’d also like to thank all the sponsors whose financial and practical support makes it all possible. Finally, thank you to all the attendees who welcomed me into their groups and onto their tables, shared their backgrounds and experiences with me, and answered my many questions. If you come over to the United Kingdom, please contact me!

These are three of my take-aways from the meeting.

Getting together: Great things happen when people get together! At a time when our globally important industry is tackling major issues, such as climate change, sustainability and use of synthetic turf and chemical withdrawal, we will make greater progress and achieve more by sharing ideas and working collaboratively. I will be reaching out for a different perspective more often.

Contribute: The world needs more people like Den Gardener. His dedication to the green industry and TOCA has been incredible. Not everyone can commit 30 years to a cause, but each of us can get involved to do our bit. I am looking forward to working with the board to develop international membership.

Learn and adapt: The marketing landscape is constantly changing. In the digital world, particularly, things evolve quickly and we need to learn, adapt and keep ourselves informed. I will be seeking more learning opportunities and asking for toolkit recommendations from my peers.