She admits she doesn’t have what it takes to win a watermelon seed spitting contest, unless a social media version is invented. In that case, Stephanie (Simek) Barlow would be a frontrunner.
As director of public relations and social media for the National Watermelon Promotion Board, Barlow has revamped the organization’s approach, integrating digital media with the board’s traditional efforts to increase its reach from its Orlando, Fla., headquarters.
“We need to offer our information in all forms because not everyone wants tweets. Some people still want to read traditional newspapers for their information,” said the recently married Barlow.
Although her duties include more than social media promotion, Barlow said that aspect of communication is growing at such a fast rate that managing it could be a full-time job by itself. The return on Barlow’s efforts has so impressed board members that they increased the social media budget recently to allow her to contract for some assistance with it.
“Stephanie has an excellent grasp of social media,” said Mark Arney, the board’s executive director.
“She has done a fantastic job retooling our website and launching our mobile Web, Twitter and YouTube sites.”
Arney said one of Barlow’s strengths is her ability to communicate effectively with a range of audiences.
He said when she first joined the board she had to work under two directors at the same time. In addition to handling two bosses at once, Barlow showed a knack for working with everyone in the industry from growers to retailers and consumers.
“Stephanie is a great communicator whether it be behind a podium, one-on-one or by pen,” Arney said.
In many ways Barlow is a perfect fit in her job, but she could have easily been a veterinarian in private practice instead.
As a 2002 graduate of the American University in Washington, D.C., with a degree in international marketing, Barlow had the revelation of a lifetime: “There is no such thing as an international marketing position,” she said.
“So I packed up and came back home to Orlando and did what so many people do. I went to work for the (theme) park.”
Barlow said a few months of helping solve the problems of unhappy vacationers honed her communication skills. Moving on, she took a job with Orlando City Walk and ultimately redesigned that organization’s website.
But the work wasn’t quite what she had hoped for, and Barlow was ready to quit the communications game and go back to school to become a veterinarian.
Then, NWPB’s Mark Arney offered her a new direction.
“Mark told me about the watermelon board’s restructuring and the social media job,” she said.
Her work with the board fulfills her professional and personal needs.
“There is no guilt with produce,” she said. “You are trying to get people to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. Who can’t get behind that?”
Barlow said her challenge is to stay ahead of trends and in front of the curve so she can give retailers the most current tools available to help them sell watermelon.
She also does a lot of work with children’s nutrition efforts, partly because they are the watermelon buyers of tomorrow and partly because she feels strongly about improving the health of the nation one child at a time.