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How UNFI’s workforce is using their internal communications platform to tell their stories

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On this episode of Culture, Comms, & Cocktails, we have Mike Wilken, External Communications and Public Relations Manager at UNFI.

Culture, Comms, & Cocktails is internal comms served straight up, so settle in, and drink in the knowledge. Some shaken, some stirred, and maybe even some with a twist, and enjoy the top shelf guest I have lined up for you. I’m your host, Chuck Gose, Senior Strategic Advisor at SocialChorus. On this episode of Culture, Comms, & Cocktails, we have Mike Wilken, External Communications and Public Relations Manager at UNFI.

UNFI is North America’s Premier Food Wholesaler. They transform the world of food for associates, customers, suppliers and the families they serve every day. With deeper full store selection and compelling brands for every aisle, built on an unmatched heritage in great food and fresh thinking. And smarter food solutions, from fulfillment to insights and beyond, that help entrepreneurs and major brands alike unlock their full potential and transform their businesses – for the better.

I think it’s super cool that we now have this platform where we’re able to communicate through multiple channels, one source of truth at one point in time, but throughout that entire communications timeline, we’re able to see individuals that we know.

Culture, Comms, & Cocktails Episode 39 Transcript

Chuck Gose: Hello, everyone. This is Culture, Comms & Cocktails, the podcast with internal comms served straight up. I’m your host, Chuck Gose, Senior Strategic Advisor at SocialChorus. And on this episode of Culture, Comms & Cocktails, we have Mike Wilken, Manager of External Communications and PR at UNFI. Also notable sports card collector and Almond Joy nut, pun intended. Welcome to the podcast, Mike.

Mike Wilken: Hey, Chuck, thanks for having me.

Chuck Gose: So we’ll get to the sports card collector stuff a little bit later, the Almond Joy nut. I had the privilege of working with you and the UNFI team over the last several months. So we’ve gotten to learn a little bit more about each other. But I did want to share for everyone here, Mike, share with us, where does the podcast find you today? And how are you and the people you care about doing during this pandemic?

Mike Wilken: Yeah. Chuck, like a lot of people, I guess working remote, been doing that probably since early March. I’m in a small town just southwest of Minneapolis with my wife, Erin, and my two daughters, Sally and Mackenzie. It’s been crazy going from distance learning, having them around, communicating during a pandemic, summer vacation, and then sending the kids back to school. So a lot of fun, we’re getting through. Everybody is having a good time trying to make the best of it probably like everybody else.

Chuck Gose: Now, we’re going to get to some easier questions later, but I want to get this hard one out of the way. Early 2020, we helped UNFI launch Uconnect with you and the comms team there at the company not knowing a pandemic was coming. So there’s obviously that to deal with from a communication standpoint, but also, as you shared being in Minnesota, in Minneapolis, very close to it, dealing with the George Floyd murder, and the protests, and then some of the looting that ended up happening as a result of it. So as a comms professional, how did you begin managing communications when, yes, it’s a pandemic, but UNFI, given what you do and go into a little bit about who UNFI is, busier than ever, but also having that civil unrest right in your backyard. How did you manage all of those things?

Mike Wilken: Yeah. I mean, 2020 has been crazy. For us, it started, like you said, with creating Uconnect. And really, to let people understand a little bit more about UNFI, we are a grocery wholesaler, right? We’re national in every regard. We have 59 distribution centers. We service over 30,000 independent retailers throughout the United States. So basically, our job is to help put food on shelves. We also do have a couple retail banners, one here located in Minneapolis. It’s the number one market share. It’s a banner called Cub. We also have another one out on the East Coast called Shoppers. So for us, not only the pandemic itself, but yeah, the George Floyd murders, they have hit home in more ways than one.

Mike Wilken: So we started Uconnect right around the first of February, getting involved with a lot of our corporate offices that really had a strong thirst to communicate not only to their teams, but to the broader organization. So we’re going through this pilot program. And a month and a half in, yeah, COVID hits. And I still remember getting the call and I don’t know if you remember as well. But COVID really started out in that Seattle, Washington Area. And we have not only a distribution center. We had one in Tacoma and the Pacific Northwest is a very big area for us as far as distribution. We also had offices out there. So those offices were probably the first to close inside of our organization, also our corporate office out in Providence, Rhode Island, where another kind of hotspot was started.

Mike Wilken: But for us, the cool part, I mean, it’s weird saying the cool part because it’s kind of bittersweet, right? We’re shutting down an office. We’re sending people home. We’re telling them to work from home. This is a big time of uncertainty. We don’t know for how long. I think I make the joke of when we left. I looked at my team and said, “Hey, I’ll see you guys in a couple weeks,” and it’s been what? Nine months? But we’re sending people home, which is this time of unknowing what’s going to really happen. But the cool part is we’re able to tell them, “Hey, we’re piloting this new communications tool called Uconnect, and we want you to all be on it. We’ve created a Tacoma office channel specifically for you guys to have your own conversations. Whether it’s about thoughts on working remote and how to do it the best way or just what’s happening in the office. Can I go back? Can I get anything?” Just really keeping employees updated.

Mike Wilken: So for us, it was awesome to have this tool available to us right at the start of the pandemic. And since that time, we’ve quickly grown the number of registrants on the platform. I think our goal was to have maybe a thousand people on the platform by August. We’re now almost at 7,000. It quickly grew. It went away from just getting a small group to let’s get as many people on it as we possibly can. So that was super cool.

Mike Wilken: And then like you mentioned, the George Floyd murder happened. And again, that’s right in my backyard. I’m a lifelong Minnesotan. It’s right in the backyard of thousands of associates for UNFI. And I’ll be honest, just to maybe take a moment, like I said, lifelong Minnesotan, there’s this phrase about Minnesota nice, and I don’t care where you stand on this subject, right? Nothing about this is Minnesota nice to see an event that started here, create this national civil unrest is really eye opening for all of us in flyover country. And frankly, we needed to have a lot of conversations about it. Not only about what was happening with the protests here locally, and what was happening, frankly, at our stores. We did have two of our retail locations were more than significantly damaged. They’re still closed to this day and several others were looted as well.

Mike Wilken: So it caused for us to have conversations not only about the murder and what’s happening with the protests and our offices and our people safe. But then conversations about, what does all this mean? What does this mean for us as a company? Who we are, who do we want to be. And frankly, through Uconnect and a couple other communication vehicles, we were able to have really in depth needed conversations that a lot of us probably were, that would have made us uneasy to have before the incident. But through the platform, it helped us come together a little bit closer as a company, probably understand a little bit more we’re not solving the world’s problems, obviously, in one fell swoop here. We’re not boiling the ocean as my coworker Mary always says. But at the same time, hopefully, we’re creating a better understanding of where everybody is at and where we’re at as a company at same time

Chuck Gose: Yeah. Thanks for going into that because I think that’s important because, obviously, this pandemic and everything that’s happened around it has impacted a lot of companies in a lot of different ways. And I know that communicators like hearing the real stories of how companies have responded. So thanks for going into that. And you mentioned about Uconnect launching. When you look at what makes Uconnect unique in this is the prevalence of employees being involved and then employee generated content. And I don’t know that. Few people are as bigger fans of employee generated content as much as I am. So how did you encourage that? Or was it simply getting out of the way? How did employees end up responding in such a large way where it’s a vast majority or a big majority of the content that’s in Uconnect?

Mike Wilken: Yeah. I touched on this maybe too briefly at the beginning, but the reason why we developed or had SocialChorus to develop Uconnect was really out of necessity. Our ability to communicate with our entire workforce was adequate at best. And what do I mean by that? Well, we have 21,000 associates across the nation and just maybe about 9,000 of those have a corporate email address. So like I mentioned, we have 59 distribution centers. We have people that are out on forklifts, drivers, they’re selecting product all day long. They’re not in front of a computer. They’re not able to email or anything like that. So it’s hard as a communicator where you’re not able to communicate with more than half of your company. So super cool to be able to have that tool available to us.

Mike Wilken: In the pilot program, we were really strategic about the groups that we wanted to be a part of Uconnect at the beginning, right? Like I mentioned, our HR team has a wealth of information that they’re always looking to distribute out to employees, not to mention our CHRO. She’s been our executive sponsor of Uconnect since the beginning. Super awesome leader and great to have her in our corner for this. She wanted everybody on the HR team to be on the platform.

Mike Wilken: We also got several of our sales teams involved. Our Atlantic region specifically was part of our pilot program. I don’t know a salesperson out there that doesn’t like telling stories and what’s happening. So great to get them on the platform. And then our safety team. Safety is of the utmost importance to anybody, really any company, but really in the distribution and wholesale game, it’s even more so, especially probably during a pandemic of all things. So we got them involved as well. So the cool part for us was the groups that were part of the pilot have stories. They have things to tell. They have news that desperately needs to get out to everybody throughout the organization. But then there are also just individuals, part of that pilot, that like consuming the info.

Mike Wilken: So the way we started Uconnect was strategic, but it helped us get people with stories on the platform at the onset to help them tell that. And I’ve always said, “Keep doing great things so that we can tell great stories.” And that’s what those people are doing. They’re doing great things all day long. They’re telling those stories and getting them out there. So as more individuals came on the platform, they’re seeing these initial groups communicating frankly right off the bat to them, and they’re saying, “Okay, hey, not only is Uconnect…” I mean, the mobile app itself, it’s got this digital social cool vibe to it. It facilitates individuals to share. Whether that’s through commenting, liking, or actually posting themselves. So we’ve been really fortunate that people have great stories to share, that they are sharing them, and that we have the platform like Uconnect that enables them to make that happen.

Mike Wilken: And just really quick, recently, I was looking at all the posts that have been created on Uconnect. We have probably 7,000 or 8,000 posts right now. So we’re averaging just under a thousand a month just to give people kind of some understanding of where we’re at post wise. Out of those posts, we almost have 700 content contributors or people that have at least created a post on Uconnect. So we’re talking 10% of our organization that’s on Uconnect is actually posting that content, which is super helpful, right? Because we’ve always said anytime we go out and look for a supplier or a vendor to help us from the communications standpoint, we need them to make our team look larger than it really is. And like I mentioned, we have 21,000 people in the organization. We have a five-person communications team. Now we have 705 people that are communicating through Uconnect. So it definitely helps us out.

Mike Wilken: I think the stat that everybody is wondering is maybe, what’s the ratio? And how does that work for us? Right now, it’s probably at about like 85% user generated content compared to 15% for ours. And again, it’s food, right? I mean, it’s a great conversation point. I don’t know many people that don’t like talking about food. Whether it’s their recipes, things that they’re seeing, happening trends in the marketplace. Whether it’s our own private brand products on the shelves and they have an affinity for those and they’re just sharing like, “I love this product,” and they want other people to know, I mean, I think that’s super cool.

Mike Wilken: So when you put it all together, we have individuals throughout the organization that have great stories. We empowered them to tell them through Uconnect. We have awesome topics centered around food. And then as people are coming on, they’re just seeing the conversation. They see that it’s a welcome place for those topics to be brought up and they want to get in. They want to get into that pool.

Chuck Gose: When you think back through all those great pieces of content that the comms team didn’t create, you said you now have a comms team of 705 people. But of that 700, is there one piece that stands out to you that you remember, that you resonate, or that discovered something that was happening in another part of the business that the comms team, frankly, didn’t even really know about?

Mike Wilken: Yeah. That’s a really good one, hard to drill it down to one. I mean, I’ll give it to you right off the bat and then I’ll maybe tell you a couple others. We recently did a project with the distribution centers and they don’t have email addresses. They’re communicated through billboards and digital signage, right? PowerPoint slides, those sorts of things. And it was a driver who, it must have been their first week on the job and they got a UNFI hat, and they had it on their dashboard. And they took a picture from the driver seat looking at the hat, and then out the front windshield, and it was just, “First week on the new job, really looking forward to it.”

Mike Wilken: Again, it speaks to many different things. I mean, obviously, you remember your first day, but it’s from a lens that I have never really thought about being behind before and just kind of how that picture was situated, you pretended, I mean, you could easily see yourself in the driver’s seat looking out the windshield at the future so to speak of what does the job possibly afford them? And obviously, a great company to be involved with. So that’s super cool. A lot of the other times, like I said, you know, it’s some of the great stories out there from a communication standpoint where we didn’t have visibility to it before. And so being able to see that and communicate that either more broadly through the organization, through our social channels. Or it could be even something bigger. Maybe it’s a press release or a media interview type thing for us. I mean, just the availability or the opportunity for a picture or a post to become something bigger in the organization is super cool.

Mike Wilken: And then finally, listen, we heard Brett Lutz, the VP of communication over at ADM, speak before we joined with SocialChorus. And I have to give him all credit. He talked a lot about the chocolate and the vegetables, right? And corporate communications, that’s the vegetables on the plate, right? You save it till last. You might not eat it. You may try and move it over to your brother or sister’s plate when your parents aren’t looking, those sorts of things. And everybody else, their communications are chocolate. The cool story about it is at the end of the day with something like Uconnect is you don’t know what you’re eating. You don’t know if it’s chocolate or vegetables. But it gives us the opportunity as communicators and even as leaders in the organization to do some of the more chocolate type communication.

Mike Wilken: So our CEO, our COO, they’ve both shared pictures of them with their grandchildren on there, right? Just really kind of the human touches, you realize, “Hey, these are leaders in your organization. They’re there for a reason. That’s great.” But you quickly realize they put their pants on one leg at a time. They have kids and grandkids too and it’s fun to see that side of things. So lots of cool things. But the driver post for me really stood out.

Chuck Gose: I think that’s great because it shows that that driver, they took the time to create that. They had this vision. And this is what I counsel other communicators on, which you guys essentially got out of the way. The employees that work at these companies, they have Instagram accounts. They’re on Twitter. They’re on Facebook. They’re creating content outside the organization. So let them do this inside. And when you talk about the chocolate and the vegetables, I personally like smothering vegetables in cheese as much as possible to make them more palatable. So maybe we figure out with communicators, how do we put some of that cheese on there?

Chuck Gose: And you had mentioned about your distribution center employees, and those being the employees that, that’s where the magic happens for UNFI. They don’t have email addresses. So we can’t just send them an email and hope they read it. You have to get creative. But you recently went through an effort to get more of them active on Uconnect. So what did you do to make Uconnect a little more visible to them, get them to sign up? And how effective was that?

Mike Wilken: Yeah. Really quick about getting out of employees’ ways or associates’ ways, right? The cool part about that is the questions I get most from people about how to post, what to post, everything like that. That’s from leadership. The associate’s out in the field behind the desks. They’re the ones just rapid fire. They’re throwing it out, no worries, no fears whatsoever. So it’s great to see that. It’s the leaders who are… We have to kind of coach through. And so I think it’s funny in that regard how we’re getting out of the way, but the ones we really need to help the most are leadership, which is great because they’re showing an interest. They want to know how to do it right. And I think we can help them get there and it’s proven really well so far.

Mike Wilken: And that even leads to the distribution center, right? Because we have, again, 12,000 associates that are in distribution centers. Whether they’re in office roles, forklift drivers, order selectors, actual physical drivers delivering the product to the stores. And like you mentioned, it’s super hard to communicate with them consistently. A lot of the times, like I mentioned, there might be a sheet on a billboard that’s talking about open enrollment. Or they’ve created a PowerPoint slide for the television screens in the break rooms saying, “Hey, here are the dates for open enrollment or town hall meeting.”

Mike Wilken: They have shift meetings before every shift, and then monthly, quarterly town halls. And that’s their time to really kind of huddle together. And that’s where we got our theme for this project that you’re working on. We called it Huddle Up for Uconnect. And where we looked at how to really engage associates who weren’t on the platform was telling them that this is their virtual huddle up where they can come in to the mobile app, to the desktop environment, spend a couple minutes. See what’s going on at their distribution center, whether it’s an update to some shifts, if there’s some available openings from an overtime standpoint. Whether it is bigger communications like open enrollment, it gives them that opportunity to quickly know what’s going on in two to three minutes as opposed to waiting till their break, having to read it on the billboard, potentially never seeing it, those sorts of things.

Mike Wilken: So the way we approached the Huddle Up for Uconnect was twofold. One was just straight acquisition. How do we get associates, how do we make sure that they know about Uconnect? How do we get them on the platform? And then the second part was content driven. So the content side was not specific just to associates in the distribution center. This was specific to our distribution center and leadership, the associates, and then our HR professionals at each one of those DCs.

Mike Wilken: So let’s talk really quick about the acquisition side of things, how did we do it? This was a two-week long program. It was limited to about 30 of our non-union distribution centers at the time. We were really targeted to that group in particular. And what we did was we made kind of a leaderboard campaign where it was based on percentage growth. And then the top four distribution centers would win gift cards for the associates that joined Uconnect. So the more more associates that join, the better chance that distribution center had of actually winning prizes. And it wasn’t everybody that signed up from the distribution center. We had one that took third place that had over 200 people sign up. So unfortunately, budget limitations, you just can’t go nuts and give everybody a gift card as much as we’d like to. But first place was going to get 40 gift cards, second place was going to get 30, 20, and then 10 for the top four.

Mike Wilken: So super cool getting the word out. We created a lot of, frankly, the billboard material. We created the PowerPoint slides. But again, we wanted this to be that huddle. So we had talking points for the shift meetings that happen every day. We had talking points and slides for the town hall meetings. The HR team, again, since they were involved on the content side, they were heavily involved in getting the word out. During the breaks, they would be going to a lot of the lunchroom tables and just introducing Uconnect and talking with them about it. It’s great. I mean, Chuck, you hooked us up. We had the text to download option. So we made it super easy for them to get involved with a QR codes.

Mike Wilken: And again, it was one of those projects where at the beginning, you’re going, “Okay, I think we have everything from the acquisition standpoint. I think this covers all of our bases,” yet I still emailed our CMO at the beginning, the night before, saying like, “I really hope this doesn’t suck.” And just to be honest with her, and she’s like, “Hey, listen, to be honest with you, I hope it doesn’t either,” because you just never know with individuals that aren’t communicated in this way. That it’s something brand new of, “Why should I put this on my phone? You’re just going to spam me with corporate messaging. I don’t want to see that.” So there’s a lot of worries involved.

Mike Wilken: We had a goal of trying to get a thousand associates in the two-week period. We actually ended up getting 1,250 in that two-week period. So super cool to actually see it work. But I’ll tell you, it was because of the leadership from the general managers and the warehouse supervisors, the operations supervisors, and the HR teams at each one of those DCs helping push Uconnect and talking with the associates about it.

Mike Wilken: And then, again, from the content side, right, it’s no good to get 1,250 people on Uconnect for one day and then they never come back because it’s not worth it to them. So for the content side of things, we had things like best video post, best image post. And then we, again, sorted it out by DC leadership associates, and then HR teams. And each one maybe had a unique post. So for the HR teams, it was, “Show us your best way of getting people enthusiastic about Uconnect,” and that’s where, frankly, a lot of the magic kind of happened where some of these HR professionals were going out and getting pictures of everybody throughout the organization. They were doing videos. And then they’d overlay it onto a song like The Beatles’ Come Together. So our HR manager out in one of our DC, she did “Coming Together for Uconnect.” And it was just this video of everybody inside the DC not only registering for Uconnect, but just smiling, waving and having fun.

Mike Wilken: And the one thing a journalism class in high school taught me was everybody loves seeing their picture. Everybody. And once they hear, “Hey, yeah, you’re going to get a picture taken or your video is going to be part of Uconnect,” not only they’re excited to have their picture taken or be part of this video, but then they’re even more excited to see the final product. So now it’s getting them into Uconnect. They’re engaging, they see it. Hey, what’s up? They comment on it. They see that it’s awesome. Our leadership sees it. We actually kind of take it and then make it a featured post for all associates to see.

Mike Wilken: So again, it’s taking this localized opportunity to get people on Uconnect. It’s featuring the associates that are there and making it happen. And then through the tool, we’re broadly disseminating it out to the organization to show them, “Look at this DC and the company pride that they have.” And again, that’s something that we couldn’t communicate through email before. There was never a way to do it and definitely not in real time like that. So super cool at the end of the day. I’m super glad it did not suck. More associates are coming on board. You’re starting to see that now that we have scale throughout the organization. We have roughly 30% of our non-union distribution center associates on Uconnect. And you’re starting to see that because so many of them are on already. Others are joining because Jimmy is telling them, “Hey, did you see this?” “No, where’s that?” “Oh, it’s on Uconnect.” “And how do you get on that?” “Oh, hey, here’s the QR code,” or, “Here’s the text to download,” and boom, they make it happen.

Mike Wilken: So super fun. It didn’t suck at the end of the day, but even more fun to have all those associates on there. Because, again, if they weren’t, that driver would have never shared the post. They never would have done the video. We never would have been able to communicate it.

Chuck Gose: Those are all great examples. Thanks for sharing all those. And we spent a lot of time talking about the associates there at UNFI. I want to spend the last part of the podcast talking about the comms team there, and specifically you and your involvement. Recently, the team started creating these themed mini comms plans for every month. And with so much employee generated content out there, that’s obviously keeping the program live and active and fresh all the time. It allows this team to begin planning content on some certain areas. So how has this strategy helped with content planning? But also do you see it getting more people engaged when there’s specific focus that’s happening that month on a certain topic inside the company?

Mike Wilken: Yeah. We had all great intents and purposes when we were piloting Uconnect to not only drive acquisition, but also develop a really awesome content strategy. And with COVID and everything else, it went straight to acquisition. And again, we’ve already talked about it. We’re fortunate enough to have enough user generated content where things kind of just held their own on that side. But we’ve gotten to the point where, okay, we’ve got mass, we have scale throughout the organization as far as people on the platform. But let’s dive deeper on the content side. Let’s own this a little bit more.

Mike Wilken: So yeah, recently, we just started, actually, I think last month is our second month of picking a topic that’s not only near and dear to the hearts of our associates, but also o our company and our mission. So our first topic was on our Brands+ or our private brand products that we sell to retailers throughout the country and just spotlighting those. I mean, we are a small, it’s like a top 15 CPG company at the end of the day from the private brand. So we have a lot of products, maybe about 5,000 or 6000 products that are available for consumers to purchase. But for us, it was, “Hey, talk to us. What are your favorite brand products? Share your recipes.”

Mike Wilken: We have a super awesome test kitchen here in Hopkins, Minnesota. And with that, we have some chefs and food scientists who are able to design recipes, new products. And so we are able to spotlight them. So not only the test kitchens themselves, but also the people making it all happen at the end of the day. So we spotlight Chef Nate and show what’s going on. Again, majority of people throughout the company probably didn’t know about Chef Nate, or know how deep that we get into the private brand realm. But the cool part is that just by scraping the surface there a little bit, it starts three or four more conversations where Chef Nate might be talking about this type of pasta sauce. And then all of a sudden, we’ve got somebody else in Ohio who’s talking about, “I love using that pasta sauce. Here’s how I integrate it into my recipes.”

Mike Wilken: And so we were able to see that. And then, of course, you got to have a little bit of fun, right? So we had a little of competition about, “Show us your brands.” And people are sending in pictures, not only themselves and their favorite products and how they’re using it, but almost, we didn’t even know it was going to happen, but maybe 80% of the posts were their kids with the product. So the cool part is people are opening themselves up, which is great because you get to see more about your coworkers and see the products that they like. Then all of a sudden, hey, they’re spotlighting their kids, and it’s, “Oh my gosh, I haven’t seen them in so long. Look at them grow.” Or, “Hey, how are they doing?”So again, it’s content with purpose where it’s not just a digital billboard. We’re putting it out there for just a couple people to see. It’s really engaging with them. It’s sparking new conversations and they’re having fun.

Mike Wilken: This month, we focused in on safety, which again, I mentioned was one of our huge initiatives as a company and just increasing the amount of engagement on what’s called our zero is possible. That’s our safety channel. And then next month with open enrollment, and frankly, the winter season coming in, we’re going to focus in on wellness. And what’s happening, we recently started a wellness channel with breast cancer awareness month and some other cool things. So we’ll dive a little bit more into that into November. And then as we go, I think each month will have that focus. So it keeps us grounded to say, “Okay, hey, here’s our focus for the month. This is what we’re going to communicate on and why it’s important.” But as well, it helps kind of spark that conversation so that when the month is over, the conversation doesn’t die.

Chuck Gose: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. That’s what I would like to see happen is that you mentioned with that Brands+, and you start to build momentum. And it’s how do you let that momentum almost run on its own as you’re creating these other themes and topics out there that are aligned with the company initiatives? And I loved your tag. And there’s always a few really great tag lines that come out of these and your is content with purpose. That’s what I love to see the comms teams focus on, is what is the purpose behind what we’re communicating out there? And how is it resonating with people? So that was great. And if you’re listening to this, or you’re watching the video of it, you can hear in Mike’s voice or see in his face how proud you are of Uconnect and the team there at UNFI and what you’ve created. Personally, Mike, as a communicator, what have you enjoyed most about this journey that you’ve started the company on?

Mike Wilken: That’s a good one, Chuck. I think for communicators that are listening in, whether you’ve been involved in developing social channels, social teams, Twitter, LinkedIn, those sorts of things or not, whether it’s different audiences, I think the most fun part for me here is I’m engaging with my coworkers. And I’m seeing them engage with other people throughout the organization. I mean, it’s cool on Twitter to be able to put something out and see people like it and share it. But frankly, I don’t know who Mr. ABC is, but I know he likes our content. That’s cool. It’s a lot more fun to see Jack and Diane at this office engage with it because I have the opportunity through work to talk with them and get to know them more than I would in just a general office setting.

Mike Wilken: So for me, I think it’s super cool that we now have this platform where we’re able to communicate through multiple channels, one source of truth at one point in time, but throughout that entire communications timeline, we’re able to see individuals that we know. They’re family to a certain degree and we’re able to see them engage and like things and that just drives, I think, the motivation, right? I mean, I’ve got a channel called Food Fight where it’s, “Hey, it’s National Boston Cream Pie Day.” And frankly, Boston Cream Pie, there’s no better pie. I don’t care if you like apple or blueberry. Those are great especially with vanilla ice cream but Boston Cream Pie is my jam. And so for me to be able to put out there, “Hey, it’s National Boston Cream Pie Day, what’s your favorite pie? Or frankly, should Boston Cream Pie even be a pie?” And to see the conversation happen. Again, that’s the chocolate. That’s super fun. But I get to know people that I work with better than I ever have before because of this platform.

Chuck Gose: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, thanks for all the great examples, Mike. Obviously, I’ve been along for the ride in the backseat seeing some of the success of Uconnect and know that the stuff you’ve shared will inspire and other people will learn from it. The podcast is called Culture, Comms & Cocktails. So wrap this up, almost wrap it up with the last question. So Mike, what is your favorite cocktail or where do you like to go to get your favorite cocktail?

Mike Wilken: Yeah. I’m not a cocktail guy, but I am a beer guy. I have always been a beer guy since day one. My wife who hopefully will never listen to this, but maybe she will, I met her because she worked at a bar. No, I’m just kidding. We went to college together. She just happened to work at a bar I ended up going to, but they had 21 taps. It was the Mecca, what do you want to try today? But I’ll be honest, one of my best friends from college, he has a master’s in chemistry and I remember, shoot Chuck, this is probably like 15 years ago. All of a sudden, he calls me and he’s like, “Hey, I bought a beer making kit. You want to come over and let’s get this going?” I’m like, “Yeah, absolutely.”

Mike Wilken: And we had no idea what we were doing, but when that beer was done months later in trying it, it tasted better because it was our own. And we really got into it. Obviously, it was his kit. He made a lot more. He’s made over probably about 200 different beers now, but to me, that’s where it’s at. It’s being able to have a beer, sit down with some friends and family. Whether we’re at a bar, somebody’s backyard and just having a good time catching up with anybody. It is and we might be just past a little bit, I am a huge Oktoberfest beer guy. I love Oktoberfest. And hopefully, many people listening in, they’ve got their favorite local brewery. I’m sure there’s awesome stuff.

Mike Wilken: We’ve got an old school one here called Green Belt. They make one called Nordeast which is named after a neighborhood here in Minneapolis. It’s kind of a dark lager, but it’s got great flavor to it. I think you can have it year round. Summer ales, I mean, you just can’t go wrong. There’s so many good ones. But I take an Oktoberfest if it’s in October. I take it if it was in April. It doesn’t matter when. That Märzen maltiness, it just hits home for me.

Chuck Gose: I was hoping you’re going to recommend some sort of Prince-themed cocktail or something around Minneapolis. Or Purple Rain.

Mike Wilken: Well, there is the Purple Rain, which is similar to a Grape Ape. Again, my wife, she was the bartender. She knows more about this. I think it’s got four different types of alcohol in it and you probably only have one, maybe two I think in your life, but definitely one or two for a night. But yeah, if you’re ever in town, definitely go over to Paisley Park and check out Prince’s home. It’s worth the tour and the trip.

Chuck Gose: And then for the final question, one thing, Mike, you and I have connected on over the past several months are sports cards. So this now is Culture, Comms, Cocktails & Cards.

Mike Wilken: And cards.

Chuck Gose: So as a sports card enthusiast, I guess I would say, or have an affinity for it, what is your favorite sports card? What’s that iconic sports card for you?

Mike Wilken: Well, one I will never have is the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card. Chuck, I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, I’d go to my local card store. I’d get that Beckett magazine and I’d go right to 1952 and look up Mantle. I mean, when we were kids, that card was what? Like $2,000, $5,000, $3,000, something like that. But to a 10, 12-year-old kid, thousands of dollars for a baseball card?

Chuck Gose: It might as well be a million dollars.

Mike Wilken: Well, it might be nowadays with the way things are going. I mean, I grew up in the junk wax era of collecting, so there were thousands of everything available. But the ’89 Upper Deck Griffey is one. I have the ’84 Mark McGwire rookie card, the USA baseball. I still remember being in college, him and Sammy Sosa bringing the baseball back with the home runs and watching that card go up in value and now watching it go off a cliff in value. But it’s never been about the value. It’s always about the hunt and just getting a couple packs and being like, “Hey, I kind of want to try and find this card or that.” And when you do, it’s pretty awesome. It’s a little bit of a treasure hunt, so to speak. Yeah.

Chuck Gose: Yeah. I think back to that ’89 Upper Deck Griffey was a big one. For me, it was the ’85 Topps Eric Davis because I remember packs of cards were 50 cents apiece then and I paid $5 to buy that card and I still have it today. That Mantle. And also I remember the score. Do you remember the score card with Bo Jackson, black and white? He had the pads on but then holding the bat?

Mike Wilken: Holding the bat. Yeah, absolutely.

Chuck Gose: That was a pretty iconic card.

Mike Wilken: If I remember right, it’s the 1990 score set. I have it downstairs in my basement. I was looking for that card the other day and couldn’t find it. So obviously, I took it out, I put it somewhere. I’m really mad that I don’t have it. But I found the Bo Breaker one where he broke the bat over his knee. They’re like fluorescent lightning bolts going down the side. I mean, I don’t know what people were thinking when they were designing cards in the 80s, but if it was neon, it was hot. But I wish, yeah. I’ve said this to you before. I wish I had a passion for a single player like you do with Eric Davis. I’m so impressed by that. I was thinking about who that might be around here. I think it might be like a Kirby Puckett or something like that-

Chuck Gose: Kent Hrbek

Mike Wilken: Hrbek. Yeah, right? Hrbek, Winfield, Molitor, Jack Morris, whenever it was, ’91, so what’s this now? 29 years ago yesterday was when we won game seven. I mean, you watch the World Series last night and they pulled their guy in the what? Six inning with 70 pitches? And back in ’91, Jack Morris scores 10 innings of shutout baseball. The manager comes over and tells him it’s going to be his last inning. He tells him to bleep off. And it’s great because Tom Kelly said, “If I were to put in a reliever, if I brought in another pitcher for Morris, there would have been two guys on the mound because Jack wasn’t coming out.

Mike Wilken: And then you look at it today, and unfortunately, with pitch counts and SABRmetrics and everything like that, you got to pull a guy and I don’t know if it cost you the World Series, but it might have cost you the game. And anyway, it’s stuff like that, those iconic players. I mean, for you, Eric Davis, for me, some of those Minnesota guys that we look up to and appreciate. And frankly, when you don’t have a whole lot of great sport stories to tell because it’s Minnesota, and there’s been no other state that have had as many depressing sports moments than Minnesota. And I’ll go to my grave with that. It’s the ones that when there’s really awesome things that happen, that you just hold those near and dear to your heart. Yeah. ’91 World Series for me. Yeah.

Chuck Gose: So I think we just added a new segment, Minnesota Twins Baseball History segment with

Mike Wilken: We can go all day long on that one.

Chuck Gose: Well, Mike again, thanks for being on the podcast. Love hearing all the examples. I know you’re proud of Uconnect, the UNFI comms team, all the people that have been involved in there that’s clearly very apparent. And maybe we’ll have you back on in a year to see the continued growth and hear new stories from Minnesota and UNFI.

Mike Wilken: Thanks. Thanks for having me, Chuck. I would be remiss to say Jeff, Mary, Krystal and Dean on our communications team, none of this exists without them. They are a communications family to me. I love them and their talents that they bring. So I’m here representing them, but thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

Chuck Gose: Absolutely.

Chuck Gose: If you enjoyed what you heard from this episode and want to check out others, find Culture, Comms & Cocktails on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen. And when you do, hit that subscribe button so you don’t miss any future episodes. This has been Culture, Comms & Cocktails, internal comms served straight up. Thanks for listening.

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Maggie Prince-Lubawy

Maggie Prince-Lubawy

Maggie leads field marketing at SocialChorus. She has lived in San Francisco for 5 years and is native to Northern CA. When she is not planning events or traveling, she is finding the next best recipe to try and curling up with her dog and favorite book at that moment.

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