Interview: Mara Engel and Cheryl Roth

OrganicWorks Marketing opened for business in 2001 before everything and anything green was the topic on everyone's mind.

OrganicWorks Marketing opened for business in 2001 before everything and anything green was the topic on everyone's mind.

Their roster of clients includes Whole Foods, Plenty magazine, and Volvic water. Co-founders Mara Engel and Cheryl Roth sat with PRWeek web reporter Tonya Garcia and talked about the green scene over lunch.

PRWeek: How have things changed since you launched your business in 2001?


Mara Engel: We've been in business about seven years now. We've always been about organic and green living, but when we first started the agency, the consumer wasn't much aware of what organic and green living meant [in] a mainstream lifestyle. So we spent a lot of time educating in the onset about both the benefits of PR for this industry and what it meant for living an organic and green life.

Over the last year specifically, green has become more of a mainstream word. So [green companies] still need the education, but they're definitely much more accepting in terms of what they want to incorporate into their messaging.

PRWeek: Now that the definition of organic has expanded, how has that changed the dynamic of your business? Have you had to learn a lot about all sorts of different industries? Have some industries become more prevalent?

Engel: Food still is the largest area that people are paying attention to, but we have also increased our role in talking about green design, green building, clean energy, and also anything have to do with an overall lifestyle component.

Cheryl Roth: Fashion has taken such a big role. And the nice change that we've seen is that everything doesn't look like yoga clothes if it's made with organic fibers. Regular things - jeans and evening wear - everything is starting to take a better look, and they are things that people tend to wear more on a daily basis [rather] than just for recreation.

PRWeek: On your Web site you talk about how, in 2002, you coined the term "eco-chic." Can you talk about how you came up with this term and how it has come to be injected into talk about organic life?


Roth: First I want to say that I'm sorry we didn't trademark it!

Engel: At the time when we first started the agency, we were very much about educating about the benefits of organic living, but also talking about how you don't need to sacrifice style to live this kind of a life.

We came up with a fashion show called "Eco-Chic" where we were trying to pair the word "chic," which was a mainstream word that people automatically knew had a fashion sensibility to it, and "eco" which was, at the time, not naturally used as much as it is now. We brought in designers for a runway program [and] we had given them natural, sustainable fabrics so they could incorporate it into their line.

We did a big modeling show, invited a bunch of celebrities, and it turned this into something that, we felt at the time, was relevant to the show itself, and then realized that it was something that could be infused into any kind of lifestyle element.

Roth: I think we also wanted people to have the association that they would like it and that they could do it no matter where they lived, what your background was, what they believed in, and that this is something that was very modern and mainstream.

Engel: It's funny because we actually did coin the term, so we Googled it. I think that it's been used like 12,000 times since then. At the onset we just related it to fashion. But now, just any element related to the lifestyle has become eco-chic.

PRWeek: Do you have any tips or suggestions, based on your experience, for green promotions now that everyone is getting in on it?


Roth: The kinds of events, the kinds of messaging and positioning points, in organic and green companies... you don't have to alter everything so much to think that you're fitting into something. People, particularly the consumer who is seeking these products and services, want the contemporary and the mainstream. This sort of lifestyle isn't just on the communes and in small areas. It's everywhere. It's on Madison Avenue, it's in LA, and it's in Ohio. Just keep in mind, you don't have to change the way you usually do business.

Engel: There is a lot of messaging out there and we hope it doesn't become desensitized. We think that by walking the [walk] for a company, trying to communicate what the company's philosophy is, and staying true to the messaging, consumers will want to buy the product and they'll want to support the company. That's not a trick of the trade; it's something that will keep elevating the status of the company.

PRWeek: Do you think there are any regional trends to this? That certain industries are bigger depending on where they're located?

Engel: I think like anything, each city and each region is unique to what their audience is about. We're here in New York and obviously the automotive industry isn't going to [be huge]. But there are a lot of different elements in New York that you can focus on - building design, waterways, and recycling. These are not necessarily pertaining [just] to New York, but in a city like New York, there [is a set of] things that you can do, whereas in a [West Coast] city there are other things that you can do.

PRWeek: Can the public maintain all of the energy and excitement behind green?

Engel: There is so much excitement right now because it is the latest and greatest thing, which is wonderful to be excited about since it's involving global change. But we're still in a learning curve in terms of education from the consumer side and the media side, and a solid sense of understanding what this industry is about.

As the learning curve starts to shift from learning to knowledge about this space, I think the excitement will still be there, but it will be more mainstream. So it'll be a little bit easier to adopt in terms of everyday living.

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