Ketchum vet Bee Marks, a 'cross between Yoda and Carol Channing,' dead at 95

Colleagues recall her dedication and enduring legacy.

Bee Marks
Bee Marks

CARLSBAD, CA: Bee Marks, one of Ketchum’s earliest pioneers in food and nutrition, passed away Monday at age 95 of natural causes.

Marks’ colleagues from Ketchum and others across industries honored her legacy as one of the first to market food using nutrition science, and remembered her smart counsel and "unassuming" wisdom.

"[Marks] blazed many trails for Ketchum, including being part of the trio that opened our New York office, along with David Drobis and Paul Alvarez," said Ketchum CEO Rob Flaherty in a statement. "[Marks] was so smart and, as noted, it came with an unassuming touch, like a cross between Yoda and Carol Channing. Charm and humor on the outside, wisdom, strategy and perspective on the inside. She had a great sense of humor, most of it aimed at herself."

Flaherty added that Marks was a "legend and cornerstone" of Ketchum.

Dave Schmidt met Marks early in his tenure as president and CEO of the International Food Information Council.

"My impression on first meeting her was a sense of substance and dedication to helping consumers understand the link between nutrition and health," Schmidt told PRWeek via email. "Bee Marks was a legendary force who used innovation and credibility to raise the bar on food PR."

Marks devoted much of her life to the Omnicom agency, working there from 1965 until her retirement in 2009, according to a Ketchum spokesperson. She played a key role in representing the Idaho Potato and Onions Commission in the early 1970s, a statement said. At the time, there was a widespread public perception that potatoes were unhealthy and fattening, a spokesperson explained.

When Marks began work for that client, she reviewed materials that demonstrated to her potatoes’ health benefits, such as "levels of carbohydrates needed for proper brain function."

Using the information she gathered, Marks helped disprove the claim potatoes were unhealthy. That early endeavor convinced her that comms strategies around food should involve sharing the "science behind eating."

A Ketchum statement described it as her "breakthrough."

"[Marks] set this agency on a trajectory to be dominant in the food category with her passion for food and nutrition," said Barri Rafferty, partner and president of Ketchum, in a statement. "Her vision for how PR could drive education and sales evolved our industry, not just our agency. Her legacy as a strong female leader and innovator lives on in our halls. For that we will always be grateful."

Later, Marks established a partnership with Redbook magazine to create a forum on a proposed U.S. Federal Trade Commission trade regulation rule on food advertising, according to a statement. The forum included academics, scientists, nutritionists, FTC members, and magazine editors, who developed a response that was presented to Congress.

Marks helped create the Ketchum Food Center, a test kitchen in San Francisco, with Maggie Waldron, "the first lady of S.F. cuisine." The kitchen is still known today as the "centerpiece of Ketchum’s global food and nutrition practice," and has been visited by the likes of Julia Child, James Beard, and Marion Cunningham, a statement said.

Waldron helped track culinary trends for Ketchum until her 1993 retirement. She continued to consult the agency until her death in 1995.

In 1993, the Society for Nutrition Education launched its inaugural Bee Marks Communications Symposium.

Martha Archuleta, president of the Society for Nutrition Education at the time, said Marks "paved the way for new generations of nutrition and communication professionals … by making evidence-based science a cornerstone in communicating to the public."

16 years later, the Society for Nutrition Education would approve the endowment of the Bee Marks Fund with Ketchum, which continues to fund the annual symposium.

Ketchum posted a video to its YouTube page honoring Marks on Friday.

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