Making connections that matter

Marketing and communications professional Jenn Norrie on the value of mentorship and building your network in creating your ideal career

By Piper Whelan

When Jenn Norrie shares how she built her rewarding career, her involvement in a specific extracurricular activity plays a supporting role early in her story.

While studying agricultural economics and marketing at the University of Saskatchewan, Norrie joined the student chapter of the Canadian Agri-Marketing Association (CAMA), a decision that proved tremendously valuable for the networking and mentorship opportunities it provided.

“That really led me into my path of agriculture marketing and communications for a career,” says Norrie, who is the communication manager at Alltech, covering North America and Europe from her home in Calgary.

“Through CAMA at the student level, we had a chance to network with industry professionals,” she explains. “That was actually really imperative, the networking side of things, because a few individuals that I met along the way while I was a student ended up resulting in a job.”

Norrie, who grew up outside of Calgary, started her career with the agricultural advertising agency AdFarm. “You take marketing classes at school, but to really get in and see it all come to fruition and work on strategy, public relations and digital media — to see it all play out into large campaigns across Canada — was really rewarding,” she recalls.

Her enthusiasm for Canadian agriculture is evident in all she’s done, from earlier marketing and communication roles with UFA and Bayer Crop Science to her present position with Alltech.

“It’s an easy part of the job to be really passionate about agriculture and sharing stories about the industry, and the farmers and ranchers that work hard every day to produce food,” she says. “When you believe in something and you’re passionate about it, it’s a great opportunity to want to share that with more people.”

The international context of her position allows Norrie to share this passion with a vast audience. Her job originally covered North America, and the opportunity to add the European market came up in the past year, involving plenty of early-morning online meetings to connect with colleagues around the world. Thanks to Alltech’s annual international conference, she has had the opportunity to meet people from around the world, many of whom she now works with.

“I’ve met a lot of the key people from our organization that I needed to work with, and through having those relationships we’ve continued to work together virtually.”

Norrie advises those who want to build their own network to step outside their comfort zone and introduce themselves to industry professionals they admire. “Then stay connected with them because you never know where that might lead.”

While the current lack of in-person events has diminished the opportunity for face-to-face networking, Norrie believes this has opened the doors for more connection through virtual methods. “I think people are way more open to getting an email from someone or a LinkedIn request or a direct message on Twitter,” she says, advising people to ask questions about social media posts on topics that interest them to start a conversation.

She has also drawn on the expertise of mentors throughout her career, starting with the industry connections she made through CAMA. In addition to formal mentorship programs, Norrie is a fan of informal mentorship and has reached out to those she admires for career-related discussions over the years. “I know if I have questions or am looking for advice or just want to bounce ideas off of, they’re people who I know I can call,” she says.

“It’s really open conversation and typically none of us in my mentorship capacity have worked together,” she adds. “You can just talk about different things and broaden your horizons because when we’re working in a specific job or a specific company or a specific region… we might get a little blinded from that larger scope.”

In considering the scope of opportunities now available for women in agriculture, Norrie is thankful for the strides made by previous generations that opened doors for so many. “Even from the time when I was in school and started my career, I see more and more women pursuing careers in agriculture.”

While she recognizes that there are areas of agriculture in which improvement is needed, she’s encouraged by the number of women who are making their mark on the industry. “Our federal ag minister is a woman, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture president is a woman — there are more women in many key roles,” she says.

“I think it’s great to recognize these women that are in these leadership roles , as people are listening and they deserve a seat at the table.”

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