SALEM, Ohio — Agriculture has always been in Mark Inkrott’s blood. One grandfather was a farmer and the other owned a grain elevator in Glandorf, Ohio, where Mark grew up.
He would spend time on the farm and riding in the truck with his father delivering grain, building a set of values and a work ethic that led Inkrott to where he is today.
Inkrott attended college at the University of Findlay where he studied English and psychology while playing football.
“Being a college athlete is like a full-time job, but you are a part of something bigger than yourself with the team,” said Inkrott.
In 2002, he graduated with his bachelor’s degree and was selected by the Carolina Panthers to play tight end. He then went to the New York Giants, and finished his career in Cologne, Germany, playing for NFL Europe.
Inkrott began working for American Dairy Association (ADA) Mideast in 2007 as a project manager. While working full-time, he completed a master’s degree in marketing and leadership from Ohio Dominican University in 2010, then moved to Chicago to work for Dairy Management Incorporated.
At DMI, he worked on strategic partnerships with major dairy partners while also helping to create Fuel Up to 60.
All the while, he kept wondering, “How can I create something within agricultural industry to promote the industry, spotlight the farmer, to increase consumer confidence in agriculture, but do it in a new and innovative way.”
Along came his idea for the UpField Group, which he created in 2014.
UpField Group is a consulting and marketing firm working to connect agriculture and sports. It also focuses on renewable energy.
Inkrott co-owns and operates UpField Group with Chad Ward. Mark and Chad grew up in the same hometown and reconnected in Chicago when Inkrott moved after graduate school. Ward had a career in finance in Chicago before starting UpField Group.
“We always had the idea and respected each other and could complement each other to be good business partners someday, but we didn’t have the idea,” said Inkrott.
UpField Group clients range from NASCAR clients to convention centers, farming groups and agriculture organizations and brands.
“The goal is to be a good listener and be able to anticipate what they need and address the needs,” said Inkrott. “We want to work with like-minded people who see the world as we do.”
The agency’s three main adjectives when creating a marketing plan are being “authentic, relevant and interesting,” said Inkrott.
The discovery process of first listening and engaging in conversation, learning what the goals and objectives are important to UpField Group, and Inkrott said brainstorming is what they do well.
“It comes from experience in both agriculture and sports, having good mentors, bosses, coaches and coworkers over the years,” he said.
They want to connect consumer and sports to agriculture and however they can do that is their “secret sauce,” said Inkrott.
A lot of the work they do is centered around renewable energy and sustainability. Solar Power for Producers is a program that was created to address renewable energy in the dairy industry.
As dairy farmers are continually looking for ways to offset carbon footprint and reduce environmental footprint, solar energy is an option for them.
In 2015, the Illinois Future Energy Job Act created incentives for development and adoption of solar power. In partnership with the Illinois Dairy Producers Association, UpField Group created a program to engage Illinois farmers on benefits and opportunities that surround solar.
UpField Group vetted solar developers to ensure farmers were working with the right programs.
The program, “came at a time when so many farmers were going out of business and milk prices are staggering low,” said Inkrott. “If they would develop 10-20 acres of solar perhaps it would be a way to offset milk prices or add additional revenue to help through difficult times.”
Solar is another way to look a diversifying a dairy farm.
UpField Group also identifies ways for professional stadiums to generate incremental sponsorship opportunities by helping them adopt a food waste initiative. Through partners, stadiums are able to divert food waste from going to landfill.
In doing so, food waste goes to anaerobic digester where renewable energy can be generated and used on a farm.
There are many gaps between agriculture and consumers, and Inkrott said the UpField Group is trying to close the gaps by using sports to connect consumers to agriculture.
One way is through the Farm2Fan program launching this summer at NASCAR tracks and farms throughout the country.
Working with Stewart-Haas Racing, driver Clint Bowyer will be visiting family farms to learn about agriculture and it will be shared to sports fans.
Fuel Up to Play 60 is a program Inkrott has been involved with since the beginning. When he worked for ADA Midwest, he was on the pilot special task force for the program, and it resonated with him on a personal and professional level.
The National Dairy Council was one of the Upfield Group’s first clients and with that came the opportunity to continue to help Fuel Up to Play 60 grow.
Inkrott took some advice from Tom Gallagher, chief executive officer of Dairy Management Inc., and turned it into his business philosophy.
“When looking at a partnership, one plus one needs to equal four, five and six when working with partners. If all you have done is created a one plus one equals two transaction type of relationship between partners, you’ve done it the wrong way.
“And so that’s the lens that I look through when creating marketing strategies and partnerships strategies for our clients. It always goes back to that thinking and that advice if one plus one equals two, we haven’t done it correctly,” said Inkrott.
Each partnership is different, every marketing campaign is different and each has different goals.
“How can we create the most amount of good with the resources we have,” said Inkrott.
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