Sara Gramling has been leading PR and partnerships at Magnolia Bakery for an almost unheard of 11 years. At one of the many Jacob’s Pickles locations, I sat down Magnolia Bakery’s vp of Public Relations in the West Village of NYC to talk about its newest partnership. My conversation with her felt as warm and homey as the rustic southern restaurant we were sitting in.
Adweek: You’ve been with Magnolia Bakery for 11 years as the vp of Public Relations, which also includes partnerships. Tell me a little about that and what you’re leading now.
Gramling: Magnolia has evolved so much since I started. I remember going to Magnolia when I went to NYU for school. I would stop by to get banana pudding and cupcakes on the way to a party. When I first started, we had four stores and were just starting to open new locations and franchises overseas. We weren’t shipping anything at that point. Cupcakes were really “the” dessert at the time, and we’ve evolved so much as a company in so many ways. Since then, we’ve worked with the Rockettes, different TV shows, movies, and different institutions throughout the city. But I think what’s exciting for me in my career today is, now we’re looking out and we’re saying, how can we bring our product to new people?
That’s so interesting. You rarely hear of people who work in PR and marketing being in their position for as long as you have!
It’s true and I came from an agency background. I think it gave me a tremendous education in the field and a lot of different experiences. I worked with bigger brands like eBay, Target, Netflix and Skype. I saw the inner workings of a business, especially in high growth periods and launching new things and driving to that next goal. I was fortunate that I was able to transition in house so there are many different things that I can be a part of. That’s one of the main reasons why I’ve stayed as it’s always given me new opportunities.
Are you a native New Yorker?
I’m not. I’m from Connecticut originally, but I feel like a native New Yorker!
What are the other partnerships Magnolia has lined up this summer?
We have our first phone case launching with Casely which is an iPhone case designed based on our new branding. It’s a beautiful confetti pattern. I love their mission of donating a portion of the proceeds to the Trevor Project throughout June. We’re also working with Stan’s Donuts in Chicago. They’re going to have a banana pudding donut, but it’s inspired by banana pudding. It’s a vanilla base with crushed vanilla wafers and banana with a creme brulee topping available starting June 29. We’re really leaning into our neighborhoods. New York is our hometown, and we’re going to have a limited-edition banana pudding beer with Six Point Brewery launching on Saturday, July 16.
There are so many elements of the brand that I love, and it’s always so inspiring to see how other people interpret that and sort of what they come out of it with in a way that makes sense for both of us. We want to make sure there’s a nice relationship building here and bringing the two brands together.
Magnolia Bakery is in a hyper-growth mode right now. I’m sure you’re getting pitched partnerships left and right. So how does your team decide exactly who you’re going to partner with?
One of the things we’re looking at is different verticals. This is a new area for us and there are so many untapped opportunities, but we do want to be thoughtful about not going back into that same pool time and time again. You always step back and think about what our goal is out of the partnership. We can make an amazing product, but we must identify what our goals are around. And the big one for us is reaching new people, getting in front of new audiences that are really into beer, for example. We’re always looking for ways that are unexpected. You probably would think we’ll do bakeware or a product that ties so specifically to baking, but we’re trying to push ourselves to think what’s a crazy wild way that you can have a Magnolia bakery experience?
Since you’re growing substantially, what does your team look like at Magnolia Bakery?
We’re constantly expanding and building out the team. One of our goals is to really find people who excel in their specific areas so that as a team together, we’re collectively working towards a common goal of building out these projects. We’re adding a marketing analytics person who is starting in a couple of weeks and expanding on the supply chain side but we’re being thoughtful about the team members that we need in order to sustain this growth and meet our goals.
We’re at Jacob’s Pickles right now for your newest partnership and I can tell your team has strategically picked people who are local to the area and or are food influencers. How was that invite list curated?
Ariana, our digital lead, has done a fantastic job of identifying new audiences. This one is two big food brands coming together to make this crazy dish food make sense. For Mother’s Day, we found some moms who we wanted to send some product to and it was more like, here’s a little something for you. They made the sweetest videos, and they got super pumped and promoted across their channels.
We don’t have to put parameters and say, it must be someone with this number of followers or this type of engagement. We want people who love and want to talk about the brand which can look different for different things. It’s really changed how we influence your relationship with the brand.
And it just feels good to maybe send a gift to someone who wouldn’t expect it.
Everyone wins, right? Influencers are getting gifted constantly. It’s almost like they expect it at that point but someone who’s just a fan of the brand would never expect to get a gift like that and they’re so excited about it. Plus, you get to make genuine content, which you don’t always have that experience to be able to do.
I know you talked about it earlier, but can you tell me a little bit about this collaboration between Magnolia Bakery and Jacob’s Pickles? Specifically, about this dish, we have in front of us?
Chef David here is fantastic. We basically told Jacob’s Pickles to have fun with it and see what makes sense. This is what we tell every partner, your product and audience, you tell us what works. So, this is fried chicken and pancakes, which is a staple of Jacob’s menu. They are layered in banana pudding, crispy bacon, candied pecans and maple syrup. Together, we feel like this is like the brunch dish of the summer. All the flavors are rich and it’s delicious.