The IPCPR’s new executive director aims to define the premium tobacco industry
By Greg Girard
It was early May, and Scott Pearce was at the Tobacconists’ Association of America’s annual conference in the Dominican Republic. Stressful? Probably a little, as anyone would be at their first real introduction to an industry while absorbing their responsibilities as the new executive director of the IPCPR. But that didn’t stop him from taking a moment to enjoy the beginning of a new chapter in his life.
“For the first couple of days, I said I felt like a kid a Comic-Con because I was seeing all these great cigar makers who I read about and smoked their cigars,” Pearce says. “I remember smoking a cigar during the mini trade show day out in the foyer, and I texted my wife saying, ‘I know this isn’t going to mean as much to you as it does to me, but it’s surreal I’m smoking my cigar next to Pepin Garcia.’”
Growing up in Salt Lake City, Pearce decided to go east for college, graduating from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, with a degree in English and electronic journalism. From there, he quickly moved into nonprofit management, working for an international road federation on their safety programs. When a marketing director position opened at the American College of Radiology, Pearce jumped at the opportunity, seeing it as a position that would allow him to concentrate on the issue he saw as essential to any organization: marketing.
“I went from an office of four or five employees to an office of 450 employees with a marketing department alone of 20 people,” he says. “There were new challenges, of course, but it was great because it gave me a lot of experience understanding the vast array of marketing, market research analysis, digital marketing and understanding marketing’s role in driving innovation—and also the use of marketing to develop greater value for customers and members.”
Indeed, it was Pearce’s marketing background that drew the IPCPR search committee to him. “He has a great attitude toward transparency and team building,” says Ken Neumann, president of the IPCPR. “I believe he brings a skillset to our offices that complement our already talented staff. Scott already has a love for our products and knowledge on running a small organization. I believe he will help [the] IPCPR be more of the voice for retailers both large and small.”
Pearce sees his skills as that voice, the narrative component to our industry that he’s adamant should be told again and again. “We, as an association, are kind of at a crossroads,” he says. “We’ve got a great legislative team. We’ve got a really strong trade show team. So what we need is someone that can corral all that and someone that can market us, tell our story, and help us understand how marketing is going to drive the association forward.”
“Ultimately, our goal is to make sure premium cigars, pipes and pipe tobacco are being sold at the greatest rates possible to all adults that want to access them.”
He has no illusions, clearly understanding he has a challenge on his hands—the “long game,” as he says. “It’s going to take time to establish relationships with the right people so they understand what exactly this industry is all about and what premium cigars and pipe tobacco really are.”
He cites an example from a legislative meeting IPCPR attended just a few days into his new position: “The gentleman brought up a ‘grape flavored cigarillo’ that will somehow be a gateway to smoking 400 cigars a week, which as we know is absolutely not true. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.”
Pearce believes it’s about telling the stories of the industry—from the numerous mom-and-pop tobacconist shops across the country and businesses handed down for generations to the factories around the world creating the cigars. “This is a family-centric industry,” he says. “It’s a real small-business feel, [and] creating the product really is artisan. It’s so much like how fine wine or scotch is produced. It’s dependent upon the year; it’s dependent upon the weather. Those are the stories that need to be continually told.”
Defining the industry is one goal; the other, he says, is continuing the IPCPR’s efforts to add membership value to the organization—principles he’s been studying and developing since earning his MBA at Temple University.
“I’ve always been interested in how you consistently drive value. I was going through business school, studying all these cases, and it lit this passion in me to research and study various ways of innovation that create those values,” he says. “So being able to be an executive director of a smaller, nimble organization presents a wonderful opportunity. That’s exciting to me. It’s exciting to be able to be involved at this juncture. There’s no limit to where we can go, notwithstanding regulations, but really, let’s go to some new levels here and find new ways to be able to do things.”
Pearce recognizes that it’s a delicate balance, and he quickly notes that he’s not there to change everything. Instead, he says his philosophy is more in line with successful companies in the business world that go through iterations of testing and refining ideas to see if they have market viability. He feels the same strategy can be applied in the nonprofit sector. “Ultimately, our goal is to make sure premium cigars, pipes and pipe tobacco are being sold at the greatest rates possible to all adults that want to access them,” he says.
Short on specifics at this early stage in his tenure, but with an abundance of energy, Pearce sees his first task to achieving these goals is prioritizing the organization’s initiatives. “I see where we could do this and this and this, and it’s really energizing when those ideas flow, but we’ll need to decide and hone in on those three big things we want to move forward with,” he says. “That will be the biggest immediate challenge. That’s not a terribly tough challenge, but I think it needs to be the first one.”
Fluent in French, proficient in Spanish—“enough to be dangerous, at least”—and can understand Portuguese and Italian, when Pearce isn’t fighting for the rights of the premium tobacco industry, you can find him in the kitchen (he has a culinary certificate) or watching and playing hockey with his family. If you see him, offer your congratulations, as his Washington Capitals just won their first Stanley Cup.