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Some 100 leaders will get the chance to work with four top marketing experts on ways to turn the 2009 sour economy into fresh opportunities at the Jan. 13-15 Leadership Symposium, sponsored by the Produce Marketing Association.

The Dallas event is a good opportunity to "recharge and look at the big picture, which I think a lot of people are ready to do after the year we've had," said Nancy Ferguson, PMA's public relations manager.

"It's very strategic and not skill-focused," she said. The meeting is capped at about 100 attendees "to maintain a really intimate, collegial atmosphere." High-level leaders in the produce industry attend the meeting, and chief executive officers often choose up-and-coming talent from their organization to expose them to new ideas, said Ms. Ferguson.

After a welcome reception Jan. 13, attendees will get an opportunity to participate in forums with four top marketing experts during the course of two days.

On Jan. 14, the symposium will host best-selling author B. Joseph Pine II, co- founder of Strategic Horizons LLP, and co-author of The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre & Every Business a State and Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want. In the afternoon, industry leaders will hear from Seth Kahan, author of Building Beehives: A Handbook for Creating Communities that Generate Returns, who will discuss creative ways to bring people together to create ideas, plans and execute strategies.

Two more speakers will fill out the Jan. 15 agenda: David Nour, a social networking strategist and author of Relationship Economics: Transform Your Most Valuable Business Contacts into Personal & Professional Success, and Mathew Kelly, who focuses on the importance of developing a personal strategic plan.

It is an unusual meeting because it gives attendees a chance to meet in small-group sessions with facilitators and explore how to apply new ideas, Mr. Pine told The Produce News.

He argued that the U.S. economy has undergone a fundamental shift from a manufacturing powerhouse to a service economy and now to an experience economy, one that rewards businesses that stage experiences for consumers. One of the more obvious examples is the rise of theme restaurants, but businesses can also look for a range of experiences to add value to products, he said.

Another trend that Mr. Pine said he plans to discuss next month is consumers' increasing desire for authenticity, a key selling tool for fresh produce. The rise of organic agriculture, heirloom produce and the locally grown movement are examples of the new push for authentic, not artificial, products, he said. While marketing experiences and authenticity cost money, Mr. Pine said that economic recessions mean people are more particular when scrutinizing the value of new purchases.

"They want to spend hard-earned money on experiences," he said. On top of that, economic downturns often accelerate ongoing trends in the economy, not slow them down, he noted.