July 3, 2012
by Joel Crews
Worth Sparkman has spent most of his life in either Oklahoma or Arkansas, working most of the time as a journalist and a writer. During those years of wordsmithing under tight deadlines, he never anticipated that one day he would be on the other side of the desk, managing media relations for one of the most prominent meat and poultry companies in the world. After less than one year on the job, Sparkman has made significant strides in forging new relationships in the media and strengthening established ones. His feet were quickly put to the fire over the past year as plenty of volatile industry issues, ranging from animal welfare controversy to the use of lean finely textured beef, forced him to hit the ground running.
After graduating with a journalism degree from the Univ. of Oklahoma, he took a job as a copywriter for an advertising agency in Arkansas. During that time, several clients were in the poultry business, and Sparkman even spent part of his time proofreading private label chicken bags with the agency. About five years later, he began working at the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal as a reporter and worked his way up to the position of editor during his seven-year tenure.
About one year ago, while still working as an editor, Sparkman heard about a job opening in the public relations department at Tyson Foods, in Springdale, Ark.
After applying for the position, Sparkman sat down with Gary Mickelson, director of public relations, whom he had occasionally spoken with on the phone during his time with the Business Journal. It was an interview he’ll never forget, as it occurred at the Springdale office on Jan. 7, just one day after Don Tyson passed away. The two immediately had a good rapport and Sparkman was hired a short time later.
“I thought maybe there was a skill set that I had from working in the newsroom that I could bring to this position and hopefully help them achieve some of their objectives,” Sparkman says.
Mickelson agrees. “Worth’s background as a business reporter and editor has been invaluable to Tyson Foods’ media relations efforts,” he says. “He’s an excellent writer and photographer and has a steady, professional demeanor that serves him and the company well. We’re proud to have him on our team.”
“My first impression was that this was a real down-to-earth company that was first class with absolutely top-shelf people, management and products,” Sparkman adds. “Everyone understands what this company is trying to do, which is make the best quality food and feed the world.”
He admits now that he thought he knew much more about the industry than he really did, and is still reminded each day of the depth and complexity of the business and regulatory side of a global, multi-billion dollar company. Fortunately, the level of expertise within a company the scale of Tyson is equally deep. “There are a lot of people in this building that have such a rich history of being involved in this industry, which makes my job a lot easier because I can tap those resources,” Sparkman says.