Good Behavior First, Good PR Second
by JoDee Sattler, Midwest DairyBusiness
Like many Main Street businesses and Fortune 500 companies, some dairy operations are developing and implementing public relations plans. Before this exercise is initiated, however, dairies must act like good neighbors.
“Be sure your own organization is behaving properly,” stated Angie Molkentin, a communications consultant, at the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin annual business conference. “You cannot cover up poor performance with ‘good PR’.”
Writing A Public Relations Plan
Molkentin encouraged dairy producers to prepare a written public relations plan for their dairy operation. In that plan, start by listing potential stakeholders, such as nonfarm neighbors. Then ask, “What do I want this stakeholder to know, think or do differently?” For example, neighbors should know that you care about the environment, your animals and that you operate your dairy according to environmental codes.
Conveying key messages will help your nonfarm neighbors better understand your business and why you manage it the way you do. An example is, “Our family and employees treat animals exceptionally well. These well cared for cows give high quality milk. Producing milk is our livelihood, so it’s in our best interest to make cow comfort a priority.”
List potential partners in your public relations plan. These individuals and groups may include employees, family members, milk marketing company, extension agents and conservation groups.
What are some ways to communicate with nonfarm neighbors? Molkentin offered some ideas:
Send annual holiday cards and letters with a cheese box
Host an annual summer picnic with farm tours
Offer designated land for hunting
Invite your town board to neighborhood gathering
Distribute a letter informing neighbors of waste disposal plans
Announce your accomplishments, such as winning a quality milk award
Molkentin noted that dairies should budget time and money for these activities and projects. She said that simple “good neighbor” acts can be extremely helpful in portraying a positive image for agriculture.
As with most plans, evaluation is important. The communications consultant offered some ideas for evaluating public relations effectiveness. Did town officials receive any complaints about your dairy? Are neighbors will to defend your farming practices?
A public relations plan should also list future issues that may concern the stakeholder. For example, if the dairy is looking at an expansion, keep neighbors informed. Proactive communications do not fuel the rumor mill.
On the Midwest DairyBusiness web site at dairybusiness.com/midwest, Molkentin’s Public Relation Plan outline is posted. Feel free to use this to help develop your dairy’s public relations plan.
Working With Media
Just like you should communicate with your neighbors, accept opportunities to communicate with the media. Even though you know you business and industry very well, prepare for media interviews. Keep in mind that all media are not the same. Their knowledge of dairying will vary -- depending on their background, training and experiences. Trade publication representatives will understand your business and terminology at a higher level than you local newspaper. And the time available to report your message will vary. Newspaper and magazines stories generally go into more detail than radio and television interviews.
Prepare for media interviews:
Keep coming back to your sound bites (simple, short, easy-to-understand messages) during media interviews. Most likely those sound bites will appear if they are repeated often.
“Answer questions, but weave the sound bite into each response,” said Molkentin. Sound bites allow you to become quotable. “Simplify your messages to one to three short sentences that only last 8-20 seconds.”
Molkentin shared an example of one dairy producer who used, “We will be a good neighbor,” as a sound bite. This message came through in the newspaper article and it was used as the story’s subhead, even though the story focused on the dairy’s potentially large scope.
“Support you messages with facts, statistics, experts, analogies and personal experiences,” Molkentin recommended. “Always tell the truth and use positive language.” Instead of saying, “I am not a crook,” say, “I am fine, upstanding citizen.” Also, you want to take control of the interview, rather than responding in a reactive manner.
When a reporter calls, ask:
What is you deadline?
What do you want to talk about?
How much time do you want to spend?
Who else are you interviewing?
Furthermore, Molkentin said to avoid using jargon and acronyms. “SCC doesn’t mean much to most people,” she commented. Speak in terms that people understand, such as high quality milk. “Be sure your messages are pleasing and make sense to your audience.”
Develop phrases that may appeal to the readers or listeners. “Capitalize on the dairy industry’s positive statements,” Molkentin commented. For example, describe your family farm as one that involves the father, two sons and a daughter, as opposed to describing it as a large farm.
Before completing media interviews, offer individuals’ names who may be willing to provide additional information for the reporter’s story. “Make sure these people support your actions,” Molkentin noted. The reporter will appreciate the additional sources and this should help substantiate your message. If you do provide additional names, warn those people that may be contacted.
In addition, Molkentin suggested preparing a fact sheet about your dairy operation. This helps media representatives report accurate figures and use correct terminology. A fact sheet is also a good communications tool to distribute in conjunction with farm tours.
Good neighbor ideas:
Allow snowmobiling and hunting on your land
Snow plow neighbors’ driveways
Host an open house
Alert neighbors of waste hauling plans