We all recognize the importance of having financial and operational plans to meet our farming goals, but having a well thought out public relations plan in place can also positively impact the bottom line.
Part of good risk management on the farm is being proactive in dealing with your neighbors, the press and in telling your story about your operation.
If you're completing an expansion of your farm, especially in terms of a livestock or poultry building, tell your story. When farmers expand their operations it has significant economic impact in the community.
If a new hairdresser opens up a shop on your hometown's main street, most likely the new business will have a ribbon-cutting ceremony. We should, too. This gives the opportunity to tell your story and point out the positive aspects of your operation.
Another good idea several of our clients have implemented is developing a paper bound description of their operation, with pictures, describing family members, hired help, equipment, results and goals. They provide it to potential landlords who may have land to rent in the future.
This is a great public relations strategy and in a number of cases the reaction has been, “I didn't know you were interested in renting additional land.” Or, “We had no idea this is what you're doing and want to accomplish.” This strategy has resulted in getting our clients additional rental land.
We developed a public relations plan for our hog operation and it has had a very positive impact, so I know it's worth the time and effort. I would be glad to share our plan with you. Simply use the contact information at the end of this column to request a copy.
Public relations plans also need to include reactive plans that are thought through and written down for when things go wrong.
A reactive plan can include a disaster recovery program for incidents such as anhydrous leaks, chemical spills, equipment accidents with motorists, manure spills, fire, theft, flood, tornado or other natural disasters.
First, your local authorities, like FEMA or Red Cross, have a good list to start from in helping develop your plan. Then, proceed by thinking through each potential situation and designate who will do what and when.
You should assign someone to call the local media, including the local paper, radio and TV station. That should be the person who is interviewed and responds to media inquiries.
The accompanying sidebar has guidelines and tips to follow that have helped me.
Many people want to avoid getting the media involved, but in certain instances, like an anhydrous leak, it could save lives. It's often viewed as a positive factor for you because it proves you have nothing to hide. Accidents happen and, more importantly, it gives you a chance to describe what you're doing to mitigate the problem and correct it.
I've had many experiences dealing with the press and I've learned to be honest, straightforward, brief and positive.
One of the best handled ‘mess ups’ in America was by one of my heroes, Lee Iacocca. In the 1980s Chrysler was accused of disconnecting odometers on cars driven by executives, then selling them as new cars.
When approached by the media, Iacocca could have denied it, said other auto manufactures do it, or made other excuses. Instead, he admitted it was being done, it was wrong, and outlined what Chrysler was doing to correct the problem.
As I recall, the public relations damage was minimal and I think it was mitigated by how he handled it.
Twenty-five years ago I went through training on interview techniques for the media, provided by Media Masters, a company in St. Louis, MO.
Since then, I've carried a “Points to Remember” card with me in my planner that has been helpful.
Remember, under stress, what is normally wet gets dry … and what is normally dry gets wet.
Remember themes and positive points.
Don't be defensive.
Stay calm in the face of tough questions.
Keep answers short.
Use first names.
Keep good eye contact.
Never say “no comment.”
Never make “off-the-record” comments.
Moe Russell is president of Russell Consulting Group, Panora, IA. Russell provides risk management advice to clients in 20 states. For more risk management tips, check his Web site (www.russellconsultinggroup.net) or call toll-free 877-333-6135.