Making the media work for you

Thanks to social media, there are now more ways than ever to try and connect with consumers. It has proved to be a valuable way to get positive messages about our industry to a wider audience. At this year’s British Pig & Poultry Fair, organised by the RASE and partnered by ABN, there will be a forum session especially for those wanting to harness the power of both traditional and new media

As the leading industry event, the 2014 British Pig & Poultry Fair will be exploring how we can harness the power of the media to grow demand for British pork, poultry and eggs. Charged with tackling this important topic is Malcolm Munro, who’s a partner at Bell Pottinger. A strategic communications specialist with many years’ experience in the media, he spent much of his career in newspapers and television, including time as head of home news at ITN.

Mr Munro has advised companies and organisations around the world on corporate storytelling. He knows the importance of preparation and building a bank of positive stories when times are good, to foster goodwill to draw on when times are more difficult.

He will bring his vast knowledge of how the media works to this year’s fair to help us understand how to communicate with consumers via the media. His presentation, Unlocking the power of the media to grow our businesses, is scheduled for Tuesday, May 13 only, and will be held at 11:30 in the forum theatre.

Mr Munro’s forum is designed to help both producers and the wider allied industry understand how the media can help to positively influence end consumers. Driving demand and building customer loyalty for high-quality British pork, eggs and poultry will help ensure our businesses continue to grow in the years ahead.

The aim is to encourage the whole industry to connect with the consumer audience and tell the positive stories that need to be told to help build a rapport, and showcase that people in the industry care about core principles; authentic, high welfare; and

quality produce.

Mr Munro calls this process “unlocking the power of stories”, suggesting that individuals, large companies and even whole industries sometimes don’t tell their own story as well as they might do.

“Story telling is really powerful, more powerful than just delivering information,” he says. “Most companies, individuals and business are delivering lots of information about what they do, but they don’t often focus on the fundamentals that drive what they do, and why they do it, or bring out the best examples of how they do it well.

“It’s particularly important to think about these things when an industry is not facing difficulty or a current crisis so that when the company is facing a crisis they have already thought ahead and put some goodwill and good news into the bank that can then be drawn on in difficult times.”

Wrong focus
Mr Munro says that sometimes industries become too focused on the problems or issues that they face and not enough on the good things done.

“In the meat industry, for example, you forget that the vast majority of people in this country enjoy eating high-quality, well-produced meat,” he adds. “Of course they care about standards, and rightly so, and the British industry has a good story to tell compared to some of the other markets around the world.

“In concentrating on the issues we forget that the vast majority of people enjoy the product, and want it produced to a high standard. Producers and individual farmers do a great deal to ensure that the best standards are met, and when they occasionally face criticism they forget what a great job they’re doing.

“There are lots and lots of examples of individual producers who’ve gone the extra mile to ensure that they’re operating to the best standard, even if it affects their margins to a degree.”

The name of the game is changing perceptions, and just like turning a super-tanker, this isn’t something you do in one great hit so that suddenly everyone in the industry says it’s wonderful and everything’s fine.

“It’s a process of constant campaigning,” Mr Munro says. “It’s a continual process of correcting misrepresentations, and placing small pieces of positive information into the public domain so that even a negative article contains some balancing points and parts of the other side of the story.

“Journalists like to balance the facts, and don’t forget that the majority of the people reading the newspapers eat meat; quality meat. So we’re not talking to an alien audience, they just want to know the industry cares and is doing its best.”

When it comes to drip feeding this information to the general public, Mr Munro is clear that there are huge opportunities for farmers and the meat sector to get their message across.

“There’s a very large interface between your industry and the consumer,” he says. “It happens at different levels, on the sales side in the supermarket, in butcher shops and so on.

“There’s a huge, ever-increasing demand for TV programmes, radio programmes and column inches in magazines around food, how it’s produced and quality.

“This is the area where the industry should be doing more to tell its story, reaching an audience that enjoys eating good-quality meat. One great example is Jamie Oliver and his impact on school meals etc, but there are many other examples.”

Self belief
The pig and poultry sectors can suffer in consumers’ eyes because they’re considered intensive methods of production, but even here Mr Munro thinks it’s possible to get positive messages out in the media.

“It’s difficult but possible,” he says. “There are many ways that an animal, even indoors, can be kept completely comfortable and content, and an awful lot of effort goes in to that. It’s demonstrating that intensive farming is necessary to provide enough food, but not at the expense of animal welfare. And you can’t just say that without demonstrating it.

“It’s also about belief. You can’t expect people to believe the industry if that industry doesn’t believe itself. The industry needs to remind itself, in all its talks and communications that, it’s a great industry, delivering high standards with high-quality welfare demonstrated through facts and information and through quotes, anecdotes and contributions from leading producers.”

This sort of dialogue with consumers can be very useful in building trust.

“Context is very important, and the more we can set out the better,” Mr Munro says. “For example, you need to explain why and how intensive farms exist and the efforts they make to do their job well. It won’t change everybody’s viewpoint, but at least if they still hold that position, we equip them with a better understanding of the industry they’re talking about.

“It’s the industry’s responsibility not just to rear meat in the best way it can, but to educate and explain to people how the industry operates.”

Of course, social media now presents new ways of commenting on current events and putting forward opinions on stories in the news. And according to Mr Munro, producers should have the confidence to respond to things on social media.

“It’s the way of the world now,” he says. “We’re not just talking about a few 14-year-olds sitting in bedrooms doing it, everyone’s involved in social media now and it’s really, really significant.

“The mainstream media is always looking for case studies, always looking for quotes, sometimes bad ones, and sometimes good ones to balance out the story. They’re well versed in monitoring twitter feeds and looking for quotes, so if some are putting out the bad, then we should be putting out the good.”

For more information on this year’s event visit: www.pigandpoultry.org.uk

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