PERSONALITIES ALL THEIR OWN
AGENCIES DISPLAY DISTINCT CULTURES, EXPERTISE
by Bekah Reddick, Assistant Editor
Editor's Note: Consolidation in the agriculture industry is leading to fewer and fewer opportunities for ag agencies to expand. For this reason, today's agencies must offer their own, unique personalities and skills to attract and maintain clients. The following is a brief look into the ways in which three agriculture agencies have set themselves apart in an increasingly competitive market and have increased revenue over the past year.
One way to describe AdFarm is crazy about farming. The firm considers itself a true ag agency, as 100 percent of its business is generated in the ag sector.
In fact, the agency is so devoted to agriculture that it manages two its own farms - one in Grand Forks, N.D. and another in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. AdFarm employees are given the option of buying stock in the farm operations. Then, these stockholders play an integral part in the major decisions, such as what crops to plant, how to treat the crops and even how to market the commodities.
According to U.S. Director of Client Services, Scott Kurfman, the farms allow AdFarm to stay close to its agricultural roots. It also serves as a teaching tool, showing rather than telling staff members what agriculture is all about.
For instance, Kurfman says he has known from an information standpoint that government payments are a big help to farmers, but the importance of LDPs really came into perspective with the 85-acre soybean farm in North Dakota.
"The farm allows us to focus on the foundation of this agency in order to make it better," says Kurfman. "And we just like to get down on the farm."
Employee litmus Test
Kurfman says the current and future employees must pass a "litmus test" against the agency's most important criterion - a smart marketer with a deep passion for agriculture.
"Our staff come from all parts of North America, have worked on accounts from most every agriculture sector representing various markets, and many were raised on a farm," Kurfman says. "This melting pot of experience gives us a perspective that I feel is very unique to the North American agriculture marketing industry. Also, it is great to work in this type of environment."
AdFarm is not only growing soybeans and canola, but also new partnerships with Canadian agriculture marketing groups. AdFarm and Axia NetMedia Corporation will combine Axia's agriculture marketing communications groups, Fieldstone Marketing and Kahntact Marketing with the AdFarm business.
"This new partnership will further grow our North American presence and the resources we have to offer our clients," says Kurfman.
AdFarm recently took home the Best of NAMA award for the Internet Web Site category for crazyaboutfarming.com, which Kurfman says is the "heart and soul" of the agency.
"Our corporate site, www.adfarmonline.com, offers all of the basic information about our organization. But the Crazy About Farming side is a chance to let our hair down, and it portrays our passion for agriculture," he explains. "We don't just say we are an ag agency, but actually live and breathe it - and we're not ashamed to show it!"
Nearly 10 years ago John G. Charleston and Lyle E. Orwig founded Charleston|Orwig, Inc. with humble beginnings. In a basement with computers supported not by shiny, new ergonomic desks, but doors laid across file cabinets, is where the firm's first three clients were won.
Today, the agency employs 65 people and has a fully equipped office in Hartland, Wis., just 25 minutes from Milwaukee. C|O has risen through the ranks to number eight among the largest Milwaukee-area marketing communications agencies, as compiled by The Business Journal of Milwaukee. And the agency just keeps on growing.
New clients this year include: Pfizer Animal Health's U.S. livestock division; Land O'Lakes Animal Milk Products and Farmland Feed; ARM & HAMMER Animal Nutrition Group; Zinpro Corporation; Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board; World Dairy Expo; and Alcide.
To support this new client roster, C|O has added 28 new employees since January 2001. Among those staff additions is Lee Schmidt, the agency's new vice president/creative director.
Lynn Balinas, executive vice president of C|O, attributes the agency's growth to the quality staff that provides a "better thinking" environment. "We have established a very high standard for the kind of talent we need," says Balinas. "We look for experienced, strategic and pragmatic communicators and, as a result, we're able to provide our clients with sound strategic direction and tangible results."
He credits many of the employees' hands-on knowledge of agriculture for the agency's success. "Our staff includes communications professionals who also have extensive, hands-on knowledge of the industry, including award-winning dairy and crop farmers. Their knowledge and passion sets C|O apart.
"We also have a 'get out and go' practice, which means we travel with our clients' salespeople and attend industry events so that we have an in-depth understanding of the challenges and needs of our clients' customers," says Balinas.
This idea of "better thinking" has extended into the company's advertising campaign, which won the Best of NAMA Advertising to Agribusiness award.
"Ultimately, what we offer a client is confidence - confidence in individual staff members, confidence in the agency, and confidence in our recommendations and results," says Balinas. "We are fond of a saying, 'it's not about big cigars and motorcars, it's about selling our clients' products."
5MetaCom, Indianapolis, has made a name for itself in the past 25 years by working with clients to market technical and regulated agricultural products. Chris Wirthwein, CEO of 5MetaCom defines these as "products where science, engineering or government restrictions play a big role in marketing communications.
"5MetaCom has achieved growth because we have been able to deal with the political and environmental issues facing agriculture by adapting marketing to work with newer restrictions, and by simplifying and communicating the technical advantages of ever-more sophisticated agricultural products," Wirthwein continues.
This doesn't mean that the 5MetaCom message must be technical and complicated, but the foundation of it is based on science and technology. This takes a unique skill to take raw data and communicate it in a way that people understand, says Wirthwein.
Working in a wide array of industries, he notes that these technical skills are very applicable outside of agriculture. "In my perspective, I think agriculture is one the most sophisticated and demanding segments in the world of technical products," says Wirthwein
Today, public affairs and public concern are taking on a heightened importance for agricultural marketers. "Marketers must now be mindful of regulatory and other issues that the average marketer can overlook," says Wirthwein.
He adds that 5MetaCom really benefits by communicating the positive aspects of animal health products to not only the producer, but also the consumer.
For instance, food safety has become a major issue for agriculture marketers. Animal health companies must now frequently communicate to the public how their products can contribute to and ensure food safety as well as how the products respect the environment.
"Most importantly, the products have to be an economic win for the food producer," says Wirthwein. "This is one of the themes we deal with not only in the U.S., but around the world."
5MetaCom also is very involved in international marketing for its clients, which is in itself another technical challenge. According to Wirthwein, the challenge lies in developing the information needed and customizing the message to local cultures around the globe.
"The trick to overcoming the international challenge is to be very clear and concise in your communications," Wirthwein explains. "Certain things like graphics become much more important because they require no translation.
"A positive aspect is that people are people all over the world. You can be in the U.S. and produce communications that make sense to a producer in Latin America or Malaysia," notes Wirthwein. "The same principles of good communication work here as well as outside the U.S.; they are clarity, simplicity, and an explanation of benefits." AM