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THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
'POLLY PUBLIC' GETS THE 'REAL STORY' ABOUT AG FROM FOOD FORETHOUGHT
I heard a new "label" the other day for consumers. In ag, we hear labels all the time - especially when it comes to the issue of the environment and those outside of ag who always seem to think they know what's best for the ag community. Some of those label names are unprintable.

Susan Allen, co-owner of Northwest Ag Information Network and radio voice for the Food Forethought Foundation
What's the new label I'm talking about? It comes from Susan Allen, co-owner with her husband, Kelly, of the Northwest Ag Information Network, Cashmere, Wash. She was talking about her work as the radio voice for a new organization out of the Pacific Northwest called Food Forethought Foundation, Spokane, Wash. This group is a nonprofit foundation formed in 2001 by the Far West Agribusiness Association with the specific purpose of educating consumers about the U.S. food production system.

Food Forethought educates consumers through 60-second commentaries on 40-plus stations in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Oh, you're still wondering about that new label? Susan labels consumers "Polly Public." That's who the show is trying to reach.

As all of agriculture struggles with low commodity prices, the last thing farmers (or any of us in ag for that matter) need is a constant barrage of negative publicity on such issues as biotechnology, water and air quality, and the myriad of other issues Polly Public has on her mind. Allen says the Northwest is a hotbed for left-wing activist groups. "If the Food Forethought commentary can have an impact here, it will work everywhere," she says. Allen adds that this radio show on ag issues is a nice counter for the people tired of the "Meryl Streeps" of the world getting all the media attention.

The foundation's literature provides a few examples of some recent headlines: "Carcinogens found in French fries," "Study finds potato chips to cause cancer," and "GMO corn environmental threat." We've seen and heard them all before!

Food Forethought Foundation literature points out media exploitation and strives to "set the record straight."
We all know the difficult public relations/public affairs challenges facing ag today. With fewer people in the ag sector and continued harping by those well-intentioned environmental activists trying to save us from ourselves, the positive story about ag keeps getting lost in the consumer audience. Gee, let's start with the cheap food policy in this country as one prime example÷

This show reminds me of a radio show I produced for Ciba-Geigy in the mid-1980s. It was called "The Dual Report on the Future of Agriculture." It was a 60-second show that ran once a week on about 100 stations in the Midwest. Same concept, same format. It found the budget axe, unfortunately, when someone decided it was too hard to prove that the show was helping to sell more Dual herbicide. This is yet another example of the continuing challenge to the effectiveness of public relations.

But this is a new century. And public relations tactics work. Read on to learn more about the concept and its future.

THE SHOW

Scott McKinnie, executive director for Food Forethought Foundation
The Far West Agribusiness Association, headed by executive director Scott McKinnie, created the Food Forethought Foundation and the radio commentary idea during a strategic planning session a couple years ago. Current board president of the association, Dick Camp, who runs Bay Zinc Company, says the association felt ag issues just weren't being communicated effectively to consumers on the West Coast.

"We just needed to be in front of 'Joe Public' in a better way," says Camp. "We were tired of the Bob Woodward wannabes out here who were zinging us with negative news about agriculture."

Camp, the board and McKinnie felt it was time to do a little zinging back, and the association provided the seed money. "Our original concept was two, 60-second commentaries a week, plus a 30-minute show for weekends," McKinnie says. What resulted was a 60-second commentary, three times per week. Allen says some stations would like a commentary five days a week.

The Food Forethought Foundation buys three, 60-second commentaries each week to run on the Northwest Ag Information Network. So far, more than 40 of the 63 stations on the network play the show that Susan's voice delivers. Needless to say, the foundation likes the fact that a woman delivers the show to consumers. It must be something about a woman relating better to all those "Polly Publics" out there.

"We wanted a radio show about modern agriculture," McKinnie explains. "And we didn't want a Northwest focus. This show has possibilities to expand to the Midwest and Southeast and other parts of the country."

WHERE IT CAN GO

No show can survive without financial backing. Recently the Council for Biotechnology Information (CBI) has provided a grant for the radio show. Other supporters include, in alphabetical order: AgInfo.net, Agriliance, Amvac Chemical Corp., Greenacres Plant Food, Husch & Husch Inc., IMC, Monterey Chemical Corp., Potash Crop Sales, Quincy Farm Chemicals, Skagit Farmers Supply, Syngenta, The McGregor Company, Walla Walla Farmers Co-op, Westlink Ag, Wilco Farmers Co-op and Woodburn Fertilizer Inc.

"We've been getting positive feedback from our sponsors," says McKinnie. "We have two other radio networks interested in the show. It's just a matter of creating funding opportunities."

The goal of the foundation is, of course, to be self-supporting. "Our primary motivation in the beginning was to get the show on the air," Camp says. "Now, we have to find ways to get it toward commercialization. We can't just sit here and spend the seed money. That's a good way to quickly close the store. We have to get more people really committed to helping us out."

One step forward in getting the word out on the foundation, McKinnie says, will be reproducing the commentaries in column format and sending them to newspapers in the Northwest. "We're hoping the newspapers will pick up the commentaries. It's a low-cost, PR method of getting more information out there - just another little twist."

Another tactic used by the foundation was purchasing space in an Oregon magazine called Brainstorm Northwest. The magazine circulates in the waiting rooms of doctors, lawyers, accounting firms and others. "This is just the type of audience we need to reach," McKinnie says. "We know one ad won't really do anything, but we're looking at this as another way to get a consistent message out to consumers about food and agriculture in a positive way."

SHOW ME THE MONEY

But nothing is successful without money. Camp relates the story of bank robber Willie Sutton, who looked incredulously at a reporter when asked why he robbed banks. His response: "That's where the money was."

"Nothing happens without proper funding," Camps says. "We've got to sell it ourselves. It's a great product."

Many have asked McKinnie why this project started in the Pacific Northwest when it's a national issue for those in agriculture. "We're doing it because nobody else is," he says. "We created the mechanism to get it started in the Pacific Northwest. Now we're gonna go out and try it."

The foundation exhibited at the NAMA meeting in April and may exhibit at the Ag Publications Summit in Cleveland in July. "There are many PR agencies and magazine editors who need to know about this program. We can deliver for them in very short order. We hope they see this is something to fight for!"

Visit the foundation's Web site at www.fwaa.org. Click on the Food Forethought logo at the top of the page. AM

Den Gardner owns Gardner & Gardner Communications, New Prague, Minn.


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