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HOYUM LEADS FERTILIZER INDUSTRY BACK TO THE BASICS
Editor's note: Ray Hoyum, vice president of market development and communications for IMC Global, was selected as the 2004 NAMA Marketer of the Year.

Vision. Leadership. Example. Teamwork. These words are used by the colleagues and business associates of Dr. Ray Hoyum, vice president, market development and communications, of IMC Global, Lake Forest, Ill., to describe the man who earned the honor of 2004 NAMA Marketer of the Year.

But while these words can be associated with many events Hoyum has been involved in throughout his career, it is a unique educational marketing effort that has given them their richest meaning.

Hoyum has led a nationwide soil fertility education initiative, called Back-to-Basics, for more than four years. The message behind this unique program is targeted at fertilizer dealers and influentials and helps them teach farmers the importance of fertility management in order to help maximize grower profit potential.

"Ray has never lost the vision that ultimately our goal in the fertilizer business is to help the farmer improve crop production and increase profitability," says Kenneth Hylton, international market development manager for IMC Global. "Ray has an unusual and positive ability to see the larger picture of a project and its potential benefits, without becoming distracted or frustrated by the inevitable obstacles that lie between him and his envisioned goal."

The timing of the Back-to-Basics program corresponded with cutbacks in fertilizer use by many producers in order to save on input costs. Meanwhile, the nation's soil fertility levels suffered, with nearly half of the country's soils testing medium or lower for potassium and phosphorus. This was clearly a critical time for the entire fertilizer industry.

Hoyum set an optimistic tone for the fertilizer industry with a message that made sense and accurately reflected what was happening in the agricultural climate at the time. He served as the spokesman for the Back-to-Basics program to the media, customers and centers of influence.

"I've always viewed Ray's marketing efforts, especially the Back-to-Basics program, as an effective means of putting wheels on the agronomic information developed through our scientific efforts," says Dr. Paul Fixen, senior vice president, North American program coordinator and director of research, Potash and Phosphate Institute (PPI). "He has been a great advocate of sound soil testing programs and other best management practices that lead to improved nutrient management, profitability and environmentally responsible agriculture."

Hoyum revitalized a stagnant fertilizer market when the industry faced both cost and demand challenges. He initiated efforts that communicated the importance of soil fertility and linked that agronomic message to grower and dealer profitability. In addition to providing guidance for a variety of marketing communications efforts, including advertising, direct marketing and face-to-face marketing, he became the key spokesperson for the Back-to-Basics soil fertility message. Trips were made to visit 10 agricultural editors, and Hoyum spoke on WGN radio and appeared on "AgDay Television."

Not only did Hoyum visit with these agricultural editors and broadcasters, he also made a special effort to reach out to key centers of influence - those individuals who help shape the opinions of our nation's growers. By attending meetings held by bankers, farm managers and fertilizer dealers, he helped demonstrate the urgency of this message and signaled that IMC Global was making a long-term commitment to this effort.

Other contacts were made with these audiences via direct mail. Spring and fall mailings highlighted both PPI and IMC materials that could be used to share with growers. Feedback received from reply cards inserted in soil fertility mailings indicated that they were useful to the grower, as response rates ran consistently above 10 percent. Finally, soil fertility news releases placed within rural weekly newspapers brought the message directly to the grower. The result has been literally hundreds of published articles over the past four years.

Under Hoyum's guidance, the company conducted dealer focus groups to get feedback on the Back-to-Basics program itself. These sessions were held to determine how the program was being utilized at the grower level, what elements of the program were most useful, and what areas needed greater emphasis.

Part of Dr. Ray Hoyum's continued educational efforts include visits to IMC's K-MagŪ mine, which is also included on IMC Global's International Fertilizer Management Seminar tours. (Shown here with IMC manager of marketing and advertising Randy Groff [l].)
Early on in the effort, Hoyum realized that timely, on-demand information should be a hallmark of the soil fertility education effort. Under his direction, www.back-to-basics.net, a Web site featuring a wide variety of soil fertility information, was developed. The site is updated weekly using information from PPI, respected university researchers and crop consultants. A key feature of the site is the user's ability to access region-specific data. A consistent effort is made through public relations and direct marketing to encourage visits to the site. Last year the site received more than1 million hits.

"Ray is always looking for new ways to promote our products and services to customers," says Tom Philbin, vice president of marketing for IMC Global. "He constantly searches for better, more effective methods of training and instruction on agronomic fundamentals."

EDUCATION IS KEY

Hoyum stressed from the onset that the program and its message must have a strong educational tone. To reinforce this, he used his teaching background to develop strong relationships with educators, soil scientists, agronomists, county agents and university extension personnel. In addition, he has spoken at numerous state fertilizer meetings and was a key speaker at the 2000 Southwest Fertilizer Conference, the premier national meeting for fertilizer executives. In 2003, Hoyum spoke at the 14th Fertilizer Latin America International Conference and at InfoAg 2003.

"The overall Back-to-Basics initiative simply would not have been possible without Ray's leadership," explains Randy Groff, manager of marketing and advertising, IMC Global. "He mixed industry experience with agronomic knowledge and educational know-how in order to explain an important concept."

The Back-to-Basics program delivered an important educational message to the marketplace, which was a benefit to the entire fertilizer industry. Hoyum helped spread this key message quickly and effectively. The Back-to-Basics program is now in its fifth year, and the message remains viable even today.

"It is especially gratifying that Ray and his team have been able to bring such a high level of recognition to the fertilizer industry," PPI's Fixen notes.

LEADING BY EXAMPLE

Throughout Hoyum's career, he has always shown a strong interest in dealers' and growers' businesses and has found ways to help them succeed and profit. He also played a key role in developing the market for K-MagŪ and Sul-Po-MagŪ in the United States, Southeast Asia, Australia, Latin America, Europe and Africa.

Hoyum also has organized and conducted several three-and-a-half week International Fertilizer Management Seminars. Executives from more than 20 nations who have attended these seminars had the opportunity to observe U.S. agriculture, potash and phosphate mines, distribution and port facilities, and study the U.S. and world fertilizer industries and markets.

"People lead by example, and one of the reasons Ray is such a good leader is that he truly sets the pace," Philbin explains. "He is a hard worker and willing to do whatever it takes to ensure a project's success."

"Ray gives his employees the necessary tools and support to try new ideas and realize their potential," Hylton says. "Ray believes in, and trusts his employees to do the best possible job for the ultimate benefit of the company and our customers."

"Ray truly emphasizes the importance of a team environment, and that encourages everyone to work together for a common objective," Groff says.

Vision, leadership, example and teamwork can be just empty accolades with a variety of different meanings. However, these words really take shape and are clearly defined when one understands IMC's Back-to-Basics initiative and the person that is its leader, Dr. Ray Hoyum, the 2004 NAMA Marketer of the Year. AM

Nancy Maier is a technical writer for Bader Rutter & Associates.


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