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VIRTUAL EVENTS
NAFB ADDS NEW DIMENSION TO COMMUNICATION CAPABILITIES
Can’t make that press conference in Peoria? New product announcement conflict with your morning broadcast? Trying to reach more of your membership with educational information or communicate a complex topic to your sales reps off-site? Most agrimarketers and communicators have probably faced one of these frustrating scenarios.

But just as the Internet provides a new dimension to personal communications and information access, it now also offers a way for agrimarketers to host virtual events with their clients, coworkers or the media. The National Association of Farm Broadcasters (NAFB) has a new service available via the Internet for its members, as well as for companies, agencies and associations known as National Farm Broadcast Service (NFBS) On-Line Event Broadcasting.

"With shrinking dollars and resources in agriculture, this is a new way to effectively and economically reach people," says Randy Rasmussen, NFBS manager. "With the Internet’s capabilities and the technology this service provides, we can take a shotgun or rifle shot approach in how we communicate. It’s not unlike farm radio, where we use an immediate medium to encourage people that are listening to form opinions or take actions."

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION

NFBS On-Line Event Broadcasting was developed about 18 months ago and has been used for such diverse events as live news conferences for farm broadcasters, company product announcements and producer education. Intended audiences for the audio and/or video broadcasts need only be online with their computers to access events.

On-Line Broadcasting has two broad capabilities. It can occur over the Internet in real time through an NFBS subcontractor that streams the audio and/or video as the event occurs, or events can be archived for access at a later time through a Web site link. NFBS’ production facilities and infrastructure can support 20 to 10,000 viewers of an actual event, while archived events can be viewed by anyone through a Web site link on a company or association Web site, or set up through a Web site link for limited access with an I.D. and password.

Rasmussen says that the technology allows visitors to a particular Web site to hear or view the event from that site while the presentation actually runs "invisibly" from the NFBS Web site in the background. NFBS’ capabilities range from posting presentations made during conventions to live, high-end training applications that incorporate animation and modeling.

"The first live program we ran was the American Soybean Association’s (ASA) announcement from the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., last year which stated that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had approved a health claim for foods containing soy protein," says Rasmussen. "There were a dozen reporters on hand in Washington for the program and another 150 reporters listening on-line. That allowed ASA to broaden the scope of their press coverage."

In addition, the FDA announcement was archived on ASA’s Web site so that other reporters and ASA’s international staff could click on the link at a later time and have the program available for immediate replay.

"For farm broadcasters, using On-Line Event Broadcasting for a press conference, gives them better line quality than a teleconference does, as well as the opportunity to participate in the event with questions," Rasmussen says. Similarly, last fall, several NAFB members participated in a White House news conference where President Clinton was interviewed on site in Arkansas by three broadcasters. NFBS took the feed live.

In other instances, NAFB members can be on-line during an event and place questions in an e-mail box. "With a mailbox, we can ask for a log-in I.D. and a password so we know who is there. We can also monitor how many requests are made for an online feed and how long they stay on-line," says Rasmussen. "In addition, members who miss a live opportunity to go online for a news conference can pick it up later. We reach more people."

CONVENIENT COVERAGE

Feeding audio back to farm broadcasters from events provides more national-events coverage opportunities, says Rasmussen. "We interviewed farmer-leaders from Commodity Classic right before the convention began and sent that back to NAFB members who were not able to attend the event," he says. "We have found this is a nice complement to the regular NFBS broadcast service offered to NAFB members through DTN."

American Cyanamid also made use of On-Line Event Broadcasting during Commodity Classic. American Cyanamid’s agency, Miller Meester Advertising, Inc., Minneapolis, Minn., organized a press conference during the convention to introduce two new soybean herbicides, Backdraft and Extreme. The press conference was held with media at the convention. American Cyanamid staff on site mediated the event while another American Cyanamid source was hooked in via a satellite link from a retail site in Iowa.

"At the time, American Cyanamid reps in the Midwest were meeting with soybean producers at local retail locations to talk about Extreme," says Greg Leaf, president of Miller Meester. "As part of that activity, American Cyanamid’s purple-painted, ‘Extreme Machine’ spray rig was on a whistle stop tour through the Midwest. With NFBS’ help, we were able to bring this live satellite feed to NAFB members not able to attend our press event at Commodity Classic. The event went off without a hitch and the press conference is still available on the www.extremecontrol.com Web site."

On-Line Event Broadcasting is limited only by the imagination, Rasmussen adds. "You can do a high-end program or an economical program, from posting a video for hundreds of dollars to doing a live broadcast for $10,000 or more," he explains. "When you compare that to the cost of flying people in overnight for a meeting, it’s much less. You also end up with a product that has a bigger shelf life, a potentially broader audience and the chance to stay ahead of the technology game with clients."

OUTREACH OPPORTUNITIES

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) used On-Line Event Broadcasting during their 2000 convention in Phoenix. "We wanted to broaden access to our annual meeting," says Lynn Heinze, executive director, industry communications for the Denver-based group. "We generally have 5,000-7,000 people attend our convention, but we have 250,000 NCBA and affiliate members. This was a way for us to try and reach more of our membership with information."

During the convention, NCBA had three, one-hour sessions on domestic marketing, foreign marketing and research taped by an NCBA film crew. Film and PowerPoint presentations of the events were sent to NFBS’ serving company for audio and video streaming and were subsequently posted on NCBA’s Web site, www.beef.org, for anyone to access. Each program was posted both as an audio and PowerPoint presentation for access at a 28K Internet connection and with audio and video for a 56K connection.

"We have had several visitors to the site, but not as many as we had hoped," says Heinze. "But at this time, only 20 percent of beef producers are using the Internet and most of them do not have the faster access capabilities. It may be that they did not want to take the steps necessary to download the player so they could view the presentations. We tried the service because it is a way for us to stay on top of using the Internet."

Heinze recommends agrimarketers that use On-Line Event Broadcasting consider short archived programs. "If you do a live segment online and you interact, then an hour may be OK," he says. "But for our archived programs, we think a 10-15 minute length would have been less overwhelming."

Rasmussen encourages those that use the service to step up publicity efforts before and after events to help drive traffic to the Web site. "Everyone is still learning how best to publicize their On-Line Event Broadcasting, and we recommend using public relations tactics to get messages out (about the availability of the event)," he says.

Both Heinze and Leaf agree On-Line Event Broadcasting provides another tool in the toolbox for reaching members and the media. "The technology is solid and we will use it to reach broadcasters in the future," says Leaf. "This technology does not replace existing technology or PR efforts, it enhances the tools we already use, like the NFBS service through DTN. There will always be a need for one-on-one interviews, field days and other events to target media when you have something to say."

On-Line Event Broadcasting will venture into new territories later this year. Rasmussen says they’ll try virtual field day tours for producers pinched for time, as well as try taking a feed for broadcasters from a satellite phone during an international trade mission.

Editors Note: To learn more about NFBS On-Line Event Broadcasting, contact Randy Rasmussen at 402/375-2250 or visit the Web site, www.nfbsnet.com. AM

 

Barb Baylor Anderson is a freelance writer from Edwardsville, Ill., who covers a wide variety of ag issues.


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