STATIONS TOUT ON-AIR TALENT CREDIBILITY TO ATTRACT AN AUDIENCE AND ADVERTISERS
Debbie Coakley, Contributing Editor
With so much in the agricultural industry changing all around them, farmers continue to turn to people they can count on - their favorite farm broadcasters. Whether they're reporting the news on the radio, anchoring an agricultural television program or hosting a talk show, these on-air personalities keep listeners and viewers coming back for more.
What makes farm broadcasters so inviting to producers and appealing to marketers who advertise during their shows?
"They are in tune to customer needs and concerns," says Tom Strachota about two of agriculture's most well-known and respected broadcasters - Orion Samuelson and Max Armstrong.
"That reflects very well on WGN's radio programming," explains Strachota, chief executive officer of Dairyland Seed Co. "We certainly benefit from their credibility when we advertise on their station."
In this article, broadcasters, station sales managers, marketers and farmers explain how broadcaster personalities, credibility and knowledge play a major role in building a relationship with an audience, as well as selling advertising space on ag radio and TV programs.
Tribune Entertainment Co. leverages Orion Samuelson's and Max Armstrong's personalities in multiple media - TV and radio. "People know and recognize us," Samuelson says. "The exposure on television enhances what we do on radio, and vice versa."
Having two well-known and respected broadcasters is an unusual asset for the company, which helps Samuelson and Armstrong keep up with what's current in the agricultural industry. "By having a two-man team, one can be in the office and the other can be out in the field with farmers, getting a first-hand look at what producers are facing while building relationships," says John Beebe, agricultural sales manager for WGN Radio and the Tribune Radio Networks.
These relationships are extremely important for WGN and U.S. Farm Report, as each considers the audience a vital part of their family. U.S. Farm Report, a one-hour weekly agricultural business TV program, offers comprehensive news, weather and commodity market information. The 25-year-old program boasts 2.4 million viewers per week.
"Covering agricultural news for the American farmer is an issue of trust and confidence," says Mike Adinamis, vice president of broadcast operations for the Tribune Entertainment Co., and executive producer of U.S. Farm Report.
"Orion Samuelson and Max Armstrong instill confidence in people because of their serious style of credible journalism," Adinamis notes.
To win trust, the two journalists go where the people are. "We get involved in speaking at farm meetings and conventions and maintain a rapport and contact with viewers," Samuelson says.
For instance, Armstrong recently shook hands with 150 farmers for three hours at the Rantoul, Ill., farm show. And, he rides combines each fall with farmers in the WGN listening area. "I spend an hour or so off the air just talking with them about local football, land values and other things," he says. "When it's just the two of you, it helps establish a family-type relationship.
"People are always saying to me, 'You're like family,'" says Armstrong. "We share our lives with the audience. We build relationships with the audience over the air as well as by being extremely visible to farmers."
Samuelson considers himself an objective news reporter as well as a cheerleader for agriculture - an approach that appeals to listeners. "If I add an editorial comment to a news story, I always address it as such," says Samuelson.
How does the approach Samuelson and Armstrong take translate into ad sales for WGN and U.S. Farm Report? Despite huge audience numbers, both Beebe and Adinamis seem to prefer emphasizing the more intangible elements of marketing with clients.
"I talk about the importance of the farm broadcaster who provides credibility, consistency and an emotional link to the producer," Beebe says. "That can be a powerful solution to the challenge of making distant, impersonal corporations a closer part of the farmerís everyday life." Ag Media Research ranks them as the number one farm broadcasting team in the nation, he notes.
Beebe adds that some WGN advertisers request that the broadcasters read their spots on the air.
"We don't have a problem with their reading commercials, but we donít do first-person endorsements. Plus, Orion and Max have voice exclusivity for some long-term clients."
"Advertisers are looking for the proper environment," Adinamis explains. "Orion and Max give them that environment."
For Dairyland Seed, advertising on WGN has helped raise awareness of the company and its products. "We started slowly, but are spending more because it's working," Strachota says. "Orion and Max have a high level of credibility not due just to their on-air presence, but also because they take the time to mix with customers in the countryside."
Archer Daniels Midland finds U.S. Farm Report an ideal environment in which to advertise. "Orion Samuelson is probably the most respected individual in the private sector of agriculture," says Marty Andreas, ADM senior vice president. "I like being teamed up with someone with that type of credibility."
Philip Nelson, a grain and livestock farmer from Seneca, Ill., has been a WGN listener almost all his life. "I feel like I'm part of the WGN family," he says. "Max and Orion represent farmers well in telling our side of the story. They are an integral part of helping us keep abreast of current issues and provide timely market information that is valuable to our farming operation."
TALK OF THE TOWN
Staying objective, but calling people on it if their facts aren't correct, makes Ken Root a valuable and appealing host for AgriTalk, a one-hour live ag radio talk show that airs weekdays on 120 stations in 24 states.
He treats guests and callers with respect but will challenge someone who doesn't have the facts in order," says Mike Rogers, national sales manager for Doane Broadcasting. "And the audience expects him to do that."
Rogers calls Root a "personality" as opposed to a newscaster or broadcaster. "Ken is a communicator," Rogers explains. "A lot of people can read the news, but Ken can deal with situations. It takes talent and knowledge to do that."
Root says he approaches his job with a lifelong agricultural knowledge from his experiences on a farm and in a small town. "I'm big on dealing with events in people's past that cause them to have a certain reaction in the present," he notes. "Coming from an agrarian heritage, I have certain things I revere and certain things I dislike. I let all of that come through. I don't act like I'm an authority. I just say what I feel."
He says he gets to the root of the problem - what really causes people to have a particular reaction to an event. This rings true whether the topic of the day is genetically enhanced seed, a discussion with a seed corn company about its role in dealing with consumer reaction, talking with presidential candidates about farm policy or interviewing a guest who is dyslexic.
"We present all sides of an issue; propaganda doesn't hold up well on AgriTalk," Root points out. "When we're talking about GMOs, we talk with representatives from Greenpeace, as well as farmers growing the crops in question."
AgriTalk listeners fall into two groups - those who like Root a lot and those who don't like him at all. "The greatest enemy to a talk show is people who donít care either way," Root says. "In talk radio, it's difficult to stay on the fence. I attempt to cause people to go one way or another.
"If someone thinks I'm not right, they tell me," he continues.
They tell him not only on the air, but also during his 40 remote broadcasts a year and speaking engagements at many large agricultural events.
"He constantly stays in touch with the audience via the phone or in the field," Rogers says.
Root's credibility, knowledge and honesty make it easy for Rogers to talk to marketers about advertising on the show. "They know we're not branded with an agenda," he says.
Advertisers who are guests on the show should expect to be fair game. "I call it like it is, and companies respect that," Root says. "We aim to be objective and not play press release rollover."
Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. is one of AgriTalk's founding sponsors and runs spots daily on the show because of its broad-based reach of producers and the loyal listeners Root attracts. "His extensive agricultural knowledge allows him to cover a wide range of topics with a credibility that producers respect," says Bob Brunker, vice president/media director for McCormick Advertising Agency. "He adds humor and personal experience to the discussions, which make the shows more enjoyable."
ALL IN A DAY'S WORK
For AgDay Television, the goal is to promote Al Pell equally with the program. "In the news world, we have to have a balance between content and personality," says Larry Leese, senior vice president of sales and distribution. "Al is a recognized, credible personality who ties the content together and presents it in an environment that is appealing to, and digestible by, viewers."
Part of that appeal stems from Pell's balanced interviews on the show. "He cannot always represent the interests of the crop protection and seed industries, for instance," Leese says. "He doesn't sell the party line to viewers because then they'd perceive we were nothing more than a mouthpiece for the companies. Advertisers understand our need to represent the interests of our viewers."
The program focuses on issues such as property rights and the environment that tie farm life and ranching with rural living. "My job is to understand and present both sides," Pell says. "And I can relate to them first-hand. While I live in Indianapolis, I am still a beef and grain farmer."
AgDay is a daily one-half hour agrinews information, weather and feature show syndicated in 39 states on more than 150 stations. The show reaches 250,000 households a day and draws a mix of farmers and agribusiness people as well as nonproducers. "We need to be meaningful and relevant to the farm audience, but not at the expense that the show is unwatchable by the nonfarm audience," Leese says. "Regardless of the focus of AgDay, it still has to be good television first."
While Pell is highly identifiable with the program and almost always anchors the show, he does not isolate himself in the studio. "His credibility is sustained by his being at association conventions and industry events," Leese says. "If he's in Cedar Rapids covering an event, it's important for him to be back in the studio to be on camera. Farmers expect to see him in the anchor's chair."
To stay in touch with the audience, Pell has breakfast meetings from time to time in local viewer-ship areas. "I enjoy meeting people one on one," Pell says. "I use these opportunities to get feedback from them and tailor the way I present the news."
Leese points out that during industry meetings when advertisers see how approachable and warm Pell is, they respond positively. "They know they're associated with a person who is well-liked and respected," Leese says. "Al can sit down in a boardroom with an executive of a worldwide corporation and be as comfortable as he is standing in a field with a group of producers. People feel comfortable with him."
Pell's positive attitude is appealing for advertiser New Holland North America Inc. "Al represents agriculture well," Media Services Manager Jean Custer says. "He appeals to farmers and never talks down to them."
Harold Weber of Cross Plains, Wis., relies on AgDay for information about farm conditions and prices. "It is a pleasant show to watch, and Al always has a big smile that is contagious." AM
Debbie Coakley is a freelance writer based in Warrenville, Ill.