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I got a call from a telemarketer this week (what a surprise) selling magazines and more for a great deal. He was really into packaging. Did you know that if I bought Sports Illustrated (SI) magazine at a ridiculously low price, I'd also get a shot at being a guest host on ESPN's Baseball Tonight, a date with a model in the February SI swimsuit edition, discounted tickets to the World Championship Three-Wheeler Rodeo and a belt buckle autographed by John Wayne?

I might be kidding about some of the packaged items but packaging holds a lot of appeal in agriculture today. With the industry reeling from low commodity prices, agribusinesses are looking for innovative ways to meet marketing communications needs by forming partnerships. Some are taking extra steps to find unique ways to package many elements of a marketing plan.

This is the case with Valentine-Radford (V-R) Advertising, Kansas City, Mo.; its client, Bayer Crop Protection, also in Kansas City; and Doane Agricultural Services Co., St. Louis/Kansas City, Mo.


"About 1 1/2 years ago we started to go through our yearly competitive reviews," says Geoff Pickering, media supervisor at V-R for Bayer. "We noticed some trends about our competition, the spending levels and share of voice in the market. We had some new products for the Northern row-crop market and knew we didn't have the presence or the big budgets that competitors like Monsanto, Novartis, Zeneca and others had. We wanted to create a perception in the market - through some type of strategic alliance - that we were larger than reality, in addition to maximizing our budget in the most efficient way."

Although Bayer wasn't quite ready to work out a deal with SI, it was open to finding a media partner that could offer a multitude of products and audiences for its messages. With such new products as Axiom herbicide and Aztec insecticide for corn, and Domain for soybeans, Bayer is now stepping beyond its niche in the specialty markets and cotton worldwide.

"From a media perspective, we focused on four things," Pickering continues. "We wanted to be more accountable with our advertising buys, with return on investment our new battle cry; be more demanding in our efforts at efficiency; be more creative in our advertising messages; and shift more advertising paradigms. In fact, I like to say we wanted to think so far outside the box that we put ourselves in another box."

Meanwhile, Don Simonet, vice president of marketing for Bayer, says his company looks for strategic alliances in all of its business efforts. "We look for those traditional alliances with our chemical company partners, but also with end-users," he says. "It goes far beyond the growers - to farm managers, crop consultants, ag retailers and others. We keep that same partnership philosophy in place when it comes to working with the print and broadcast media."


While V-R and Bayer were considering strategies to create as much impact with as many key audiences as possible, Don Schultz and Mike Rogers of Doane Broadcasting in Kansas City were creating exclusive packages for some of its partners. And those packages included some of Doane's print media (Crop Decisions and AgRetailer magazines) to reach farm managers, crop consultants and farm retail dealers. Along with a syndicated radio package ready to reach growers and producers across the Midwest, the beginnings of a new relationship were forming.

In addition, Bayer was interested in other tactics to reach farm managers and crop consultants. With Doane's long history of working with those groups, it was natural for them to work with V-R and Bayer in creating a series of seminars in the Midwest. Nearly 400 professional farm managers and independent crop consultants from Colorado to Indiana attended the seminars.

"Building Business Success in the New Millenium" was held in February at six locations. Leading industry experts and economists from Doane, VantagePoint, Bayer and V-R made presentations about some of the biggest challenges facing agribusiness.

"Our goal was to provide practical, timely information that will help managers and consultants, as well as their landowner and grower clients," says Don Simonet, vice president of marketing for Bayer. "We are excited about being able to provide useful business information as well as proven crop protection products."

"For the radio programs, we sat down early on with Geoff and did a needs analysis to determine what V-R wanted to accomplish for Bayer," says Rogers, national sales manager for Doane Broadcasting.

"We had research that showed us growers and producers wanted information on grain marketing and outlooks for the future, ag law, financial planning and ag legislation," Schultz says. "With that as our guide, we developed four proprietary programs with Bayer in mind."

The radio program, sponsored exclusively by Bayer, is 12 minutes per day, with four, three-minute shows. It's syndicated to 90 radio stations. In each three-minute segment is a 60-second commercial buy for Bayer. The four segments are "Before the Bell," with veteran farm broadcaster Mark Oppold; "Law of the Land," with Dr. Neil Harl of Iowa State University; "The Big Picture," with Doane Chief Economist Rich Pottorff; and "From the Hill," with Doane Washington correspondent Gordon Carlson.

"This media package had everything we wanted," says Pickering. "It cut across a wide variety of different media opportunities. It had radio- and print-buy opportunities, public relations through the farm manager seminars, and Internet access because all the radio reports would be linked to Bayer's Web site and through Doane's site."


"What is great about this program is that Doane took our directive and went out and created a program especially for our client," Pickering says. "We truly believe we saved our client a couple million dollars with this strategically sound effort. We could not have done this on our own. We just couldn't have afforded it."

Simonet credits V-R with pulling the whole thing together and creating a media program for Bayer that was "where we wanted to go." He says that this partnership is a win-win situation for all parties. Part of that win-win is quality programming for radio stations with a rural market.

"And the most important recipient of this information is the end-user," Simonet says. "The seminars were tremendously successful. Farm managers and crop consultants are a very good resource base for us. These people are responsible for a lot of ag business now and we expect that to continue in the future."

Simonet says that this whole program is about opportunity. "We'll do a critical evaluation with the agency on the seminars, for example," he says. "We got great feedback, but we believe we can make them more interactive. We need to show this segment that our people can be more than just providers of product information. We'd like them to know we can be an important part of their business."

Rogers says "fluid" and "dynamic" are the two words he chooses to describe what's been created through this partnership. "We live in a time where the business climate changes rapidly," he says. "With this package, if Bayer decides to shift or turn, we can facilitate that. This is what a 21st century partnership should look like. We're not a media buy for them or just another vendor."

"This is the future of media outlets," Pickering says. "You need an information exchange and trust with your media partners or it won't work." AM


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

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