Can we be advocates for ag, too?

On September 1, 2015 in the New-Life Mills boardroom in Cambridge, Ontario, 35 members of the Ag Women’s Network met with Owen Roberts, journalist and director of research communications at the University of Guelph, for an event unlike others we’ve held in the past.

Owen Roberts spoke to the Ag Women's Network about communicating to the media and becoming advocates for agriculture.

Instead of addressing issues we face as women in agriculture, Roberts challenged us to become advocates for the industry and use our collective voices to raise the profile of major ag issues. He went on to explain that we need to be proactive and reach out to the source-hungry media with our local and women’s perspectives and provide a clear message of “so what” and “who cares”.

“I hope you want to have a voice with the media,” Roberts said. “The ag industry needs your help to get coverage on the tough stories.”

Getting media coverage for agriculture isn’t easy – our competition is likely more provocative and entertaining – but using our passion and emotion for the issues that impact our industry is exactly what journalists are looking for.

How to do this? Roberts has some suggestions:

- As a group, we should put out news releases commenting on major ag topics/issues. He thinks this is a great opportunity for us to share our collective thoughts.

- Everyone should have a Twitter account and a blog to share their thoughts and be accessible. There are things we can say that are interesting to a lot of people. Although this means making more time for communications, he warns it should become and additional part of your job. Roberts has a blog post on how to write a blog (halfway down the course syllabus page) and a webinar on better blogging (sign up at Farm Management Canada to access).

- Pick up the phone and call the media. As Roberts explains, when a farmer calls the media, the room hushes because it’s such a rare occasion. And when they do, a reporter knows it’s a real story. He says that calling is very effective, and even though it won’t always result in a story, it results in a relationship since it takes human emotion and confidence.

- Change the stigma of agriculture as a “victim” industry by being proactive and shaping the story, instead of waiting for the media to reach out to us.

- Hold “how to” workshops with the Ag Women’s Network to encourage more outreach and advocacy with topics like how to structure a blog and dealing with media calls.

- Look into writing for your local newspaper. They likely have a community editorial board and are always looking for fresh content and a new angle.

So, members of the Ag Women’s Network, are you up for the challenge?

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