March 27, 2017

Build Your Bank of Good Will

 |  By: Mike Opperman

There is a common phrase in communications that says “if you don’t tell your story, someone else will.” And if someone else is telling your story, all control of the message has been lost. Whatever is said is bound to be inaccurate and probably negative. You need to be prepared, at a moment’s notice, to tell your own story in a positive way.

The need to be able to tell a positive story hit home in 2010 for Dean Strauss when he was about to more than double herd size, going from 900 to 1,900 cows, by merging with a dairy close to his original dairy near Sheboygan Falls, Wis.

“A bigger dairy meant a bigger target so we knew we needed to be more involved and active in telling our own story,” Strauss says.

That’s when he turned to outside resources for help. Dean had known Jane Hillstrom through his work with various Wisconsin dairy organizations. Hillstrom is president of Hillstrom PR, a public relations firm in Sturgeon Bay, Wis. Hillstrom PR works with a variety of clients, including state, regional and national checkoff programs and directly with three Wisconsin dairy farms. She and her team have helped Dean tell his story in a number of ways.

Hillstrom started by hiring a professional photographer to gather some great images around the dairy. From there they created a logo, farm brochure, fact sheet and farm tour talking points. They also work with Strauss to manage a farm blog. Strauss says the most important counsel from Hillstrom has been helping him know what to say and when to say it. That meant building an elevator speech, or a short, concise message that informs someone about what you do in the time it takes to ride an elevator. Strauss says he uses that elevator speech quite often.

“When I tell someone that I’m a dairy farmer I hear back ‘well you don’t look like a farmer,” he says.

The ensuing conversation usually includes questions about what he does and how he does it. “You have to be prepared for those instances and have your story ready to share.” Good PR can also be an insurance policy should something negative happen. Strauss hasn’t encountered that yet, but he is prepared for when it comes.

“We need to have a bank of good will established that we hope we never have to draw from,” Strauss says. “God forbid a crisis happens, but at least we know what to do if it happens.”

Hillstrom says public relations activities helps producers build local and online reputations. “More and more consumers are asking questions about the dairy industry,” she says. “Dairy farmers need to continually build their credibility in their own communities.”

Strauss realizes having a public relations program in place isn’t necessarily adding to the bottom line of his dairy operation, but he sees it as a necessity in this era of instant communication. “Farmers don’t want to brag about themselves, and we certainly don’t want to do that,” he says.