Friday, March 1, 2013

10 tips for dairy advocates

Yesterday I had the opportunity to help my friend and colleague Michele from Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), the national dairy checkoff, with a spokesperson training at the Western Dairy Challenge competition, a competition I competed in in college on behalf of Washington State University. It is so energizing to work with students and young dairy advocates and help them become the best representatives of the dairy industry they can be.
 We worked through four scenarios students may encounter in which they had to come up with three messages with proof points to discuss the value of dairy in the community, the great care dairy farmers take of the land and animals, why milk is safe and about the nutritional value of milk. The students did a great job. They also learned a lot. It is not easy to be put on the spot and communicate clearly. These communications trainings were my favorite part of working in dairy promotion and I still learn something every time I participate or lead one. They are great!!

Here are 10 tips that will help when communicating with the general public.

1. People behind the product. A faceless target is easy to hit, but when you add the people and don’t just talk about the industry, it brings life to your messages. Discuss your family’s commitment throughout several generations to sustainable and responsible dairy farming and why it’s important to preserve the environment and community for future generations. Who are the people behind the product? Talk about that!

2. Utilize your social media networks. If you already use Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other social media networks, then this is easy. Take photos and write about what’s happening on the farm. Did you just feed the baby calves? Post a picture! Did you move the heifers to a new pasture? Post a picture! People love pictures and they really are worth 1,000 words. Blog about what’s going on as well. Convey your passion for what you do. With less than two percent of Americans involved in agriculture, it’s vital that that we all share our passion and knowledge of dairy farming. Consumers want to know how their food is produced, so tell them. We have a fabulous story to tell.

3. Admit when you don’t know the answer. It’s okay to not be an expert on everything. Nobody is. However, if you can refer them to someone who does know more about that topic or offer to find the answer, you will be seen as more credible. Never make up an answer. If you don’t know, just say so.
4. Use your resources. There are many resources available to help you advocate for the dairy industry. MyDairy is a social media toolkit produced by the national dairy checkoff to help dairy producers and dairy advocates effectively communicate about dairy on various social media networks. Your local dairy promotion organization is also here to help whether you get a call from the media or need to put together a presentation for a community organization. Find your local dairy promotion organization at

5. Always end with a call to action. People want something to do. Whether you are giving a speech, participating in a media interview or chatting with the person next to you on the airplane, leave them with resources to get more information. Whenever I’m talking about the dairy industry, I always leave them with something like this: “The dairy industry has a great Web site where you can watch videos about dairy farming, read fact sheets and hear stories from dairy farmers across the nation. is a great resource to learn more about modern dairy farming.” You can also leave them with a handout, business card, etc. Use your imagination.

6. Beware of jargon. This also goes for acronyms. People that are not familiar with the dairy industry or agriculture will have no idea what you are talking about and they will stop listening. It’s best to use other words if possible—or better, compare what you are talking about to something they know about. For example, our cows lying on sand in the barn is like a day at the beach. That painted a picture in your mind, didn’t it? That is exactly the point. People will remember it if they can picture it. If you must use jargon or an acronym, immediately define it. Science can be difficult to communicate without some jargon, so define as much as possible without clouding the reason you are presenting.

7. Lead with a value statement. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. While it may be tempting to lead with facts and figures, please resist this temptation. Start by talking about why you care. Do you want your farm to be passed onto the next generation? If so, then obviously it’s important to preserve natural resources for future generations. But, the general public doesn’t know this, so tell them. So, lead with a value statement, back it up with on-farm examples and real-life experiences and repeat your key point in closing. The more you repeat an idea, the better chance people will remember it.  

8. Be careful how you word things. This came up quite a bit in yesterday’s spokesperson training. Many dairies recycle dried manure solids and use them bedding to keep cows comfortable. This is definitely NOT the same thing (or even close) to spreading manure on the cows’ stalls. One student said, “We use manure as bedding for the cows.” Since all of us are in the dairy industry, we knew what he meant, but the average consumer wouldn’t. We need to be careful how we phrase things to avoid misrepresenting dairy practices.

9. Don’t break into jail. Basically, don’t open a can of worms and cause unnecessary worry or concern. Simplify your message and know when to stop talking.

Celebrating June Dairy Month with the folks at the Georgia Farm Bureau in 2010.
10. Smile. Who loves talking about the dairy industry with the general public? I know I sure do!! I take pride in being a part of an amazing industry that not only takes great care of the land and animals, contributes to healthy communities and the economy, and produces a high-quality, nutritious product—milk, but also has some of the best people. If you are proud to tell others about the dairy industry, show it! Smile, be excited and convey your passion for the dairy industry.  

Remember, you are not in this alone. There are a lot of people and resources available to help you tell the dairy industry’s story. Let’s show this nation what makes America’s dairy farms great!

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