For some reason, major media and agriculture don’t seem to communicate very well. I think it’s because we don’t try very hard. We as an industry, and I mean all the trade associations, don’t work at cultivating relationships with major media, like Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post. There are about 50 major daily newspapers left, plus broadcast media, that our trade associations should be cultivating relationships with.
Last week there was a story about COOL in the Wall Street Journal (see below for link). They were attempting to be fair about the story and were pitting cattlemen against the packing industry and got it wrong. They quoted several sources and then it became clear: No one from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) was mentioned or quoted. U.S. Cattlemen’s Association was. Farmers Union was. But no NCBA! Why wasn’t the largest organization representing the cattle and beef industry represented? I’m told that NCBA was aware of the story and provided material for the story, but for some reason our major beef activist group was not mentioned.
This is a good industry, and there are a lot of good people representing it, but our job of managing the media is terrible. Collectively, all the cattle trade associations should have a strategy to effect a positive outcome of our industry in the major consumer media.
And I don’t mean it from a defensive point of view.
We need a full time media strategist to cultivate and nurture good media outcomes even if it’s on an ugly topic like livestock processing. We all know it is the ugly part of our industry and we can’t be ashamed of it because it’s part of what we do. But we can take a proactive role and show the world the good things we do with food safety and why it’s done that way.
There are a million issues we should be able to affect with a good constant media strategy. Take grazing for instance; grazing on public lands has a lot of good solid science and real world application of that science to justify grazing on state and federal ground. Grazing is good for the environment. We all know it. But it’s the politics that stand in our way of proper range management. So we have to change public perception to change the politics.
How do you change the politics and the public’s perception of this industry? We need to create that positive effect on the media and provide them with the material that will give them fair and positive content for their publications. That’s how the Humane Society of the U.S. does it. That’s how the Sierra Fund does it. They are constantly creating media events and putting positive materials in front of editors. And follow up is another key—you have to constantly follow up with the editors to help them justify running the story.
The cattle industry has a good environmental story to tell the world. We need to communicate that a cow is the best thing that can happen to native grasslands nationwide. We need to especially tell this story to the federal agencies that try and manage much of our western grazing lands. For many in the agencies, the term “conservation” means lock it up, when locking it up is the worst thing that can be done for any piece of ground.
We all have a tendency to tell our story to ourselves, but preaching to the choir isn’t going to get the job done. We, as an industry, have the stories done, and we even have many environmental groups that can be our allies, as well.
The folks at the Leopold Foundation get it and even the World Wildlife Fund is seeing the value of responsible grazing practices and healing damaged ecosystems with cattle. There are lots of people who have a story to tell. This industry needs a designated hitter to codify the information and put it in a deliverable format and establish relationships with major consumer media and tell our story again and again, until they get it and want to share it with the world.
We have associations for everything in the cattle business and I’m not advocating we need another; there are already too many in my opinion. But I would like to challenge our associations to take our positive message and run big with it.
NCBA appears to have media relationship problems.
I would suggest that they would be a good association to start and maintain a positive consistent media strategy and have someone who can manage it constantly and with passion. Our world is about policies and laws made by politicians who listen to the public for guidance. We must guide public opinion in a positive, proactive way. After all, we are activists too. — PETE CROW
[Editor's note: The Wall Street Journal article being referenced is "U.S. Meatpackers Fight New Country-of-Origin Labels." At the time of online posting, the full article was available to the public.]