Communication and storytelling

From June 17th to 23rd, farmers from all over the world gathered in the Netherlands for the sixth edition of the Rabobank Global Farmers Master Class. During two ‘storytelling’ sessions, participants were painted a picture of today’s media landscape in which consumers are increasingly interested in, and vocal about their food and in which farmers are expected to engage in public conversations.

From previous Global Farmers Master Class editions we know that farmers around the world experience an increased focus on and pressure by consumer groups, the public and the press on their businesses, produce, production methods and sector as a whole. Partner at Ketchum’s Global Food & Beverage Practice, Linda Eatherton pointed out that: ‘today’s highly social world increases transparency expectations and demands that we break down silos in the value chain. Everyone is watching, listening, asking, questioning what we do and say. Every player in the agricultural community is suddenly being expected to be visible, helpful and engaged in public conversations. But, frankly, few of us see that as our priority, or at the very least, not our #1 skill.’

In today’s media landscape the power seems to be shifting from traditional media to individuals; consumers who are increasingly interested in their food, where it comes from and how it is produced, are very vocal about it, and, with social media at their disposal have the channels to voice their opinions. These ‘food evangelists’ as Linda has named them, are increasing in both numbers and power all over the world. And to them, food and agri companies, governments, academia are not necessarily (or not at all) credible sources of information. Family, friends, nutrition professionals, medical professionals and, amazingly, farmers are considered credible sources by them. And that offers ample room for opportunity.

Linda says that rural entrepreneurs need to embrace the concept that to be a leader means more than yield, bottom lines and peer recognition. Today’s agricultural leaders are charged with reshaping the culture of agriculture one person, one action, one story at a time. According to Linda, farmers need to move from message to conversation. And in order to be heard, she advised farmers to listen, build relationships with consumers, take actions that demonstrate authenticity and values and facilitate consumers in discovering you, your brand, your business.

Participant Thayne Driscoll from Driscoll Management Company said: ‘I think storytelling is very important for many of our operations. It can help to explain that some of the concerns of the consumers is also our same concerns. And it’s giving the opportunity of sharing our story and helping people to understand the things that we go through. As we try to also understand their perception of what we are doing.’

After the storytelling sessions, participants left with a renewed understanding of communications challenges and opportunities within the agricultural industry, enhanced skills in personal storytelling and a clear view on actions they themselves can take public, consumer groups and press.

Additional key themes in the Master Class program include: 

  • Business strategy and strategic thinking
  • A pressure cooker innovation session addressing tomorrows trends, today
  • Dairy deep dive.