#onthefarm with Gene Hall

For Friday’s #onthefarm, I chatted with Gene Hall, director of public relations for the Texas Farm Bureau. I picked Gene for this because: I wanted to talk with someone from Texas; I haven’t visited with a Farm Bureau representative since August with @agripundit; the Texas Farm Bureau is trying to get its producers involved in social media to tell ag’s story; and Texas just recently passed Prop 11, a property rights bill that the Texas Farm Bureau supported.

I thought the scope of the conversation would lean toward policy, such as Prop 11, but I was pleasantly surprised that we talked about public relations and how farmers can tell their story in the media. Gene had a couple great lines (as all of the #onthefarm guests do). I think this was my favorite:

“A young farmer blogging on a regular basis would be communications gold.”

I think there are a few farmers blogging (check out the Blogroll on the right). But I think Gene’s point is that agriculture’s needs a few farmers consistently blogging every single day. That’s hard, as many farmers’ schedules are packed with 12-16 hour days as it is. If one farmer in each state could pick up blogging though, it’d be a great way for agriculture to connect to non-aggies.

OK, enough commentary from me. Here’s the transcript of the interview, with Gene’s tweets condensed, and some of mine rearranged to match Gene’s answers.

As always, let me know if you have any suggestions to improve.




n_web: Gene is in PR with Texas Farm Bureau. You can learn more about TXFB here: www.txfb.org. You can also read TXFB’s blog: http://www.txfb.org/TxAgTalks/. Hey Gene! Thanks for joining me today. Q1 coming up in 2 minutes!

TxAgPRGuy: Looking forward to it. 

n_web: Q1: Tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do for Texas Farm Bureau. Take a few tweets!

TxAgPRGuy: I am a Texas Aggie, a former television reporter and with Tx Farm Bureau 32 years – the last 19 as director of PR. I live in Waco, our HQ location. I have 3 sons and a brand new granddaughter. I am passionate about Tx farm and ranch families. Our mission is to tell the story of Texas agri and the people of the land. We are politically active. We focus on the issues. We, like others, are striving to make our organization relevant in new age of communication. Remember, I once shot 16mm film! 

n_web: Want to get to the communication part in a few. Q2: Why is the organization important for farmers? What do you do for them? 

TxAgPRGuy: Farm Bureau provides a collective voice for farmers and ranchers. We pay a lot of attention to policy development. We know at the end of PD what they are for. We represent their interests in Austin and DC. Lobbying. We also have a PAC-AGFUND. Again, our grassroots is involved in PAC decisions. In PR, we use various comm products to move the agenda and tell the story. We have many publics to comm with. Members, farmers, opinion leaders and others. One voice on the farm is just one. Through FB policy, we can speak with authority and influence. A trade organization like others. 

n_web: OK, let’s move to the PR. Q3: What media do you use to connect? Is MSM still the best to connect to public? Or is that changing? 

TxAgPRGuy: Our recent research says TV is still King, newspapers still relevant, but the web is gaining. We pitch a lot of stories to MSM. We were big on video news releases in the past but we do most of that on the web. I am a student of the Obama campaign on that. When it comes to comm w farmers/ranchers, it seems print is still best. Costly though. Broadband is still challenge for rural tx. More of our members are online. We’ve equipped our cnty pres with laptops and use email. We are organizing a social media team. In short, we are aggressive on all the available channels of communication.

n_web: Q4: So is the Web more for your city cousins? Until high-speed reaches more rural areas? Is that a possible strategy? Follow-up: what’s been the response from farmers/ranchers on your Web presence?

TxAgPRGuy: That is the idea behind the blog and optimizing our site for searches. We are hoping to increase our profile in that way. Not to minimize the potential of using the web and sm to comm with farmers and ranchers. Definitely growing in that regard. Farmers who’ve looked at the web are intrigued. Some intimidated before trying. Those we’ve persuaded to try Facebook are fascinated. We have launched the Texas Ag Challenges Team. Farmers and ranchers who will use soc med and MSM to deliver our messages. We are very excited about the potential of that. We know the public wants to engage farmers. More engagement, less “education.”

n_web: Q6: Can you explain the “intrigue” comment? For most people, it’s unthinkable not to be connected somehow. Follow-up: This may go back to the broadband challenges. Not many may know high-speed and wireless are hard to find in rural area.

TxAgPRGuy: I think the lack of broadband in rural areas has put some of our people behind the curve. That’s being addressed now. And some of our people are older and less familiar with computers. We are addressing this with substantial investments of our own. To explain, I think many of our members are getting the idea of just how powerful a tool this all is. The younger members get it. We are moving forward. I like where we are but perhaps a little behind the “city cousins” as you put it. Get a group of farmers together to talk PR, and they will say “education.”

n_web: This goes back to your engagement comment, right? 

TxAgPRGuy: It’s been a challenge to move them to “engagement.” The idea is to get our members to talk about what they do on the farm. Not just issues but day to day activity. Getting the public to understand why we do what we do will come from engagement.

n_web: Speaking of the city: Q7 via @osuextensionguy: How has growth of 20 major Texas metros affected perception of state ag issues? 

TxAgPRGuy: A real challenge. Tx is one of the most urban states in US despite wide open spaces. With city folks 3 generations from farm, we have a disconnect. That’s why the web and soc med is such an important tool. We are working toward vid and other info on the website, driving traffic back to view. We are just getting started on that. This can be issues related, but I don’t want to overlook the human interest and other stories with which farm life is truly rich. We have a tremendous weight of negative coverage to overcome with people who no longer have a personal connection with farm life 

n_web: Q8: Along those lines, how do you feel ag coverage is in the state? Is it stereotypical? Does it fit a certain narrative? 

TxAgPRGuy: When I came to TxFB in 1977, there were 24 radio farm directors. Now 3 or 4. We started our our radio net in 2001 to address this. Most of the ag coverage now is aimed at consumers. It tends to be formulaic and sensational. Growing our on coverage via the website is a partial solution, but for the immediate future we will need to cultivate the MSM. We have an active message development program. We have to remember that the concerns consumers have are real. Addressing honestly.

n_web: Q9: So how are you doing that, cultivating rel. with MSM? Can you share tactics? Are other FBs doing this too? 

TxAgPRGuy: In working with media, my rule is address the reporters needs. Be considerate of deadlines and needs. But don’t forget the message. I’ve never bought in to media bias that much. A lot of it is ignorance of the way modern ag works. Yes, I think most FBs are doing this. Relationships with people. The reporter that gets what she needs will put you in the Outlook 

n_web: Plus, reporters have 15 inches or 90 seconds to tell a story . . .

TxAgPRGuy: We teach that in our spokesman training course. We can take a lesson from politics, where “the message of the day” of emphasized. TV, radio and even newspapers to certain extent are poor mediums for heavy detail. Hit the important stuff. Personal experience. Editors ask – How does this affect my readers? And, Is it interesting. We have to find ways to make our stories interesting. Texas is a big state – planting corn if Rio Grande Valley in Feb. June in the Panhandle. Much diversity. Varying climate 

n_web: Q10: But the Web is where you can go into detail. Are you encouraging the younger farmers/ranchers to blog? 

TxAgPRGuy: Yes, we are beginning to teach that. We hope that some of the superstars on the Tx AG Chal Team will be inspired to do that. A young farmer blogging on a regular basis would be communications gold.

n_web: I tell FFAers: start writing. In the corporate world, there are a ton of bad writers! You can stand out asap!

n_web: Q11: OK, let’s spend the last 10 min hitting the issues TxFB is working on. Looks like you’re rolling already. Go ahead! 

TxAgPRGuy: National issues like cap and trade are very big with us now and estate taxes reform is getting traction again. The est tax reform would cut tax on estates to 35% over $5 million per person in the family. That would take care of most farmers. If we don’t act on est taxes this year, we revert back to the old formula. 55% and exempt only $1 mil. Farmers have high value in land equip and livestock but not cash to pay estate tax when prim owner dies. We lose farms this way. On cap and trade. I still can’t believe we are seriously considering this. Other nations will be only too glad to supply our food. And burn a lot of fossil fue doing so. We really need to be thinking about those 9 billion mouths to feed in 2050.

n_web: Q12: What about trade? Texas has ports. What would free trade agreements (or lack of) mean to the state? 

TxAgPRGuy: The hostility of the current admin on trade is troubling. We need free trade agreements. NAFTA has been a boon to Texas agri. We will always have trade disputes, but the agreements give us a framework for working them out. Someone once said – Free trade is the greatest gift a government can give its people, but one that is always unpopular. Paraphrase. We export a third of crop production. Think of the jobs and econ activity that generates. We must have open trade for ag to prosper.

n_web: Q13: Time is almost up. What else is on your mind? What did I miss asking? Parting words? 

TxAgPRGuy: I appreciate the opportunity. We all need to use our combined Twitter and socmed networks to spread the message! 

featherchick@n_web and @TxAgPRGuy  Jeannine here from Illinois/Indiana AgriNews, can u address value of talking to/utilizing ag media? Thx. Do u consider ag media to be of value to you or not so much? 

TxAgPRGuy: If we have time-most ag reporters/writers today connect with non farm audiences in a social way. the only way for them to survive. This is sometimes a powerful way to reach audiences who have a personal relationship with someone they’ve never met! We should continue to cultivate these because they are a connection to the past, and farm life, that many know they’ve missed. That’s the way farm writers and bcasters have survived. Jack Dillard in Shreveport and East Texas is a good example. I consider farm media very valuable to what we do. connection with farmrs and consumers 

n_web: That’s a good point, Gene. I see more ag media on Twitter and blogging. Gets their reach beyond trad. ag aud. Ag media does a more than fair job in covering agribiz. Helps my company and all others connect to farmers 

n_web: Gene, thanks for the time. Hope you find it worthwhile. I think we’ll call it a day early! Got a Johnnie Walker waiting for me. 

TxAgPRGuy: If that’s it…Thank you all! Gene 

n_web: Thanks to all who followed. I’ll have the transcript up over the weekend.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: