Industry facing ‘distrust’ farmers didn’t create
OCEAN CITY, Md. — The poultry industry is facing “a season of distrust that you didn’t create, but you do have to navigate,” public relations expert Andy Hallmark, senior partner of Potomac Communications Group, told attendees at the National Meeting on Poultry Health, Processing and Live Production on Oct. 9.
He said the industry faces challenges in an atmosphere where concerns about how poultry is produced and delivered are combined with messages from anti-meat groups that equate meat with murder.
Consumers are concerned about animals being mistreated, antibiotics, hormones and steroids, he said, noting those who post misleading information on the Internet are “often completely unencumbered by the facts.” He cautioned that some are “building an army to fight the future use of meat and poultry.”
He assured listeners that consumers’ trust can be earned using tested methods that might have a “shot at having a fair exchange of ideas.”
The first and most important element is to do a better job of understanding the audience. Understanding the audience “makes us better communicators,” he said, “It works on activists, on concerned citizens, on consumers.”
He noted people are not willing to accept something if they think it is forced on them, if they don’t control it, if it is unfamiliar or weird, if it doesn’t seem fair, if it is confusing, when they don’t see the benefit or when there is a history of distrust of the industry.
His second element to better communication is “set the narrative first.” He said, “Being first with information inoculates your audience from dreaming up their own story line.”
“If someone is going to talk about your industry, make it you, not somebody else,” he said.
He said the best way to set the narrative is through on-going education about the industry such as that done by DPI. “Waiting to communicate until there is a problem doesn’t make sense.”
The benefit of setting the narrative calmly and logically, he explained, is “a lot of people just want to be heard and respected prior to their concerns reaching a fever pitch.”
Third, he stressed that it is important to “speak in plain and relatable language” and engage in “simple, audience-focused delivery.”
He reported 50 percent of a person’s trust level in risk communication situations is directly attributed to your ability to show care and empathy. “We do this through listening, through our expressions, body language and a genuine desire to understand.”
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