Nobody saw this coming. And now, you’re working in self-isolation from your home office, wondering how – or if – to communicate to your farm customers, agribusinesses, and clients. We can help. None of us predicted Covid-19, but with more than 150 years of combined experience in agricultural communications, we’ve seen just about everything else.
James Arnold, Chief Digital Officer
We are seeing a few positive trends related to traffic and opportunity. Endemic agriculture sites, like AgWeb.com, Agriculture.com, FarmProgress.com and others, are seeing increased traffic. Notably, AgWeb.com has jumped almost 40 percent in March. What’s more, as many companies reduce marketing budgets, we should see drops in CPM and CPC pricing at the same time audiences are spending more time in front of screens than ever. Marketing teams that take this time to hone their digital skills will emerge from this crisis stronger than before, especially those who tweak the content to offer online discounts or advice to businesses that are also navigating the transition to work-from-home operations.
And don’t forget about YouTube, which has seen a significant increase in hours watched. A recent article explains how you can make your YouTube ads work harder.
Ted Haller, Broadcast Specialist
Several major companies have pulled campaigns as a result of the pandemic. For instance, KFC canceled it’s “Finger Lickin’ Good” campaign showing happy customers literally licking their hands (as opposed to vigorous hand-washing); Chevy has allegedly cancelled all TV advertising slotted through the end of the calendar year.
But there are bright spots, if you know where to look. While the industry is projected to drop $26 billion in lost revenue (according to a recent report by MoffettNathanson), viewership is increasing as consumers tune in to news and streaming programming. This is especially true for adults aged 25-54, an audience that has seen spikes up to 18 percent during the 9 to 11 pm slot. Tone of voice is obviously important here. For instance, Toyota quickly rolled out replacement ads for a planned price-focused campaign to highlight their commitment to helping customers, “We are here for you – now and in all the better days ahead.” This can be an especially effective tool in local advertising to show off your company’s commitment to the community.
Chandler Bruns, Social Media Manager
Nearly every social media channel is experiencing higher traffic, particularly InstaGram. Unfortunately, much of the increase has been counterproductive, forcing channels to clamp down on rumors and falsehoods. Facebook banned ads with misleading reports on the efficacy of facemasks for sale; Twitter continues to delete messages with crazy conspiracy theories.
As you review and ready your own messaging, make sure the Hippocratic oath applies: “First, do no harm.” You obviously don’t want to make matters worse, but it’s equally important not to appear tone-deaf during a national crisis. One way to handle this is to remain consistent. Ideally you’ve already established a tone of voice on social channels that reflects your company. Stay true to this, even in crisis. If you use a lot of humor in your posts, or if you focus on products and positioning, you may want to dial it back a bit. But if you’ve created authentic and honest communication with key audiences, you should continue them.
If you have a product that can help, then by all means communicate this, but don’t oversell it. A good example is Tito’s Vodka, which quickly transitioned its factories to make hand sanitizer, or Slack, which pinned a post to the top of their feed related to Covid-19 with tips to make conducting in-home business easier. Pay special attention to the visuals; you don’t want to show photos of groups of people together, for instance. A recent article shares more tips and tricks on how small and mid-size agricultural business can use social media better.
Print and Radio Advertising
Pat Reese, Chief Media Strategist
A new AMR Radio Ratings study is just about to get underway in the Midwest with over 10,000 grower/farmer surveys. I would not be surprised to see radio – and in particular the major farm radio stations and networks like the Red River Farm Net – at all-time highs for reach and average listenership. Obviously, where and when you advertise on radio will have a real impact on listenership. For instance, drive-time slots are not as valuable when so few people are commuting; this includes podcasts, which are routinely consumed during the drive to and from the office. Having said that, general listenership is rising; for instance, the 18+ male demographic is up 17 percent overall since the crisis broke. Consider opting for streaming services, if you haven’t already; most channels, including SiriusXM, are offering special deals to encourage subscriptions.
As for print, it will continue, as always. But I question the timeliness and frequency of print. Most national and regional publications have reduced staff recently; reporters are covering a lot of their stories via phone or online meetings. This suggests that print will continue, but if things get worse, there could be delay in delivery and maybe even a reduction in frequency with the regionals. Consider moving your ad spend from larger publications to smaller community newspapers and magazines, and use the same messaging criteria suggested for social and digital advertising listed above (less humor, less price-related advertising, more examples of community involvement). A recent article shared some more ideas on how to make your print work better for you.
Sue Lee, Senior Account Strategist
Your employees likely feel as isolated and alone as you do, so maintaining communications with them is critical. There are a number of good video conferencing options, including Zoom, Skype, GoToMeeting, etc. No matter which program your company uses, take the time to become proficient and use it to conduct regular meetings where everybody can check in. There’s a good chance that this working-from-home adventure will continue long after this crisis, so consider this your chance to “beta-test” the system for the future when more of your employees work from remote locations.
And don’t expect everything to go perfectly! Most of you have seen the video of the government official on a live video call that’s interrupted when his children wander around behind the camera. If that happens to you, take the time to introduce your children to the team! As opposed to your formal social media channels, a little humor here can go a long way.
David Vincent, Director of Public Relations
American farmers really need our empathy and compassion at this turbulent time, and we should treat them accordingly. Farming can be a lonely line of work in the best of times, but it will be ever more so as equipment and input supplies are being staged for planting the 2020 crop.
At this time of year, most farmers are already wound up tighter than a bedspring as they chomp at the bit to get into the field. There is always optimism ahead of a new growing season, and that was especially true for the upcoming one. The 2019 season was an absolute nightmare for many farmers – surely this New Year would be better. How could it not be?
Wet weather patterns so far this year have been eerily similar to last year. Soils are saturated in many areas, and mud is the predominant soil type. April showers could well make things worse. The prospects of another severely delayed planting season are very real.
Commodity prices have dropped 15 to 20 percent since January for corn, soybeans, wheat, hogs, cattle and milk. Trade deals that were so promising just weeks ago have gone belly up as borders with Mexico and Canada are closed and international commerce everywhere is, quite literally, grinding to a halt.
The agricultural retailers that farmers lean on so heavily for inputs, equipment, agronomic advice and support have pretty much halted the critical and productive spring rituals of meetings and on-farm visits. Poor sales in 2019 translate into lower retailer inventories going into 2020, the impact of which might well be felt during 2020 – especially later during the growing season.
On the bright side – and there is one – farmers are no strangers to adversity. They are used to having their backs against the wall, and you can count on them to come out fighting. Every year, regardless of what is thrown at them, farmers overcome challenges, both the expected and the unforeseen, and somehow manage to keep doing what they do best – put food on the table.
It’s been this way for at least a millennium, and 2020 will be no different.