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When the Media Calls
By: Jane Eckert
When I first started attending farm marketing meetings, there were typically sessions on how to write a press release and get the media interested in coming out to your farm to tell your story. Well, good news, now, more often than not, the media is calling you without you ever having to contact them. We are the story! And today, we are going to look at how to be ready when the media comes to you.
It was only eight years ago, in 2006, that the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary added the word “Agritourism” to their dictionary. Their definition is “the practice of touring agricultural areas to see farms and often to participate in farm activities.” Many of us in the consultant world were working with both the tourism industry and farms to help create this new perspective, and today, the term agritourism is fairly well known and even included in Wikipedia. Agritourism, along with catch phrases like “locally grown,” “sustainable,” and “organic” have now become favorite topics of the feature media, and the media are calling on you to tell your story.
Based on my most recent farm survey, farms are not only being contacted by their local media but also the national media. During the fall season last year it was reported to me that farms received coverage by the national television networks of NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox News, and CNN, plus large newspapers such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. All did feature stories on agritourism. We are no longer just the “go to” story for dramatic weather events, but they also want to do the “feel good” stories on our family entertainment and local food production.
We are fortunate that attracting the media to our farm has never been easier, and most of the farms reported that the media found them through Google and their website—just another reason that a good website is a powerful marketing strategy for your business. Of course, some farms continue to write press releases, submit events to the local calendars and talk to their media reps to get these stories, and this is a better way to ensure coverage. Local tourism groups and the Chamber of Commerce were also listed as sources of referral to obtain this type of coverage.
Getting the media to your farm is the first step, but the second step of delivering a good message and telling your story is up to you. Here are a few simple hints of what to do when the media calls.
- Take the call. Let everyone who answers the phone know that a call from the media is a priority to find you or another family member. You sure don’t want to miss out on a media opportunity because you are out on the tractor.
- Once they set a time to come to the farm, plan ahead in terms of what you will say and do. Write down your thoughts on paper and be concise. What should be the one or two primary messages that you want people to hear? Don’t start at the beginning but start at the end. You might only have 10-20 seconds to appear on camera so make your words count. Short responses are the best for television and radio.
The public doesn’t really care when you planted the corn maze or how you prepared the field. Talk about the experience of going through the maze. Describe a visual image of the cut paths, the hidden clues along the way and the shortest time recorded to find your way out.
- Practice your one or two sentences in front of the mirror or to another family member. Create your word pictures to help people visualize what they can expect when they come to visit you. In most cases, the media will take pictures of the pumpkin patch, corn maze or pick your own, but you need to deliver the verbal images of what is so special about a visit to your farm.
- If you are going to be on camera, there are also things to watch with your body language. Keep your head from bobbing or moving from side to side so you don’t distract from your message. Keep your hands at your side. We want to watch you and listen to what you say and hand movements can be quite distracting. In most cases, you are to look at the interviewer and not the camera.
Remember to SMILE! If you are talking about fun on the farm we sure don’t want to see a grumpy farmer reciting something you’ve memorized. What to wear? It’s okay to look like a farmer, folks. That’s what the public wants to see. And it’s just as good if your staff all wear polo shirts with the farm name or logo. Just ask a family member how you look, and whether you look like someone they’d like to talk to this weekend.
- The media tends to repeat and use the same farm that is responsive to them. For example, have a four-wheeler and a driver (if not you) ready to take the camera crew around the farm. Maybe think about some fun shots for them, such as a picture from the top of barn loft, or have a zip line ready to load up a gutzy camera operator. If you help make the visit fun, creative and unique, that’s a big treat, and they’ll be back.
Of course, giving them a bag of apples or a couple of pies from the bakery to take to their lunch room also helps. Most cannot accept a personal gift but just tell them the “goodies” are meant to be shared. I have even heard a media person candidly respond on air that they just tasted a juicy peach from (name your farm) and now they plan to go get some more. This type of personal endorsement also goes a long way.
Even if you haven’t gotten that call yet, start thinking about how you can make their visit a really special day. You have seen what other farms have done—so make this visit more fun for the reporter and her crew than ever before. This is definitely a win-win situation. You make them look great, and they’ll make you look great. If you are prepared, give good responses and attend to their needs, you should establish a good rapport with the media for repeat visits. After a newscast of politics, robberies, and disasters, the nightly news loves to close on positive stories. You can be the last thing people think about when they turn off the TV!
Jane Eckert, a national speaker, author and agritourism expert, is principal of Eckert AgriMarketing (www.eckertagrimarketing.com), a firm that helps farmers sell products directly to consumers and develop their operations into tourist destinations, and Farm Web Design, an Internet marketing firm specializing in agritourism farm websites. She is also CEO of RuralBounty.com, a consumer based directory of agritourism farms in North America. Jane can be reached by phone 314-862-6288 or at firstname.lastname@example.org