Agriculture steps up its game in crisis preparedness
Don't wait until W5 is on your doorstep with the cameras rolling
Posted: November 26, 2015
Trial by fire? Hard lessons learned? Burned but wiser? Check, check and check. All of this applies to many sectors in the world of agriculture, from Western Canada to internationally, as a number of industries and organizations have endured a ton thrown at them from activist-fueled hidden video exposes to other forms of crisis.
But one thing clear is that this old adage still applies: "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." That's the view a lot of agriculture has today. A clear reflection of this was the positive and proactive mindset, and discussion of strategies and opportunities, that fueled a productive Crisis Communications Forum, hosted recently in Calgary by Alberta Farm Animal Care.
The Forum brought together a lineup of media trainers, crisis trainers and speakers from both agriculture and other industries, to provide perspective for the primarily agricultural audience on how to be prepared for crisis and how to manage when it hits. Here are a few snapshots of the discussion that provide a flavor of the knowledge delivered:
Susan Gal, Egg Farmers of Alberta
Taking charge in the wake of crisis
"For us it has been almost two years since the crisis we dealt with. I think we had in the neighborhood of probably four weeks between the time that W5 contacted us and the story actually airing. And we did nothing else. The staff in our office carried the day, and our management team did nothing but spend time on working through scenarios and messaging and dialoguing with our national agency.
"It was trial by fire and we learned a lot. If it happened again, I think there is such a great recipe out there now. We've been through it. Others have been through it. We've taken the lessons from these experiences and taken a lot of steps to be better prepared. If you are in agriculture and trying to get better prepared, realize that you are not on your own and you don't have to start from scratch. There is support around the table and lots of folks are willing to help. We're getting to be experts at it. But at the same time, I think what we also need to be mindful of is that the activists are also watching us and seeing this, so they're starting to change their strategies. We need to think about what they might do differently in the next situation and do our best to be prepared."
– Susan Gal, Egg Farmers of Alberta
Into the fire: From zero to 100 and why ongoing engagement is critical
"From the standpoint of Western Hog Exchange, our crisis management plan up to September 2014 was zero. We didn't believe that we would be faced with a media crisis at that point in time. Our world changed in about 24 hours and as a result of that, our role and approach has changed today.
"I firmly believe as a livestock producer, everybody wants to do the right thing for their animals, and we practice responsible animal care and animal welfare. What we don't do is a real good job of providing leadership and transfer of knowledge and information both within and outside our industry, to explain what we do and why we have to do it. We need to get better at that. I think over the last year we've gone a long ways in changing how we provide that information and providing leadership to the industry, but it's been quite a learning experience."
– Brent Moen, Western Hog Exchange
Perspective from energy industry: Stressing proactive mindset
"One of the main things for us is to be proactive. We have quite a comprehensive emergency communications plan that aligns with our operations emergency plans, so that we are able to respond quickly. When a situation occurs, we want to quickly provide the basic information that something is happening, we're aware of the situation and we're gathering information.
"We want to be that trusted source of information for anybody that is looking to find out what's happening. We want to be human. We want to show concern. We want to be honest and open. We want to make sure we take responsibility and accountability, and be proactive in determining our actions going forward. We want to couple concern with a commitment to action, and work closely with all of our stakeholders in the process."
– Tracey Horne of Cenovus Energy
Lessons from forestry experience: Act now don't wait
"We like to feel like we have good technical knowledge and we have a good story to tell. We're doing a good job in how we manage. One of our jobs in being prepared is trying to get that message out to the different stakeholder groups that we deal with on a regular basis, to develop good relationships and good understanding. So we have developed a lot of different communication tools that we try to use. That all helps. If we can do things to manage the forest in a more holistic way with all these other values that people have interest in, and we put the effort in to tell that story, then we're not going to be viewed as just a negative presence on the landscape. We can be viewed as a more positive presence.
"When a potential crisis hits, I'd say the first thing is take a deep breath. One of the key lessons that we have learned is to be calm, try to get the facts, take appropriate responsibility and establish a communication plan around a simple point of contact. But at the end of the day, what I would most emphasize to people is don't wait until you get that phone call. Actually sit down with your management team and say 'what if we got the call today? What would we do? What's our protocol?' And prepare a plan so that everybody is very clear as to what will happen. Look at where you might be vulnerable and address it now rather than wait for something to happen."
– Gord Lehn, Spray Lake Sawmills (Cochrane)
Olympics sled dog crisis case study: Drive the story
"In our situation with the sled dog crisis, we ended up having a press conference every day. We found it was very important to be out there in front and leading the information. Drive what you want the story to be. Instead of it driving you. From the BC SPCA's perspective, we are a 30 million dollar organization with 80,000 donors and 42 different locations, so communication for us is key because we wouldn't survive without that support.
"One thing that is good to do is think about all your different stakeholders and what motivates each one of them. Look for those areas of overlap that will help shape your communications. You are always going to be on the right side or the wrong side of a crisis. If you can speak to your values and those are aligned with those of the stakeholders and audiences you are dealing with, you are much better off. Ongoing communications at all times is key – don't look at crisis as a flash in the pan. Everything you do before a situation occurs can help make the situation easier to manage when it does occur. And make sure you keep up to date with how people are getting information. Social media for example is a driving force and how you use it can be a huge factor."
– Marcie Moriarty, BC SPCA