When Talking With Reporters, Farmers Should Choose Words Wisely
A few years ago, I read a press release that said a bumper crop of peppers across the Northeast region means low prices for farmers.
My first reaction was: That’s how to put a nail in the coffin of an already dead market!
It’s fairly obvious that the mainstream media (evening news and morning papers) build their stories around sensational headlines.
Working with reporters and editors, especially by feeding them news releases, can be an effective marketing tool.
A word to the wise though — choose your words very carefully. There’s nothing that will get reported faster than crop disasters, weather woes, or in the opposite extreme, bumper crops causing low prices.
Think of the Full Story Before Writing Releases
In the produce business, nothing seems to make growers cringe more than news reporting the impact of foul weather on local crops.
For example, I’ve seen headlines like, “Crop Losses Across the Region!” In reality, the hail or freeze hit a couple of farms on the north side of town and totally missed those on the south side.
Unfortunately, when buyers read those headlines, they see only ‘all is lost’ and skip that town altogether, leaving those south-side growers with a crop they cannot sell.
I witnessed that hard lesson when a late freeze was reported to have wiped out of the Jersey peach crop back in the mid ’90s. Only a small portion of the crop — maybe a few susceptible varieties growing in colder pockets — was lost, but buyers read “no Jersey peaches this year” and headed further north and west to find their peach supplies that season.
You would think they had learned their lesson, but apparently a new generation of reporters was on the beat this spring when a similar late-April freeze hit the East Coast hard.
A number of calls came in wanting to learn about the impact on our peach and blueberry crops. Fortunately, they lost interest, either because they were distracted by some higher-priority story at the time, or they got tired of hearing that, “It’s too early to tell just what the temperature drop did to the local crop, so call back in a week or two to see what farmers and agents are finding as they monitoring the crops and blossoms right now.”
It was really fortunate, as that freeze turned out to be a good ‘thinning’ and those fruit crops were some of the best we’ve seen here in years.
Be Careful on the Flip Side, Too!
“Best ever, excellent quality, good supplies…” The PR coming from the Department of Agriculture was carefully worded when that peach harvest started, stressing quality and steady/ample supplies. It’s hard to imagine that the wrong words describing a good crop could cause trouble, but what do you think buyers hear when the press release from a grower-shipper states, “Good Weather Across the Region Leads to Bumper Crop; Low Prices for Farmers”?
Do they hear desperation? Do they think lower prices yet?
What they don’t think is that they could put that product on sale to move more and help out those poor farmers.
At the retail level, there’s only a small price range/quantity combination that will remain profitable. Raise the price too much and customers stop buying. Lower the price too much and the small increase in sales doesn’t make up for the lower margin. So they end up losing money in both cases. Consumers only will buy so much eggplant, no matter how inexpensive it is.
The only other possible thought is in the minds of the buyer-shippers who see a glut in the market as an opportunity. They can buy cheaper, easily pitting one grower against another, while maintaining prices to their wholesale customers, thus increasing their margins whether they sell more product or just maintain normal volumes.
Press Release Writing Basics
While press releases can be an effective tool to deliver specific information to a targeted audience, not all are created equal. According to Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab, the first step is to ask yourself, “Is there serious value in the information I want to disseminate?” If the answer is “yes” and you know the information will positively impact your audience, then you know your mission.
The next steps, however, involve answering more questions – the five “Ws” and one very important “H.”
- Who? Who do you want to take action on the release? Who does your news affect or benefit? Consider that there may be secondary audience members outside of your target audience, but write specifically for your target audience.
- What? What information are you trying to announce? Is the information new? Always include all forms of possible contact information, such as telephone numbers, websites, emails, postal addresses, and other services like bilingual customer support.
- Where? Where is this new information most relevant? Is the announced information needed in all geographical locations, or is the information mostly useful in confined, specific locations? Some situations call for two press releases, one for the areas affected by the announcement and another for areas unaffected by the announcement.
- When? When is the information going to become useful, or when will the information become useless? Be certain that not only the date is clear but also the action that needs to occur is clear.
While the “December 2017 until January 2018” seems clear, when are the true start and end dates? A more precise date will be appreciated by the news outlet and the customer. For example, a more specific time frame is: “Dec. 1, 2017 until Jan. 15, 2018; all dates are according to Eastern Standard time.
- Why? Why is this important news? What will make the target audience care about our announcement? Put the main idea and purpose of the press release in the beginning of the release.
How did this come about? Remember to keep the information relevant to the target audience, and not to use a press release for placing blame or pointing fingers. News and media outlets will not likely use your release if there is propaganda or self-serving detail included in it.