Tips on Dealing with the Public
February 19, 2021
- I appreciate everybody coming in this morning, I wanna make sure you're able to see my screen as I'm getting things set up here. If anybody can give me a thumbs up. All right. Awesome. So a lot of what we do as in Michigan Farm Bureau, of course we always say that we are the voice of agriculture that means we talk a lot with the public and with the media. And this is less about your Hauler Certification Program and more about regardless of whether you're a farmer or a custom Hauler you are gonna have to deal with the public, you are potentially gonna have to deal with the media. And so this is really kind of a guideline for tips and ideas to keep in mind for when you are operating your business. So we saw a few examples from Craig's presentation of some spills and some accidents that have happened. This is pretty much whether you're a farmer or a hauler, this is pretty much the worst thing that you wanna have happen to your business. Now I'm gonna share this video everybody let me know if you're not able to hear the sound on this. - Talk about a mass. It's gonna take at least a few days to clean up a huge manure spill in Door County. - One of the state's biggest smelly of spills in nearly 10 years more than 600,000 gallons of liquid manure spilled as were reported yesterday, early yesterday at Kurt DeGrave dairy farm near Highway 57 in Brussels in southern Door County. - So here we have the unfortunate situation of not only have you had a spill but it's covered on the nightly news and they even helpfully provided the name of the farm and a map of exactly where you are. And that's not to say that that this is the kind of thing that you have to absolutely avoid but there's ways that you can get through that and plans that you can make so that if an accident happens you're ready and you're better able to deal with either public attention, media attention, or you could say fallout from things that happen afterwards. All right, there we go. I'm gonna try to get to our next slide here. Really what you wanna think about when you are developing a plan for your business. And again, this is for if you are a farm if you are a custom hauler, this can all apply to you. You wanna have two plans. Number one, you wanna have a plan for what to do if you have an incident, a spill, an accident something that happens. You wanna have a plan that's gonna address questions or concerns especially if they come from people who live nearby and you need to be thinking about that sometimes different responses may be needed. So there's gonna be a difference between your interaction with the public or neighbors who come to the scene versus media inquiries. One thing you always wanna keep in mind when you're dealing with a spill or an accident is you wanna be aware and you wanna be prepared for the fact that somebody is gonna be taking pictures or taking video of that. Everyone now has your very own video camera right in your pocket because phones have the capability of taking pictures and video and a good way to approach a potential accident or situation is just to assume that you are right now on camera that will help you to kind of keep in mind the things that you need to be thinking about in terms of schooling your reactions and being careful of things that you say and do. The other plan that you wanna have though actually comes before an incident. So this is your day to day positive communication that helps to build that trust in the community so that it doesn't happen to be that the very first time someone ever hears of your business is when there's a spill or an accident. This is the kind of plan that you're gonna develop that's gonna share your practices, your certifications, your attention to quality and safety and the importance of you having that personal touch not only with your clients but also with other people in the community. And it's also a good way for you to really step out and show that you are responsive and that you're accommodating neighbors and people who might have concerns about what it is that you're doing. So two plans, what we'll go through first is a plan for your incident response. Now, obviously when there is an accident when there's a spill particularly if public safety could be at risk your first and primary obligation is to start your cleanup activity, start the reporting, and the required notifications that you need to make. Don't take the time to answer questions or talk to the media if you know that there's things that you need to be doing first take care of those first. And again, keep calm. Anybody can be videoing you, anybody can be watching you. So even though it's a stressful situation be keeping in mind, hey, somebody might see this later and it's a good chance they will especially if something happens out on a public roadway, I need to make sure that I'm showing that I'm competent that I'm responsible and that I'm doing what I should be doing to take care of this problem. As far as your communication goes though you can actually develop a written response plan as part of your spill plan and you can include things in it that help you to be more prepared to deal with communication that you're gonna have to make. You can actually include in your plan short pre-written statements about your farmer business so that people can understand who you are what you do, and some of the background of the business, you wanna make sure that you're including contact information for the owner or manager or spokesperson for the company. And it's a good idea to kind of have a plan in mind of who is gonna be your spokesperson if there's an accident. If you're an owner of a farm or a custom hauler and you've got employees do you wanna make sure that they understand that if there's questions if the media wants to interview somebody maybe they should be referring those questions and those interview requests to the owner or to the spokesperson to make sure that information is getting out correctly. The other important thing to write and again pre-written statements really help you out so that you're not having to think of it on the fly. Making a statement about your intent to follow laws and regulations, to cooperate with law enforcement, cooperate with regulatory agencies that goes a long way toward helping people understand that even though you've had an incident you've had an accident that you are gonna be responsible and that you are gonna do what you were supposed to do in order to help fix it. Those are good things to keep in mind and again, you can write those ahead of time so that you don't have to think of them and in a panic situation wonder what you should be doing. There is a difference though between talking to the public, to neighbors, to people who stopped by versus talking to the media. And there's also some similarities. I obviously, in all cases regardless of who you're talking to, you wanna be truthful don't get caught making a statement that is inaccurate that then can come back and bite you later. And similarly to that end answer questions, provide facts, don't overshare. If you start going on and on and on about history or an incident, or you feel like you wanna try to be helpful to help people understand what's going on you may accidentally say something that could provide legal jeopardy for you later if there is some kind of prosecution or if there is some kind of repercussion from what happens related to your spill. So again, answer questions, but don't go overboard with it. Remember that it is always okay to ask someone to wait for a response either because you're busy doing cleanup activities or to wait until you report on your spill. Generally speaking, when you have particularly on roadway when you have a a spill or an incident you're required to file a report with the state it's okay for you to ask people to wait until that report is developed because that way you're gonna have all the information right there available for them. Again be prepared for pictures and video, people might show up and immediately grab out their phones. Do not try to stop someone from taking a picture or video that can very quickly devolve into a situation where now all of a sudden your being accused of assault because you're trying to stop someone from taking a video that you don't want them to take. If they take a picture, if they take video, they are allowed to do so. That being said, given that the majority of spills and discharges of manure tend to happen either at the storage site or on the field where it's being applied it's private property. You are allowed to ask people to leave private property particularly if it's just some random passer-by. And if they refuse to leave, you are allowed to call law enforcement to help enforce that. You don't have to let people onto your property just because they're curious about what happened. The only people who you have to let on there obviously are law enforcement authorities and and agency folks who are responding to that incident. So now let's get to the differences. If you've got bystanders, if you've got particularly neighbors to where an incident has happened they're gonna be concerned about their property, about safety, they may have strong feelings about manure application. This is a good opportunity for you or the spokesperson for your farm or your business to talk to them directly, that's really gonna be a helpful kind of scenario to not only control the messaging and to say what it is that you feel like is important to say about your business but also shows that you are a responsible operator, that you take responsibility when things happen and that you are reassuring them that you are going to take care of those problems. Now, a difference here is that when you're talking to the media it is not only a lot more likely that they're gonna ask you a question that's either unrelated to the spill directly or they're gonna ask you something about information you don't have, this is a case where it's oftentimes a lot better to refer them to other people who might be more of an authority on whatever it is that they're asking, a regulatory agency, an industry group, your extension agent somebody who can answer some of those questions. And actually media tend to appreciate when you give them other references of people they can talk to about a story, which isn't always gonna translate into goodwill and nicer reporting about you but it can. And again, you don't really, it's not that same opportunity that you have with your bystanders and your neighbors to make that relationship. Media folks are gonna come, they're gonna report on their story and then they're gonna be gone. More on talking to the media. I know TV shows love to do this where there's high stakes important stuff going on and somebody is talking to a reporter and then they say this is off the record you can't report on this or you can't tell anybody that I said this, that's actually not a thing. In real life if you are being interviewed and a reporter is either filming you or writing down things that you say they can quote anything you say you cannot tell them this is off the record and expect that they're not gonna report it. So that's a good thing to keep in mind to make sure that you're very careful about your answers and don't say things that you wouldn't want them to report on because they're gonna report on it. A couple of things to keep in mind if you're being filmed, talk to the reporter answering the questions not the camera. And there's a couple of reasons for that. Some of them have to do with how you look on camera but the other is that it can be very intimidating to talk on camera and the more you look at the camera the more intimidating it is and it's easy to come off as nervous and unprepared and not the image that you wanna project of hey, I'm a responsible person who's gonna take care of this. Also be aware of your background. If a reporter is there on the scene, there's a spill, you wanna make sure that there's not a great big shot of your truck with your business name on it right behind you as you're talking about this spill. And as a matter of fact if you can be not standing in front of the spill at all that's also helpful so that you can focus on what you're saying and not be thinking about what's going on behind you. You can decline to go on camera and still answer questions and that might be something that you wanna plan ahead of time is to say, hey, if there's an incident, if the media shows up, do we wanna agree to an interview? Who's gonna do it? Who's our spokesperson? And are they gonna agree to go on camera? That way again, you're not having to make those important decisions on the fly in an emergency situation. The other thing I wanna cover and this is because we are in the age of the internet it's the followup. A lot of times and this comes from activist groups or from members of the public people who have a bone to pick with you even if it's unrelated to what you're doing. You're gonna have somebody who potentially might post something negative about your operation and particularly after an accident. I wanna show you a little piece of this video and this isn't related to a manure spill but for those who might be unfamiliar with the situation there's a very large dairy farm in Northern Indiana called Fair Oaks Farms. And they had a situation in which an animal rights group infiltrated their farm and took undercover video of some of their employees abusing some of the livestock on the farm. And they took the video went away for months and then posted it in this very highly produced video accusing the farm of being bad to their animals. The response that was posted the next day is by the farm owner here Mike McCloskey and listen to what he says when he comes right out and starts talking about the incident. - Hello, my name is Mike McCloskey, owner and founder of Fair Oaks Farms. Yesterday Animal Recovery Mission released a video that contains footage of Fair Oaks Farms. Watching this video, broke my heart and created a sadness that I'll have to endure the rest of my life. I am sorry and I apologize for the footage in this video. So with a heavy heart and great disappointment that I feel in the breakdown of our systems I would like to update you on how we're approaching to correct all these actions. We thought that our program would drive our animal care values to every one of our employees. You see at Fair Oaks every employee goes through an animal welfare training before they start their job and then participate in a continuous education training throughout the year. On top of that they sign a document with us that clearly states that if they see anyone committing any animal cruelty that they will report it immediately to their supervisor. In the case of these four employees in these videos all four went through the training. They had gone through continuous education and they had signed the document that they would report. Matter of fact, three of them had been reported by their coworkers for animal cruelty and all three were terminated three months ago before we even knew that there was any undercover video employee at Fair Oaks Farms. Unfortunately the fourth one was not reported as doing animal cruelty and we had no idea about it until we watched the video yesterday and we terminated him yesterday afternoon. It is imperative that I put in. - So the rest of this video actually is well worth watching and it's available on YouTube if you wanna look it up because he spends the rest of it talking a lot about the actions that the farm is gonna take. But I wanna point out some things that are really important and are good to keep in mind if you wanna do a response to negative coverage, negative postings on the internet about you and if it's related to an incident, or an accident, or a spill or something about your farm or your hauling business. Number one, you notice that he apologized and didn't explain it away or try to make excuses for it. He apologized, that shows that you're responsible and and are taking responsibility for what happened. The other thing you wanna be careful of and this is going right back to that idea of don't overshare is you wanna be sure that as you're making your apology and as you're going through your discussion don't admit to actions that either are uncertain or that could cause you legal jeopardy. Stick to the facts, stick to the things that you wanna convey and wanna get out there. The other thing that he did and continues to do through the rest of the video is outline the actions that you've taken already and the ones that you're gonna continue to take. So you notice that he talked about, hey, when coworkers reported these people for abusing our animals we fired them right away. And the one that we didn't know about we fired him as soon as we saw the video. Taking that responsibility to say here's the actions we've done already to fix a problem and then to prevent or reduce the chance that the problem's gonna happen again. And again there is never too many ways that you can say that you are gonna cooperate and comply with regulatory agencies, with law enforcement, whoever else is involved that really helps to address a problem in a way that builds that goodwill and makes people understand, hey, I understood I did something wrong. I am taking responsibility for that and here's how I'm gonna make sure it doesn't happen again. Those are all really key points and help to make your response to negative coverage, make you the bigger person and build that trust back. So let's talk about the other part of your plan. Remember I said you have to develop two plans we talked about one for an incident, let's talk about the other plan the proactive communication that you have before an incident. This is a really, really crucial piece of this because again you don't want the first time somebody has ever heard of your farm or your hauling business to be when you get coverage on the evening news. So it's a good idea if you don't do so already to take those activities and take those actions that help you to be a well-known and well-respected person in your community and really even outside just your direct industry too get to know neighbors, get to know the local officials, agency staff, university extension. If you don't know these folks already get to know them and let them know who you are and what you do. Share information about your business and talking with those people. Talk about the certifications you have, talk about your training, talk about what you do with your employees and identify who are the people who are kind of the go-tos your designated spokesperson, your owner, or manager. Here's what our employees are responsible for. Another good thing and this is stepping outside the box a little bit but again, it builds that relationship in the community not necessarily just in your industry or with your clients. And that is to really get engaged to support your community, whether it's a case where you have an opportunity to sponsor an event or to host an event, once we back to being able to do stuff in person which I am so looking forward to. Or whether it's gonna public meetings speaking up and talking about things that you do, take those opportunities let people get to know you because that way if something happens they already know you and they already have that good sense of trust that, hey, this is a responsible operator I know them, I'm gonna give them the benefit of the doubt. One thing that's fortunate is that since we do live in the age of the internet it is really important for you to have an online presence. So I've grabbed some screenshots of a couple of websites that were really cool, One for a farm, one for a hauling business. Have that online presence whether it's a website, or a Facebook page or something online that people can look up your business and find information that you wanna put out there about them instead of just, some activist group complaining about you or negative news coverage. It's your opportunity to provide information about your business or about your farm. You can do anything from pictures to videos to show what it is that you do, what your business is like. It's a good opportunity to talk about why manure application is beneficial because there's a lot of negative information out there that you can counter by talking about the benefits of it. Again, celebrate those achievements, celebrate those awards those certifications are you verified, put that picture on your website or on your Facebook page. Did you get certified through the Manure Hauler program? Hey, you should talk about that because that shows that you're taking that extra step of responsibility. Discuss safety, environmental responsibility the other things that you're doing at your farm or on your business that help to make sure that you're a responsible operator. And also make sure that this website or this Facebook page or online presence is business only. Keep your personal stuff out of it unless it's related to the business. So if you run a business and your kids work for the business and they get married or they have kids yeah, that's fine, so celebrate that kind of stuff. But keep personal views out of it because that way you're not generating controversy on a site that's dedicated to building good public relations. Also use the personal touch. Again get to know those neighbors and those clients particularly people who could be affected by your application and your operation. and help them understand the standards that you follow. In Michigan we have a really great resource for that not only the Hauler Certification that we're launching here but also we've got Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices for Manure Management and Utilization. That's all about storage and land application of manure they are not well for anybody other than a permitted CAFO. They're not required, but they are recommendations. Make sure you follow them because they have some really good guidance on how to minimize nuisance and odors and things that are gonna make those people less likely to wanna be in good relations with you and help you out. To sum up and kind of put a bow on all of this remember to plan for the best, use your community outreach, promote your business, show that you care use those online tools to do the same thing and also use personal communication. Follow the rules, require all your employees to do the same and show that manure application is beneficial and that you've got a good business that handles these things well. While you're doing that also plan for the worst. Look at your incident response, write communication into your spill plan so that you know who's gonna talk what they're gonna say and how it's gonna be done. Pre-write some statements for the public or media make sure to include contact information for that spokesperson or the owner, answer those questions but again avoid that oversharing avoid volunteering information that can get you in trouble later and always stay calm and assume that you are being recorded. So if you have questions or wanna chat more about it this is my contact information here at FarmBureau. You are welcome to get ahold of me any time. And I don't think I have a whole lot of time for questions, but we may have a couple. - [Woman] Yes, we did have one question on will these tips and guidance information to be shared with Farm Bureau members say in Farm News and basically in a way to share with farmers out in the countryside. - I think that's a great idea, I do. I actually worked in collaboration with our media team to develop this presentation so that could probably come to good use for members and be available through Farm News. So thank you, good suggestion.