You do your best to prevent it, but sometimes there’s no avoiding a crisis. On a farm this could be a disease outbreak, an accident, a fire, natural disaster, environmental damage or even death. What do you do when the media comes knocking, looking for the story to your loss?
First and foremost, get your game plan together. You can come up with a crisis communications plan before an issue ever arises. For the unexpected situation, you might not have time. Once the immediate dangers have been addressed, what can you do if you know the media is next? Things to consider -
Who is the spokesperson? – Who will field calls, do interviews and act as the face of the farm? If a news van was to show up, what are the employees supposed to say? Who answers the phone? How can they help direct those looking for a story?
Outline your facts – What was the issue, what was done to address it, how are you working to correct the issue, is there concern for the community, environment or families involved? If you were a reporter, what would be the facts you would want? Have those ready for the interview. Write it down and feel free to refer to your notes.
Practice - If the interview will be with TV or radio, you can practice your response. Sometimes you might get a second take, but don’t count on it. You can ask for the questions they might be asking ahead of time so you can have the most up-to-date information. Whether they give you a heads up or not, find some one to act as a reporter and do a few run troughs with possible questions and how you want to respond.
Avoid “No Comment.” – Even if you have a comment, if you are not available to answer a phone or are away from the office, since you know – there is a crisis to deal with – you might still be published with “Farmer was unavailable to comment.” Reporters have deadlines and if you don’t get back to them even within a few hours, you might not get your story told the first time. If they do get a hold of you the first time, “no comment” can look like a big bad farmer trying to cover something up. Farmers are honest people. Be honest. You don’t need to disclose every detail, but the facts and your concern are important to rely. If you don’t tell your side of the story, someone else will for you.
Follow up – If you missed their first call, call them back! Most of the time a follow up story will be published and this is your chance to share the farm’s side. Even after the story, if appropriate, a thank you email or phone call goes a long way. You might even become the local voice of farmers if a future ag story pops up.
It will die down – News becomes news, revolves a few times, and then dissolves as soon as the issue does. The first few days might be daunting, but in a few weeks or month, the hype usually gets quiet.
Review - You survived, a little worse for where, but you’re still kicking. Take time to go over the situation with your team and review first off how to prevent it, what other areas need to be addressed, and what would you do differently if something like this happened again.
Share positive news – A crisis brings the spotlight on you on your worst day, but agriculture is so much more than that one day. Share news with your community on field days, expansions, even through social media with the every day happenings. Babies are born, a new crop comes up, you’re still going strong. Be open to sharing farm life.
It’s always good to have a plan and below are a few resources that help in preparing before a crisis hits -
Dairy Response Center
MAEAP Emergency Planning for the Farm
Pork Checkoff Farm-Level Crisis Plan
The 5 C’s of Farm Crisis Management