A campaign to tell agriculture’s story to the general public in Mississippi has gone from a barebones first-year effort to one that now gets millions of views and impressions yearly on TV, billboards, radio, and at events in the state.
Spearheaded by the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation and now supported by hundreds of companies and individuals, an expanded effort for the Farm Families of Mississippi campaign is scheduled to begin in 2015.
“We started this program with a very small budget in the Jackson, Miss., area, and now we’ll be working with a budget of more than half-a-million dollars in 2015,” Randy Knight, MFBF president, told supporters at appreciation meetings at Hattiesburg and Greenwood.
Stay current on what’s happening in Mid-South agriculture: Subscribe to Delta Farm Press Daily.
Hugh Arant, Leflore County farmer, and 2015 chairman of the MFBF communications and Farm Families program, says, “For such a short period of time, the support for this program has been outstanding. The concept for this program was to tell stories we wanted told and to do it our way. There are a lot of stories about agriculture in the media — animal welfare, GMOs, pesticides, etc. — that often make you roll your eyes at what some are writing, broadcasting, and unfortunately, believing. We wanted to tell our story in a positive way and combat a lot of the sensationalism and misinformation that’s out there.
“Last year, we sent out over 4,000 letters to producers around the state, and had an ad in Delta Farm Press, acknowledging and recognizing everyone who has contributed to this effort, whether $5 or $5,000.
Knowledge of farming lacking
“Even though we’re a rural, agriculture-oriented state, we all know how today’s kids don’t know about farming or where their food comes from — that chocolate milk comes from brown cows. We’re trying to get information about what we do out to the next generation, and their parents, in such a way that they will know more about our very important industry.”
Greg Gibson, MFBF member services and public relations/multi-media director, says when the Farm Families idea was conceived, “We had only the support of Farm Bureau and 20 sponsors, and a vision of where we wanted to go.
“We put about a year and a half of preparation into the planning, messaging, and production of the commercials. We had only enough money that first year for the Jackson market.
“Thanks to our growing list of sponsors — we now have over 250 — we were able to broadcast more than 2,500 commercials in 2014 in every Mississippi TV market — Jackson, Biloxi, Hattiesburg, Greenwood/Greenville, Meridian, Columbus, and Tupelo.
Important upcoming events: Delta Farm Press Calendar of Events
“Ratings data indicate that we made over 22.5 million impressions over the course of the four months we were on the air. We were also on the SuperTalk Mississippi radio network, which has nine stations statewide, and we had a total of 80 static and digital billboards around the state, with 33 million cars passing those boards each month.
“The billboard company, Lamar Advertising, has generously agreed for us to pay for one month and they will leave the billboard up until somebody else buys it. Some billboards have been up year ‘round. In 2014, we estimate over 100 million cars passed these billboards — that’s a lot of impressions.”
Surveys are conducted at the beginning of each year’s campaign, and again at the end, Gibson says, to evaluate results and to report to sponsors on the performance of their investment.
“We’ve had an incredible run so far,” he says. “The first year, we saw a huge jump in name recognition and messaging, and each year we’ve maintained or exceeded that level of recognition by the public. We now have a 62 percent name recognition for the Farm Families of Mississippi program — that’s really strong for the amount of money we’ve spent on this."
More emphasis on social media
In 2015, Gibson says, an increased emphasis will be placed on social media.“We’ve got a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and a website, but we feel we need to make a stronger push to get our message to the important 18-35 age group. We’ve hired a social media marketing firm to work with us on a 12-month campaign to push this information out daily, and we’re revamping the Farm Families website.
“We’re really excited about this addition to our campaign, which will start in January, in advance of the new series of TV/radio commercials that will begin airing in February.”
One area that’s lacking in the campaign, Gibson says, is the Memphis TV market.
“Much of north Mississippi watches Memphis TV stations, and that’s a very expensive media market, which we thus far just haven’t been able to afford. We’ve approached Farm Bureaus in neighboring states about cooperating in a multi-state buy, but that hasn’t panned out. We really would like to get into the Memphis market, and we’ll keep trying to work out something.”
Another source of revenue for the program, he notes, is the Farm Families of Mississippi vehicle tag. “This costs an extra $31 when you buy your car or pickup tag, and each tag generates $24 per year for the program. Thus far, over 1,500 of the tags have been purchased.”
The commercials are done in-house by the MFBF audio-visual department — Gibson and communications specialist Mark Morris produce the award-winning videos — which is a considerable cost saving. “We don’t have to spend the $10,000 to $30,000 per commercial that it would cost to have them done by an outside production crew,” Gibson says. “This allows us to use more money for media buys. Almost every dollar we receive from supporters is spent; it doesn’t sit around in a bank account.”
There is an extensive Farm Families of Mississippi exhibit at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum at Jackson, which attracts thousands of visitors annual. A recent fire destroyed some of the outbuildings at the museum, but Gibson says the Farm Families exhibit was unharmed.
“As an agricultural industry, we need to play a bigger role in the ongoing dialogue about the food and fiber we produce, to connect with consumers and to earn their trust in our American food production industry,” says Randy Knight.
“At least once in our lives, we’re told, everyone will need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman, a preacher — but every day we all need farmers. The public wants to know more about agriculture, and we as producers have a story that otherwise won’t be told unless we join the conversation. We thank everyone who has supported this program to broaden this dialogue.”