Communication is your business, says J.J. Jones, NIAA 2019 conference speaker

“If you don’t view stakeholder engagement as part of your business, you are on your way out of business,” boldly states NIAA Annual Conference speaker J.J. Jones, co–founder of Roots and Legacies Consulting, Inc. a company which offers strategic communications and marketing support.

An avowed Foodie, who says he has a passion for food, as well as experience working with food system clients, Jones says even small businesses need a model that lets them interact directly with stakeholders. The NIAA 2019 Annual Conference, held April 8–11 in Des Moines, Iowa, has a theme of Animal Agriculture – Innovation, Technology & Consumer Engagement and features Jones and his presentation Cultivating Meaningful Conversations to help animal agriculture industry professionals understand not only the need to communicate, but find meaningful and effective ways to do so.

“We want people to feel comfortable with the decisions they are making, in a restaurant or a grocery store, choosing food for their family and friends, and many changes in today’s food systems are a direct result of innovation and technology,” Jones explains. “That means people are going to have more and more questions on how food impacts them, animal welfare, food safety, where food comes from and more.”

When asked how to communicate accurately in the face of traditional and social media accounts which may focus on the negative, repeat erroneous, out–of–date information or even have a bias, Jones says there is good news.

“We know that when consumers are looking for information in today’s environment, they don’t just take one source as the whole story.” Researching is relatively easy with at–our–fingertips technology. “They do the same thing with questions about food, food safety, etc.,” Jones says.

“The animal agriculture industry can ensure that consumers get the complete picture that they are looking for by sharing facts–based information.” He says consumers are good at figuring out information sources that are pushing their own agenda and not sharing the whole story. “They are not as influential as they think they are,” he says of celebrities and reporters who use media to further their own causes.

“They do raise awareness on certain topics and we’d better be ready to share information of our own,” he says. Consumers need to be able to find credible information from companies, farmers and ranchers, academia, public officials and others who they see can be highly trusted.

For every piece of negative information,” Jones cautions, “it takes 3 to 5 pieces of positive information to offset it. We need to work collaboratively so that those 3 to 5 positive, factual pieces are available to connect with consumers and their values.”

Back to making it your business to communicate about your business, Jones claims that every animal agriculture professional has expertise to share and can find their own niche in how to share it. “We may not consider ourselves an expert, but we can even say ‘I don’t have the answer” and refer to others in the field who can give the answer,” Jones says. He suggests you support your trade associations and coops so they can share factual information or can provide it to you to share.

Another way is to decide what you are comfortable with, where your skills and talents make the most sense to participate in sharing information. Write a blog, use Twitter to engage, take pictures and post on Instagram. Not interested in digital or social media? Interact with the community by being part of a panel or be ready to have a hallway conversation one–on–one, in person.

Sometimes, we human beings like to be comfortable, and we preach to the choir. “We tend to go where individuals are in the same mind–set as we are, but we need to challenge ourselves to find people who want to engage in meaningful conversations about today’s food systems but don’t already know the same information we know,” says Jones.

No matter what your place is in the animal agriculture supply chain, Jones guarantees you have networks of individuals that you can engage with personally and you are going to find a significant number of individuals who have an interest in today’s food system. “They have questions, they have topics they want to learn more about,” he says. He recommends using a personal perspective and putting a human face on the industry.

Fortunately, most of us in the developed world don’t worry about where our next meal will come from, if it is safe or nutritious. We are well fed. Since we have access to safe, affordable food as a society and as a country, it creates a place for consumers to ask more questions about food, in a more detailed way. Who did this, why did they do it that way?

It’s the business of everyone in the animal agriculture industry to get ready to answer.

–National Institute for Animal Agriculture