With a very successful first year campaign to enhance the image of the state’s farmers under its belt, the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation is already planning for an expanded effort in 2011.

The “Farm Families of Mississippi” campaign included TV commercials, billboards, radio, print materials, and a tie-in with the Mississippi Braves baseball team.

The initial campaign “succeeded beyond our expectations,” said David Waide, MFBF president, at a Grenada, Miss. meeting to honor companies, organizations, and individuals who helped provide financial support.

“For a long time, there has been a ‘preaching to the choir’ frustration among our membership about how the consumer public views agriculture, and we’d been wanting to do something that would effectively enhance that perception.

“Our Communications Committee came up with the idea for the “Farm Families of Mississippi” campaign and our board committed $75,000 to the effort — an amount that has been substantially matched by contributions from a large roster of co-sponsors. We’re very grateful to all the companies, organizations, and individuals who have joined with us in supporting this very worthwhile program.”

Waide says surveys commissioned by MFGF “have corroborated what we already knew — that our state’s farmers have a very high believability rating. Farmers rank second highest in consumers’ esteem, just behind veterinarians.”

Donald Gant, Merigold, Miss., producer and chairman of the MFBF Communications Committee, said the initial campaign “was a great start, and we’re going to build on that success; our 2011 campaign is already taking shape.”

He says the committee began in 2008 exploring ideas about possibilities for enhancing agriculture’s image in the state.

“We looked at what was being done in other states and sought the advice of media and marketing experts. We were told to start small, in one major market, and because media buys are very expensive — particularly for TV — to enlist as many supporters as possible to share the costs.”

Farm Bureau commissioned a poll of Mississippi consumers by an independent research organization, asking 40 questions about their perceptions of agriculture and farmers.

Emphasis on hot button issues

“From the poll results,” Gant says, “we developed a list of ‘hot button’ issues that we could use as the focus for our campaign: the affordability of food in the U.S. compared to other developed nations; that most farms are family owned and operated — not corporate farms; that farmers are good stewards of the environment and natural resources; that livestock farmers treat their animals well, contrary to images presented by animal rights organizations; and that agriculture is a driving force in Mississippi’s economy.”

Once the key issues were selected, Greg Gibson, MFBF member services director/multimedia coordinator, videographer Mark Morris, and their staff did the creative work for the billboards, TV/radio spots, and handout materials.

“We’re fortunate in having some very talented people, who did an outstanding job in turning these ideas into very effective messages,” Gant says.

 “TV/radio time, billboards, etc., aren’t cheap, but we were fortunate that a number of agribusiness partners, organizations, and individuals made generous contributions to supplement Farm Bureau’s seed money.”

Greg Gibson says Farm Bureau’s goal in developing the campaign was “to be sure our messages were credible and that they were what the consumer public needed to hear. After we had the results from the consumer poll, we worked with our marketing firm to develop scripts for the TV spots, logos, billboard messages, radio spots, and promotional materials.

“We concentrated on the Jackson metropolitan market, because that’s where the state’s largest agriculturally unaware population is. We ran 1,200 TV spots, scheduled around newscasts, on two stations.

“As part of the package, one of the TV stations provided an equal number of public service spots with their on-air personality, Barbie Bassett, and Farm Bureau was allowed to host a cooking segment that featured a local farmer who talked about the campaign.”

There were 15 billboards, 15 static and one digital, throughout the Jackson metro area in high visibility locations, and time was purchased on a statewide radio talk network.

Another highlight of the campaign, Gibson says, was a tie-in promotion with the Mississippi Braves, an AA affiliate of the Atlanta Braves baseball team.

Presentations for audience of 4,000

“We sponsored a fireworks show at a Friday night game, which was attended by more than 4,000 people. Local farmers passed out Farm Families of Mississippi refrigerator magnets and recipe cards featuring Mississippi commodities. The TV spots were also played on the Jumbotron at center field and farm facts were read over the public address system between innings. We also purchased a banner that will hang in the stadium all year long.”

Looking at numbers from a survey following the campaign, “It’s really evident that the public not only got our message — they remembered it,” Gibson says.” We really hit a home run.”

A Web site was created (www.growingmississippi,org) to promote all the things farmers do for consumers, and includes links for the TV spots and other materials. There is also a YouTube link to a video about the campaign (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=on9XOF596jk).

The campaigns are concentrated in February, Gibson says, because “that’s when most people are inside watching TV, and that’s when the Mississippi legislature is in town.”

The 2011 campaign, he says, will feature all new TV/radio spots, billboards, etc., continued participation with the Mississippi Braves team, and sponsorship of activities at the Mississippi State Fair. “We also hope to make this a part of our Ag in the Classroom program, with Farm Bureau educators going into schools and talking about the importance of agriculture.”

The larger budget for 2011 “will allow us to add the Biloxi-Gulf Coast market — another fast-growing, basically urban population that knows little or nothing about agriculture.”

Farm Bureau was also successful in getting a USDA grant of $50,000 to promote specialty crops in Mississippi, Gibson says. “We were able to fold the grant money into the image campaign. Among the specialty groups featured will be the state’s beekeepers.

"We plan for this to be a long-term effort, to keep the message before the public," he  says.

Survey shows campaign's success

In a public opinion survey of 400 randomly-selected Mississippi residents in June 2010, four months after campaign, 89 percent had a favorable opinion of Mississippi farmers.

Food produced in America is safer than foreign-produced food, 85 percent agreed; 73 percent agreed that most farms in Mississippi are family farms; 88 percent agreed that farmers are good stewards of the environment; and 79 percent agreed that Mississippi farmers treat their animals and livestock properly.

Fifty-three percent of the survey participants recalled seeing or hearing ads promoting Mississippi agriculture and farmers, which Gibson says, is “a high success rate, given that recall for specific message campaigns is often 30 percent or less.”

Donald Gant says the image campaign helps to fill a knowledge/perception gap between urban residents and farmers.

“In an earlier era, we all were closely connected — farm folks and town folks — but that’s not the case any more. A lot of town folks just don’t know anything about agriculture or its importance to their lives. A lot of times, they’re given unfair and downright untruthful perceptions by anti-agriculture groups.”

David Waide told of a recent poll by a Jackson newspaper as to whether agricultural subsidies should be eliminated to help reduce the budget.

“Nothing irks me more than to hear someone say, ‘I can’t believe they pay farmers to farm,’” he says. “Farmers don’t receive subsidies — those who are the ultimate recipient of the subsidies are American consumers, who enjoy the lowest food costs of any developed nation, thanks to the outstanding productivity of our farmers.”