It was Larry, not Jimmy, Page that was mobbed when he left the stage in San Francisco earlier this year. The Google cofounder had rock star status when he spoke at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, posing for photos with scientists and signing autographs after his talk.
At the microphone, the computer scientist challenged the researchers to raise science’s profile, to become as good in the public relations realm as they are in the lab.
Harnessing the potential of science and technology to solve problems will take a better “sell” of science’s possibilities to policymakers, business leaders and the public, Page said. Scientists need to become more engaged, he added.
“Science has a serious marketing problem, I’m really sure of that,” Page said. “And virtually none of the marketers in the world work for science.”
I immediately drew parallels from his comments on science to agriculture.
Farmers, too, need to become more engaged.
We are really good at the production of agriculture, but we’re lousy at the communication of agriculture, the marketing of agriculture and the selling of agriculture. And let’s face it, production is a very small part of today’s agriculture.
For too long, agriculture has viewed itself as set apart from other business types. We have tax exemptions and collective bargaining exemptions and employer exemptions. But those exemptions, while they may be valuable, created a disconnect on both sides of the farm fence.
We’re different, we said.
And yet each farm faces the same management challenges as any business: competition, employees, production, efficiencies, costs, marketing, profitability.
We need to present our message in a way that connects with diverse audiences. Communication scientists call it “framing” the message; cynics call it “spinning” the message. I call it “being smart.”
It’s Public Relations or Marketing 101: You have different audiences with different interests, so you create different message to reach each one.
Like scientists, agriculture can’t rely on the argument that the “general public needs to be educated” and that once consumers know the facts, they will come around. Instead, agriculture needs to couch its message in social terms, in environmental terms, in food safety terms, in economic terms – whichever route takes you to a particular audience.
“The facts never speak for themselves,” observe researchers Matthew Nisbet and Dietram Scheufele.
Instead, they say, consumers “prefer to rely on their social values to pick and choose information sources that confirm what they already believe.”
You meet people where they already are.
You may think this is just theoretical or academic psycho-babble, but science-based industries like agriculture need to develop their connection with a consumer’s everyday world. It’s that simple.
Whoever is closest to the consumer, whoever gets their message to the most consumers, wins.
(Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 800-837-3419 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)