PR and farming: The differences and similarities between planting crops and creating opps

As you may know, I live in a predominantly agricultural area and pretty much my entire family is in farming. Much (ok, most all) of the workforce here works in some sort of agricultural (ag) capacity, whether it be as farmers, crop dusters, seed/chemical salespeople, insurance adjusters or ag consultants, like my husband. I have good friends who are nurses, teachers and the like, and while they aren’t in farming, it’s a sure bet someone in their immediate family is.

So being an executive at a high tech public relations (PR) and marketing firm, many people REALLY don’t know what I do. They see “Metis Communications” and either think I’m in advertising or work for a telephone company. Neither is true. 

So, for my “locals,” and anyone else who is curious, I will debunk a couple of myths about PR - my specific focus area - followed by a bit of an ag tie-in.

Myth #1 – Public relations is advertising

Nope. I’ve heard the saying “advertising is paid media and PR is earned media” and I believe that’s a good descriptor. To earn news coverage, PR pros consult and make strategic recommendations to clients. We develop messaging, brand recognition and create relationships with reporters and analysts so our clients will be viewed as innovative companies and their executives as experts.

And we look for, and create, media opportunities so that we can get them exposure.   

But often before clients get the recognition by the media they so desire, PR pros must tell clients what they need to hear…and maybe not what they want to hear. It’s not always fun. A client might not be as well-positioned against competitors as they think. Their messaging could be off-base. It could take more work to get to where they want to go, and naturally, they’re concerned about burning through cash.  

PR is not buying advertising when you’re ready and communicating what you want. That is a process unto itself. With PR, you have to win attention and secure favorable coverage - which can take a lot of time and effort - but the third-party credibility of media coverage makes it all very rewarding.

Myth #2 - PR is planning parties and writing press releases

Not quite. Does it sometimes involve a party? Occasionally. But that's the exception, not the rule. We do secure speaking opportunities for clients at industry events. And it’s certainly no party trying to convince a panel of judges that your client’s CEO should be chosen over hundreds of other experts. To do that, you need to come up with a compelling topic, write abstracts, develop speaking points, compile data and testimonials, and build an executive's credibility.

It requires a ton of research, it's time-consuming and there’s no guarantee of success. 

Writing a press release involves the same level of research, too. You might have some news to announce but you’ve got to look at its impact on the market, evaluate where you stand against competitors, identify differentiators, brief and win over influencers who will advocate for you, and much more. 

These are just two tasks of a job that has many, and since the advent of digital and related technology developments, additional ones and the need for new skills are always popping up.  

Planting and producing 

As I mentioned before, my husband is an ag consultant. He’s in a field all day and I sit in front of a computer with a farm as a screensaver. Still, our jobs are parallel on many levels. 

Much like the PR pro/client relationship, ag consultants sometimes must tell farmers what they don’t want to hear. Something that they may be using, a particular herbicide for example, may not be working. Energy and resources may be better used on something else. Perceptions they had, plans they were working on, sometimes need to be changed - but you have to help clients adapt and grow. 

Both of our jobs require a good deal of research, too. He follows competitive products and makes recommendations; I study competing technologies and develop communications approaches. He researches new trends in the ag industry; I keep abreast of new companies and advancements in tech. He gathers and uses data to make informed decisions for his farmers - we do the same for our clients.

So, in the end, perhaps PR and farming aren’t so entirely different. It’s all about planting seeds - literally or with ideas - and doing what it takes to nurture growth. And, of course, our mutual goal is to produce a healthy harvest. And when we’ve achieved it, that’s when the party starts.  

Considering a PR strategy for your organization? Check out the CEO’s guide to PR and marketing here