Interacting with media, being effective spokespeople – AgriPOWER Class VII blog

by Chris Kick of Wooster, AgriPOWER Class VII participant

With a focus on “communication,” I knew that the second session of Ohio AgriPOWER would cover some topics I was familiar with. I’ve spent almost 10 years communicating about agriculture as a farm journalist, and I’ve gotten to know quite a bit about the challenges and opportunities the industry faces.

One of the challenges is for the ag industry to tell its own story. Farmers have an incredible story of hard work and determination, but because of time restraints and lack of experience, their story often goes untold. Or worse, someone tries to tell their story for them — who may not have the farmer’s best interests in mind.

During the first day of the session, professionals like Dan Toland and Melanie Wilt, of Wilt PR; and Dr. Emily Buck, professor of ag communications at Ohio State University, and Joe Cornely, director of communications at Ohio Farm Bureau, shared the many tools farmers have available to communicate.

Those include online tools like Twitter, Facebook and blogging, as well as day-to-day interactions and conversations.

Interacting with media

Cornely also told AgriPOWER members how to interact with the media and participate in interviews. One of the biggest things he told us was to be prepared. Plan ahead for the kinds of questions a reporter might ask, and the types of answers you should give. Be respectful of the reporter’s deadlines, but make sure you’ve given your own self an appropriate amount of time to prepare.

He also told us not to merely say “no comment.”

The media can seem like a daunting group of people, but as Cornely pointed out, they can also be a powerful tool. Those in media are still humans, and they share many of the same values found in the broader society. Building a working relationship with the media can help ensure your organization gets represented more fairly.

And when you do participate in a media interview, or when you share your message with anyone — remember to be authentic.

“The best voice for your industry is an authentic one,” said Melanie Wilt.

Wilt said a spokesperson doesn’t need to know everything, but at least enough to be effective. In fact, she showed us how to be effective in short, nine-second sound bites. The point of her message was to be short and simple, and so often, that is all it takes.

On the second day of the session, Leah Dorman, of Phibro Animal Health, talked about the importance of balancing facts with emotions. She said it’s important to connect with consumers’ values first, before weaving in the facts.

Dorman also said it’s important to value and acknowledge whatever concerns a person may have, and to “not belittle them.”

Effective spokespeople

With so much emphasis on communication — what to say and how to say it — it may seem that the industry is trying to create perfect spokespeople.

But I don’t believe that is the case. Instead, the emphasis is to make people more effective spokespeople — capable of explaining what they do and why — and how to handle different views.

There is much to learn and practice, whether you work in the communications field, as I do, or whether you’re just getting started. This session helped to show that nobody is complete, and we can all improve our communication skills with time and practice.

Apply for AgriPOWER Class VIII by April 15.

Read more from other AgriPOWER Class VII participant

Session 1 blogs

Vicky Shaw discussed her experience in the program’s first session learning about her strength and picking up public speaking tips.

Angela Shoemaker discussed her experience in the program’s first session and learning to step out of her comfort zone.

Session 2 blogs

Chris Kick blogged about interacting with the media and being an effective spokesperson.

Sara Campbell wrote about using storytelling in conversations with consumers and visiting Turner Farms.

Session 3 blogs

Josh Henderson blogged about truly having a voice in Washington.

Libby Bender shared her experience meeting with the authors of the EPA’s WOTUS rule and meeting with her congressman.

Heidi White wrote about learning more about trade at the New Zealand Embassy.

Session 4 blogs

Lara Staples wrote about learning what state government and the people who run it are really like.

Stephanie Leis blogged about the speakers from session 4 and their connection to agriculture.

Jenny Meyer discussed inspiration to share her story more.

Session 5 blogs

Jeff Adams blogged about learning more about tax law and CAUV.

Shelly Detwiler wrote about local government, school funding and oil and gas production.

Session 6 blogs

Matt Schlegel wrote about some of the  peanut and cotton harvesting equipment the class saw on their trip to South Carolina.

Steven Ruggles shared what he learned about vegetable farming in South Carolina and the similarities and difference between vegetable farming and grain farming.

Jami Willard of Columbus wrote about the whirlwind tour of South Carolina’s agriculture that Class VII experienced.

Session 7 blogs

Elaine Beekman of Wellington blogged about this final session not being the end of the learning from AgriPOWER.

Kayla Jones of Newark wrote about volunteering at Highland Youth Garden during the final session.

Mandy Way of Chillicothe blogged about her experience in AgriPOWER reviving her passion for agriculture.


Meet other Class VII graduates.


AgriPOWER is an elite training program designed to help participants become community leaders and advocates for agriculture.