Thursday, 28 March 2013

Communicating with the industry

Communication is key to the work EBLEX does. Whether it is research that shows how to improve efficiency in your herd or flock, latest market prices, countering negative arguments about the industry, showcasing our activity or simply letting producers, processors and industry organisations how to get hold of us, a lot of time and effort is devoted to getting messages out. And yet, we will never be able to reach 100 per cent of the people we want to.

We work on the estimate that there are around 60,000 beef and sheep farmers in England. We do not have a list that we can refer to check this or so we can contact each one directly. Because levy is collected at point of slaughter or export, it is the abattoirs and auction markets with whom we actually have the contact to physically collect the levy that funds us – not the individuals who serve them. Data protection rules prevent them, or Defra, giving us details of each and every levy payer.

This presents a challenge when we want to be sure we are passing on information to everyone and checking that what we are doing is useful and relevant. Hence, we use a variety of channels, knowing that we will not hit everyone with one route but by using many, we are reaching as many as we can, and we do an annual survey among levy payers to see how we are doing.

The Better Returns Programme (BRP) is core to our activity. The knowledge transfer programme, which has 27,000 signed up members, delivered nearly 250 events between April 2012 to March 2013, with 5,400 producers attending. More than 130 events carried a stock selection message and there was a 96 per cent satisfaction rating among those who attended one of the live to dead days. We mail out three BRP bulletins a year with a pack of the latest information, any new technical manuals and updates on activity in other EBLEX departments, like marketing. Our annual communications survey shows that two-thirds of people who have attended a BRP event have changed a business practice as a result and there is an 80 per cent satisfaction rating with the materials received.

The survey also shows that the majority of respondents read the main farming press, and their local paper, so we ensure a regular flow of news releases is fed to the editorial pages of these publications. This is another important way we communication new schemes, the resources we have on offer and update people on specific activity or issues.

This is backed up by our social media activity. On Twitter, we have 3,200 followers who regularly “retweet” daily messages we post, signposting new content on our website, news stories or specific events.

The website itself has more than 500 pages, plus associated documents and publications. All of our BRP technical manuals are accessible online. There is also an R&D section to look at the outcome of the latest projects, a comprehensive market intelligence section – with close to 150,000 page views in January, the most viewed section of the website – information about the EBLEX board and our governance, and presentations from high-profile events. In addition, we offer more generic services like a weather update and industry news feed to try and giver as much as possible of interest to the industry in one place, lessening the need to go to multiple sites.

Then there is the monthly enews newsletter with 10,000 subscribers, our Facebook page which has a strong following among young farmers, and even this blog, which is regularly read by more than 200 people each week, but as many as 1,200 on occasion. The idea is that by communicating across this broad range of channels, we can reach as many of our levy payers as possible.
We do still get comments with people asking what we do and suggesting that they do not know what we are bringing to the industry. All we can say is that we are doing all we can but it is difficult to reach everybody all the time. However, feedback on the offering is vital and we welcome it. If there is something we are not doing that you think we should be, let us know. And if there are other methods of communication we could be using, we are happy to investigate. So hearing from you what you would like from EBLEX, can help make our ongoing communications work as effective as possible. 

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