I was thrilled to give the keynote speech at the COPA-COGECA Seminar “Coordinated and effective communication for assuring a viable and sustainable EU agriculture sector and Common Agricultural Policy.” Being this a key theme of Expo 2015 Milano where I was in charge of Digital Communication for the European Union pavilion, I was excited to have another opportunity, two years after the Expo, to reiterate the importance of bringing about a solid dialogue and a concrete set of policies to face the challenge of feeding the planet with 9 billion people expected in 2050. Here are my words at the event. What do you think is key in promoting solid agricultural communication? Let me know in the comment section below.
The EU Common Agriculture Policy has been a cornerstone of EU integration. Upon its construction, development and management depend so many other policies and political circumstances that need to be analysed separately in terms of impact but also holistically in terms of the ramifications that these policies bring into Europe and the world.
When we talk about communicating on CAP and agriculture at large we do not only talk about farming. Agricultural communication also addresses all subject areas related to the complex enterprises of the food-feed chain. We talk about food safety, animal welfare, rural issues, natural resources management from water to solar power, we talk about jobs, science, research and funds, renewable energy and we discuss issues that have an impact at the local level but that affect policies and politics globally.
Furthermore, the range of action of agricultural communicators spans all participants, from scientists to consumers – which makes their job hard in facing challenge one: “WHEN YOU COMMUNICATE TO EVERYBODY , YOU COMMUNICATE TO NOBODY”
When we talk about coordinated and effective communication to ensure a viable and sustainable EU agriculture, the first question to answer is “who are we talking to?” Is it going to be consumers, producers, distributors, lobbies, groups of interests, retailers or policy makers? Whatever the answer, be assured there is no overall valid communication strategy and approach that can be applied to all these audiences. To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.
There are different ways you can communicate issues related to agriculture. You can do it in a soft way. Showing photos of happy cows, producing milk for babies or another family out on a pic-nic, biting an apple in order to educate people towards a more healthy lifestyle…You can do it more aggressively, for instance by highlighting the challenges and dangers of not implementing a sustainable global strategy to feed the projected 9 billion people expected to inhabit the planet in the year 2050. You can do it more institutionally, by informing systematically about all laws, directives and regulations published by the institutions. You can do it more strategically, by shedding light on the fact that even though more and more people are getting out the threshold of poverty over the past 20 years (largely thanks to the stronger economy of China), the gap between malnutrition and obesity is getting wider, highlighting the necessary need to not only focus on resources, distribution and funds but especially on education towards a healthier and more sustainable diet and awareness about intensive production of foods that could have significant impact on the way we can feed the planet in the near future.
Certainly something you cannot do is to communicate passively, which means shooting out information and hoping that “somehow” by some sort of act of faith, your stakeholders will read it, share it or comment about it or simply click on the “Read more” link… You gotta go get those likes, shares and followers through engaging and targeted content. You have to learn how to use hooks in a thumb scrolling society. Success in management requires learning as fast as the world is changing.
As digital strategist for the European Union at Expo Milano 2015, the biggest ever event on food and nutrition which welcomed over 20 million visitors in 6 months, we had a number of challenges which affected the way we communicated and managed the brand of the European Union.
As a global player in the debate on food and sustainability, the European Union (EU) should seek to reinforce its position, highlight its achievements and, most importantly, take this opportunity to work towards finding common solutions to these issues with other international organisations, countries and private stakeholders. The EU leads the way in terms of promoting quality food and ensuring food security and safety and environmental sustainability.
Indeed, with over 800 million people facing hunger in less economically developed countries and high and increasing levels of obesity and non-communicable diseases in developed countries, now is the moment to act. Ill-informed food choices, dwindling natural resources, climate change and threats to the world’s biodiversity are all issues that need to be tackled urgently. Expo Milano 2015 focused the World’s attention on addressing these challenges and provided a platform to deliberate on these pressing issues.
What is needed is the intelligent management of Earth’s resources. If we really wish to put an end to our ongoing international and social problems, we must eventually declare Earth and all of its resources as the common heritage of all the world’s people.
The coordination challenge: You should not sacrifice efficiency for the sake of over inclusiveness. You want to listen to everybody but it is up to you to make decisions and be held accountable. Establish a chain of command meaning that give everybody the chance to contribute but as communication manager don’t feel necessarily obliged to make everybody happy or visible. If you are the communication manager, be the manager. Make decisions.
When you coordinate a varied communication project, you will be under pressure to make some content or activity more visible than others. Keep the vision of your target audience, your brand, your mission statement clear in mind so that you know how to make holistic decisions that will affect your final goals. Plato used to say that “Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.” As a manager you will have to make that distinction.
Our task is very hard as communicators because most communication consumers think they can be communication producers, not because you know how to eat that means that you know how to cook. Meaning that not because you can read, or because you use Facebook and Twitter or because you watch videos on YouTube you are a communication expert and the expertise required to make content attractive and engaging is the product of years of work, not the improvisation of skills. As communication professionals there is a risk in selling ourselves short for the sake of accommodating non-experts in our field.
Be confident of your communication skills. Be confident of your experience and the science you apply when communicating to your audience and be confident as a manager, because you are accountable for the results you will or will not obtain.
As communicators for create global causes you should feel as both managers and leaders. Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. And you have the chance to do both.