KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Last week, I attended the American Meat Science Association’s Reciprocal Meat Conference at the Univ. of Nebraska - Lincoln. The four-day conference brought together current and future members (many of the attendees were students from the different meat science programs around the country) of the meat science industry. In addition to countless networking opportunities, award presentations and general sessions, the conference featured a number of different breakout sessions on meat-related topics (so many it was hard to choose which to attend).
Day 2 was held on the Univ. of Nebraska campus, and featured breakout sessions including Food Transparency, Marketing Claims and Meat Labeling, Chilling Effects on Pork Carcasses and Meat Quality, Animal Welfare Career Path, Impacts and Potential Impacts of the New Poultry Inspection System, to name a few.
Like the other attendees, it was difficult for me to decide how to spend my time. One session that I decided to attend was titled, “Science Communications: How to Reach the Lay Audience in a Compelling Way” which was conducted by Janet Riley, North American Meat Institute senior vice president of public affairs.
The goal of this session was to educate the attendees, both students and current members of the meat science industry, on how to speak with the media about science, and how to have it make sense. I wasn’t really the target audience of this session – being a member of the media myself – but I wanted to find out what Riley’s advice would be.
She advised people to keep science simple when speaking to the media (or really to any layperson). She explained that even if you’re speaking to someone about something they don’t support or believe in (like animal agriculture production) that you’re far better to give examples and even show them how it’s done right in order to truly educate them on the process. She reminded everyone to stay positive and be clear at all times when talking about issues involving the meat and poultry industry, whether to a member of the press or to a friend or neighbor.
At the end of the session, as she was running out of time, she briefly mentioned a new program that NAMI had developed to help industry people become better communicators and advocates – it’s called Communicators Advocating Meat and Poultry or CAMP. Admittedly I had never heard of this group before, so I grabbed a brochure on my way out the door. I didn’t really take the time to look at it until I was back at my office a couple of days later, but as I flipped through the brochure I immediately saw the value in its mission.
CAMP’s mission is for members of the industry to be proactive in communicating positive messages about the industry to friends, family members, community and even children in various ways, including Tweeting, hosting media, blogging, career days talks or speeches in the local community. NAMI launched this new effort in 2014 in order to recruit communicators with a passion for meat and poultry and the farmers, ranchers and processors who make it.
The brochure explained how “it’s essential for members of the meat and poultry industry engage in the online conversations occurring now, that we do so in personal ways – and that we do it before a crisis hits.” The bottom line: Be proactive not reactive.
Anyone who officially registers as a CAMPer is able to attend online courses in Social Media 101, Social Media 202, Mini-Media Training, Full Media Training, Blogging 101, Speaking to Kids, and Speaking to the Community. Participants will also receive urgent breaking alerts and quarterly memos detailing the efforts of other participants.
In addition, participants receive buttons that say, “Got meat question? Ask me. I know meat!” and “Got meat question? Ask me. I’m a meat scientist!” The buttons are designed to help people engage with the public – to start a dialogue and to help answer questions and combat misconceptions. CAMPers are also invited to join a private Facebook page to share resources and information.
To date, the CAMP program has a little more than 50 members. That means in addition to all the association representatives out there communicating about the meat and poultry industry there are more than 50 additional people delivering positive messages about the industry to the public. They are doing their part to answer questions, combat misconceptions, and set the record straight. As current and future members of the industry, I think this is a role we all should play.
The final word in the CAMP brochure sums it up perfectly: “Perceptions cannot be changed from the top down. Today’s social trends and consumer attitudes tell us clearly that grass-roots efforts are needed. Local voices like yours are credible, relevant and meaningful. Get involved in creating change. Become a Communicator Advocating Meat and Poultry today.”
To find out more go to www.meatinstitute.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.