The $1.4 million national Horticulture for Tomorrow project has stretched perceptions of the role of public relations professionals. Funded by the Australian Government and delivered under the auspices of Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL), the two-year project successfully engaged a diverse horticulture sector in developing resources to help Australian growers care for the environment while producing quality food and plants for consumers around the world.
The project involved working with 35 industry partners and selected media to raise awareness, build support and provide growers with valued information and technical tools. Australia’s first set of industry guidelines for environmental assurance in horticulture were created after extensive trials with growers. A national summit engaged industry in supporting a new vision for environmental management.
The project met 100% of its objectives and has become a benchmark for HAL. At the end of the project the chair of Australia’s peak horticulture industry body found it "delivered on every promise". Demand for the new guidelines, launched in June 2006, is already exceeding supply. The project brand has been adopted as an umbrella brand for HAL’s environmental portfolio because of its standing.
Consumers around the world are becoming increasingly concerned about how food is produced. They want assurance farmers are taking care of the environment and growing ‘clean and green’ produce.
Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL) is responsible for driving research, development and marketing for the diverse horticulture sector – comprising 17,000 individual enterprises.
In 2004, HAL received a major grant from the Australian Government to help growers better manage the environment. The grant came at a time when growers were facing challenges to remain viable against cheap imports and the increasing power of supermarkets. Many were anxious about the prospect of onerous environmental regulations. Others were keen to ‘do the right thing’ but confused where to start.
HAL decided to set up a project that would provide information to growers about the issues and develop Australia’s first guidelines for environmental management in horticulture. An added challenge was the need to build relationships with HAL’s member organisations.
Porter Novelli Adelaide won a competitive tender to provide communication support. After meeting the team, HAL asked Porter Novelli to manage the entire $1.4 million project in its first crucial phase.
A scoping study was commissioned to identify existing environmental management systems, and programs, and issues surrounding them.
Porter Novelli conducted a workshop with industry advisers and technical experts from around Australia to explore issues and opportunities. It identified priority target audiences and existing attitudes, potential key messages, trusted sources of information and influence that might be leveraged.
A desktop review of relevant communication research helped establish best practice and provided additional insights.
Project plans and a draft communication strategy were provided to a panel representing industry for additional input.
The research highlighted:
• deep industry concerns about environmental management and potential negative impacts on growers;
• doubts about whether HAL could bring any value to the issue; and
• confusion and concern among growers about environmental management.
Confused, concerned, seeking information. Pay leveies to HAL.
Aware of project, understand issues. Know where to source information.
HAL management, project team, Australian Government
Internal publics. Responsible for funding, delivering the project.
Efficient, effective project management; supportive.
Horticulture Australia Council (HAC)
National lobby group. Highly influential with HAL members. Keen to play a role. Concerned project met industry needs.
Actively supporting project. Encouraging member organisations to support it.
Supply chain, grower advisers, service providers
Provide technical advice and support to growers, buy and market grower produce. Mixed awareness. Want to prove ‘clean and green’.
Aware of project, better understand issues. Know where to source information. Helping to advise growers.
Concerned about issues. Mixed support for project. Critical role in reaching growers.
Supporting project. Actively distributing information. Improved relationships with HAL.
Media - specialist horticulture and rural, local media in key growing areas
Major source of credible information for growers. Understand growers well. Mixed understanding of environmental issues.
Publish project media material.
The initial priority was engaging industry so they would support the project and play an active role in distributing information. This was critical as HAL does not have its own grower database and has an agreement with members that direct mail will be distributed through them, at their discretion.
The strategy involved taking a highly consultative approach, with an emphasis on two-way communication, by:
• Setting up an Industry Leadership Group (ILG) to provide strategic input.
• Communicating in person with every HAL member to build a sense of ownership and negotiate opportunities.
• Engaging industry in drafting communication materials.
• Organising a national industry summit to discuss environmental issues.
Porter Novelli focused on building awareness and trust in the project as a source of credible and valuable information, which was readily accessible and easy to understand.
Achieving this involved:
• Developing a brand for the project. ‘Horticulture for Tomorrow’ was recommended to avoid connotations of being overtly ‘green’, alienating some growers, while capturing a sense of vision.
• Setting up a Technical Steering Committee (TSC) to provide technical input.
• Using a matrix of communication tools in a sustained approach to raise awareness.
• Leveraging peer group influence by harnessing industry advocates.
• Producing Australia’s first industry-wide guidelines for environmental assurance in horticulture, with practical tools to help growers implement them.
• Conducting formal trials to test the guidelines and make sure they ‘hit the mark’.
Rather than rely solely on HAL members to distribute information, the strategy also leveraged the media. This added value by repackaging existing material. Media targets were carefully selected for relevance and credibility with growers.
Critical to the entire program was crafting key messages that would:
• Reassure growers about why Australian horticulture needed to take a lead role in developing a recognised approach to environmental management; and
• Address perceived barriers and leverage triggers to eventual adoption by growers.
1. Providing full project management services during the first year:
• Negotiating and managing contracts on behalf of HAL, monitoring budgets, administration to the TSC and the ILG.
2. Developing information resources:
• Creating ‘product summaries’ to guide production. The summaries outlined objectives, audiences, proposed content and formats, issues to consider, marketing and distribution, and evaluation methods. *See Appendix D - No 1.
• Developing and maintaining a website.
• Researching, writing, designing an introductory guide to environmental management.
• Producing two drafts and final environmental guidelines, including editing and design. *See Appendix A - No 1.
• Producing a CD version with templates for use by growers.
• Testing draft versions of key materials, including developing a questionnaire to encourage constructive feedback. * See Appendix D - No 2.
3. Marketing the project:
• Creating project name, visual style, testing and refining key messages.
• Producing two promotional flyers. * See Appendix A - No 2.
• Designing three display banners. * See Appendix A - No 3.
• Producing a green bag, used as a conference pack.
4. A stakeholder program:
• Regularly briefing industry associations by phone, face-to-face and email.
• Developing a stakeholder database.
• Preparing regular updates for distribution via email. * See Appendix A - No 4.
• Circulating media releases to key stakeholders and internal audiences.
• Identifying industry advocates.
• Preparing PowerPoint packs to encourage industry representatives to make presentations to their stakeholders.
5. A media program:
• Producing 14 grower case studies. *See Appendix A, No 5.
• Producing eight key media releases highlighting project achievements.
• Distributing material to some 400 rural and regional media.
• Setting up a media database with capacity to tailor by region, industry and spokesperson to increase story appeal.
• Media liaison.
• Providing training and support to designated spokespeople.
6. Organising a national industry environmental summit
The industry summit was held in Sydney in November 2004. Porter Novelli was strongly involved in developing overall concepts for the invitation-only event and was responsible for marketing and promotion, delegate and venue management, briefing speakers, preparing presentations, identifying and briefing facilitators, media liaison, designing working sessions to ensure every delegate had a chance to provide input and systems to capture feedback. See Appendix A, Nos 6 and 10.
7. Ongoing strategic advice and issues management, including:
• Attending ILG and TSC meetings.
• A major strategic review and risk analysis of environmental NGOs.
• Developing future recommendations for encouraging adoption.
• Facilitating the development of a 10-year Vision and Strategy for environmental management within Australian horticulture.
Implementation covered a two-year period, from April 2004 to April 2006
Three key information materials provide a useful barometer for the overall success of public relations strategies and implementation:
- A marketing flyer produced in the first month received only limited interested. Initial orders from HAL members totalled 1000 with 5000 eventually printed.
- The second material for direct mail, an introductory guide required three print runs to meet demand, with the initial 8000 ‘sold out’ in the first week.
- The final flyer produced to market the guidelines attracted five times the number of orders in just two weeks – some 25,000 – with minimal selling in.
There is no question that the stakeholder program turned around industry concerns about the project. Materials were distributed to growers at no cost to HAL. Order records for key products indicate materials reached the majority of growers.
By September 2004 all but one industry member were actively supporting the project by distributing information.
The media program produced extensive coverage in key target media. There was no formal media monitoring but multiple stories were carried by the most desired media including ABC Radio, The Weekly Times and Good Fruit and Vegetables. All media clippings sighted carried key messages. See Appendix A - Nos 7 and 8.
The case studies proved so popular with industry that an additional four were commissioned.
One of the most outstanding successes was the industry summit. A debrief session with HAL and industry leaders praised the Porter Novelli’s effort and attention to detail. The program ran exactly on time, despite a highly ambitious agenda. There was standing room only at the venue. Every targeted organisation was represented.
The Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture distributed a media release featuring supplied key messages to promote the event. * See Appendix A - No 9.
An exit survey of delegates showed:
- 86% ranked it very well organised, with 46% ranking it as excellent.
- 78% ranked it highly informative, with 20% ranking it excellent.
- 58% were satisfied and 42% were highly satisfied with the overall event.
* A copy of the survey form is provided in Appendix D, No 4. Because of its success, Horticulture for Tomorrow was invited to run a session at the annual HAL industry forum in 2005.
Advice provided in relation to engaging environmental BGOs resulted in a positive and professional relationship being established with two key groups.
Objective: Engage HAL’s 34 industry members in actively supporting the project. Outcomes: Every HAL industry member participated. Industry is actively promoting the guidelines and supporting proposals for additional future activities.100% successful
Objective: Raise awareness about the project and its role in addressing environmental management issues.Outcomes: The brand has become the umbrella for HAL’s environmental activities because of the level of recognition and credibility. Demand is exceeding supply for the guidelines, launched in June 2006.100% successful
Objective: Provide growers with information resources and technical tools.Outcomes: The project produced a series of information resources and technical tools valued by industry, on time and on budget.100% successful
Objective: Generate editorial coverage in specific industry publications and rural media favoured as information sources by growers.Outcomes: Quality media coverage was attained in all key target media.100% successful
The project achieved results far beyond expectations, and was delivered to the complete satisfaction of the client. In fact, it has become a benchmark for HAL and is cited by DAFF as an outstanding success story.
At the launch of the final guidelines, the chair of Australia’s peak horticulture council said it had “delivered on every promise made to industry”.
The project provided a platform for HAL to build stronger relationships with its members.
Horticulture for Tomorrow has become the umbrella brand for a new environmental project because of its standing with industry.Porter Novelli was treated as a valued partner and has been commissioned to carry out additional work by HAL.