In April 2004, Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL) received a grant under the Federal Government’s Pathways to Industry EMS Program to develop a program for environmental assurance in the Australian horticulture industry. The project aimed to work with industry to create Australia’s first guidelines and checklist for environmental assurance in horticulture. A detailed communication strategy was developed to address both the overarching project objectives and those relating to engaging industries and delivering information. This included: branding and marketing; grower resources; a stakeholder program; a media program; a national industry summit; and ongoing issues management. The project was a resounding success, with positive and constructive feedback from all key stakeholders received via formal and informal surveys.
Environmental assurance, communication, horticulture, stakeholder, media
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. In 2004, HAL received a major grant from the Australian Government under the Pathways to Industry EMS Program 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 working relationships with HAL’s 34 industry stakeholder members, engage growers in the trial phase and raise awareness of the guidelines. Porter Novelli Adelaide won a competitive tender to provide communication support.
Setting communications goals and objectives
The overarching communication goal was to engage industry and raise awareness about environmental management practices for growers. The project specifically did not aim to drive adoption – this was to be the focus of future projects. A series of specific objectives to achieve the communications goal were established:
Conducting background research
A scoping study was commissioned to identify existing environmental management systems, and programs, and issues surrounding them. A workshop with industry advisers and technical experts from around Australia was conducted 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:
Developing the communications strategy
The strategy was developed by taking a highly consultative approach, with an emphasis on two-way communication, which involved:
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:
Rather than rely solely on HAL members to distribute information, the strategy also leveraged the media, which 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:
Implementing the communications strategy
The strategy was implemented through a range of communications tools and activities (outline below). Implementation covered a two-year period, from April 2004 to April 2006.
1. Developing information resources:
2. Marketing the project:
3. A stakeholder program:
4. A media program:
5. Organising a national industry environmental summit
6. Ongoing strategic advice and issues management, including:
Evaluation against the projects objectives showed all four objectives were met (see Table 1). Three key information materials provide a useful barometer for the overall success of communications strategies and implementation:
Order records for key products indicate materials reached the majority of growers. The stakeholder program played a substantial role in turning around industry concerns about the project. 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. The case studies proved so popular with industry that an additional four were commissioned. Advice provided in relation to engaging environmental NGOs resulting in a positive and professional relationship being established with two groups.
One of the most outstanding successes was the industry summit. The program ran exactly on time, despite a highly ambitious agenda. The Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture distributed a media release featuring supplied key messages to promote the event. An exit survey of delegates showed:
Table 1. Evaluation of outcomes against project objectives
1. Engage HAL’s 34 industry members in actively supporting the project.
Every HAL industry member participated. Industry is actively promoting the guidelines and supporting proposals for additional future activities.
2. Raise awareness about the project and its role in addressing environmental management issues
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.
3. Provide growers with information resources and technical tools.
The project produced a series of information resources and technical tools valued by industry, on time and on budget.
4. Generate editorial coverage in specific industry publications and rural media favoured as information sources by growers.
Quality media coverage was attained in all key target media.
The project achieved results far beyond expectations, in terms of both raising awareness about environmental assurance amongst growers and in bringing a diverse industry together behind a common goal. The project also provided a platform for HAL to build stronger relationships with its members and other industry stakeholders. Horticulture for Tomorrow has become the umbrella brand for new environmental projects because of its standing with industry. The project is cited by DAFF staff involved and HAL as a benchmark in grower communications about environmental assurance. It also won the first ever award given by the Public Relations Institute of Australia for an environmental communication campaign.