Let’s take notes from Fair Oaks Farms on handling activists
Animal Agriculture Alliance
No farm or company ever wants to hear that they’ve found themselves being targeted by animal rights activists. Having your commitment to animal welfare called into question can have major consequences, including dropped business relationships and diminished consumer trust.
Sometimes, a company’s first instinct upon hearing about a potential undercover video release is to hope the story won’t get out. Fair Oaks Farms – a major dairy and pork agritourism operation I’ve referred to previously as the ‘Disney of agriculture’ – chose the total opposite approach when then they heard last week that activists had sought ‘undercover’ employment at one of its dairy farms.
I’d like to commend Fair Oaks on its bold, transparent approach. The company quickly issued a public statement via social media to inform customers and others about the situation and has continued to respond to comments and publish additional content related to the matter, including video commentary from the owners. While the statement has attracted some of the usual comments from activists, it has also drawn out responses from strong supporters of the farm. A few such comments:
“It has been on my To Do list, to bring my family to experience your farm. Now, I feel an obligation to do so. We’ll see you this summer. Thank you for all you do to share such an important and wonderful life experience.”
“I’ve been to Fair Oaks Farms and they are a clean well-run facility. They treat their animals the best they can. We loved our experience there and highly recommend people going and taking the tour.”
“Love your farm and always will. I trust that if any mistreatment of one of your animals is videotaped you will nip it in the bud.”
By being the first to comment on the situation, Fair Oaks has been able to own the narrative and taken a lot of air out of the activists’ tires. Local media has covered the situation and allowed the farm to amplify its message. As of yet the video has not even been released – likely because the activist group has to re-think its strategy as a result of the farm’s response.
The supportive comments also demonstrate the immeasurable value of building up your “trust bank.” Fair Oaks has made countless deposits to its trust bank over the years through each positive customer interaction, and now the brand is able to draw against that goodwill and be trusted to handle this situation appropriately.
We should all take a page out of Fair Oaks’ book – build trust and goodwill with consumers and customers every day, which will give us the confidence to boldly address our critics if we ever need to.
-Thompson-Weeman is vice president of communications for the Animal Agriculture Alliance.
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From June through September, John Etchart spends most of the day driving a tractor through hayfields below the mountains near Meeker in northwestern Colorado.