We have worked with MSD Animal Health since 2017, across many of their business units, to ultimately position MSD as the leader in preventative animal health in the UK. We began with a clear brief – to change farmer attitudes towards vaccines and animal health. We were tasked with moving them from a reactive approach, to a proactive one.
As the campaigns have evolved, and as we’ve worked with more and more parts of their business, our reach has expanded to the wider industry – but how we position our client, and our goal of farmer behaviour change, remains the same.
Our team live and breathe agriculture. However, we don’t pretend to have all the answers or believe in preaching to the audience we are often tasked with targeting – farmers.
For MSD we have used focus groups to steer brand and campaign development, alongside surveys and opinion polls to ‘test’ the theory.
Our campaigns put our client at the forefront of key issues to show added value to stakeholders and customers alike. However, we also concentrate on peer-to-peer communications to influence behaviour change.
For the ruminant division of MSD this includes the flourishing Disease? Not On My Farm! Ambassador programme. Using our network of contacts, we began with a small cohort of farmers to act as champions for proactive disease management on farm. Using a media partnership with a leading agricultural title, we launched the campaign forward with video, print and digital coverage plus extensive focused social media campaigns.
Our ambassadors have gone on to speak at farmer events on behalf of our client, attend focus groups for product development and help fuel ongoing PR activity. We have continued to recruit new ambassadors and the campaign has achieved enough momentum for farmers to actively contact us about being involved.
How to best engage farmers to change mindsets
From analysing segmentation profiles of farmers, and through our own lived experience, we know some groups of farmers engage more with data and evidence to validate a point. However, some lean more strongly on peer-to-peer anecdotal content to inform their decisions. They trust their fellow farmers wouldn’t recommend a course of action if they didn’t believe it worked for their farm. By focusing on the issue – proactive disease management – and not product, we cultivate good will towards our messaging. By using peer recommendations, we leverage trust.
Engaging with farmers in the right way means you need to craft the right messages. Communications and marketing professionals can sometimes be led down the path of assumption about what their target audience ‘needs’, often mixing this up with what their business actually wants instead. However, by engaging directly with your audience, you understand their motivations and what influences their decisions. Once you have mapped out what influences them, you can plan a multi-channel campaign that targets each area of influence (vets, social media, magazines etc) with targeted, appropriate messaging. We know, through all our clients and campaigns, that this is the best approach to PR.