Happy New Year, Canadian beef producers! January is often regarded as a time of growth and new beginnings, and an up-and-coming initiative I am particularly excited to see grow in 2020 is the Public and Stakeholder Engagement (PSE) program.
The PSE program was envisioned under the first National Beef Strategy and has since grown into a fully funded program with three dedicated full-time staff. The program operates as a division of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA), but is funded by the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off. Previously called Issues Management while operating as a pilot, PSE aims to deal with consumer-facing issues related to beef production in Canada and maintain public trust in the Canadian beef industry.
With the now increased capacity, PSE has been able to move away from only focusing on the issue of the day, though this is still a very important area of focus, to more proactive projects that highlight the benefits of Canadian beef for human health and the environment.
One such project that gained a lot of momentum this fall was “Guardians of the Grasslands,” a short documentary that explores the vital role cattle play in preserving Canada’s endangered native prairie grasslands. In partnership with Ducks Unlimited Canada and the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the film is a beef advocacy tool with an urban audience in mind. Large screening events have been held across the country this fall to promote the project and encourage additional showings in local communities.
The premiere was held in Calgary on October 3 and saw over 125 ranchers, conservation supporters and media attend. From there, a screening was shown in Ottawa on October 30 with attendance comprised of mostly health and environment officials. A discussion on land use policies followed the screening. Screenings in the month of November included locations across the Prairies such as Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg.
On November 25, Farm and Food Care Ontario hosted the largest event yet at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto to a crowd of food influencers, dietitians and media. Reaction to the film was overwhelmingly positive, with many commenting that they were not aware of the role cattle play in ensuring our grasslands exist for future generations. For a largely urban population that is unfamiliar with agriculture, this experience reframed the beef industry from the negative image often portrayed in popular media, to a major contributor to environmental sustainability.
Submitting the film for consideration in film festivals is another essential component of the strategy to reach urban audiences. Both the attendees and media present at these events likely have little or no exposure to positive beef industry messaging, especially the important link between beef production and conservation. So far, the film has been chosen as an Official Selection for a Montreal-based festival and a Best Film Finalist for another in Toronto. Anyone interested in hosting a screening of the film can do so by visiting the documentary website guardiansofthegrasslands.ca.
Another proactive project the PSE team launched in 2019 is Content Corral, a centralized social media content library. This platform contains beef advocacy posts designed to be shared on various social media channels, in order to amplify positive messaging. A small team of content creators upload articles, graphics and videos for end-users who have taken Beef Advocacy Canada training to share through their personal networks. Content Corral will also act as a conduit for campaigns created by the PSE team and will be critical for quickly disseminating key messages when issues arise.
Looking forward to the current year, the PSE program will be further refining its ability to respond to emerging consumer issues by investing in social-listening technology and undertaking more specified consumer surveys. By monitoring both social and traditional media for trends, social-listening programs give users insight into what audiences are talking about. By moving media monitoring to a more advanced platform, PSE will have more opportunities to see what issues may be around the corner and be better prepared to respond.
Another common challenge for agricultural advocacy efforts is the “echo chamber,” where the message is only reaching others in the industry and not the target audience. By surveying various demographics about what resonates with them, the beef industry can better connect with our customers and further our message that Canadian beef is a world leader in sustainability, nutrition and animal care.
I am very proud of the work this team is doing on behalf on the Canadian beef industry. At a time when consumers are less connected to where their food comes from than ever, it’s essential to support efforts to maintain public trust.