Important Lessons from 2011 Dairy Industry Crisis Drills

In May I attended the first of three 2011 Dairy Industry Crisis Drills in which the featured scenario involves foot-and-mouth disease.  These drills were coordinated by Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), which manages the dairy check off program.  You may be familiar with the “Got Milk?” and “Fuel Up to Play 60” milk promotion campaigns sponsored by dairy check off funds.  In addition to these direct promotion efforts, DMI and related organizations invest in communications research and response strategies to address issues that may impact consumer confidence in, and consequently consumption of, dairy products.  The Dairy Response Center is an example of how DMI provides dairy producers with key information on issues of concern to consumers.

Back to the drill.  Rumors started circulating at the opening reception.  Over the next 24 hours, 90 people associated with the dairy industry from farm to processing plant participated in a facilitated discussion-based exercise.  Participants were seated in groups designated “Unified Command”, “National Operations Center”, “Joint Information Center”, “Dairy Promotion”, “Dairy Producers”, “Dairy Cooperatives”, and “US Dairy Exports”.  A variety of activities as groups and in break out sessions helped identify issues and concerns and the associated communications challenges.

Here are a few things I learned:

Don’t speculate when being interviewed by the press. Boy is this a tough one for me since my research and outreach activities revolve around hypothetical scenarios like the one played out during the drill.

Don’t get caught up by the negativity of social media. Have a plan to place positive messages and links to correct information in the streams of tweets, blog posts, and comments.  I will be trying out my wings with Twitter in the near future.

There is a term for those folks ready to attack anyone and anything – “citizens against virtually everything” or CAVE. A few well-prepared experts and spokespersons need to be on call and be proactive.

Stay on message. Hard as it may be to say the same thing for one hour, that is the only way to make sure only key messages are amplified by the media.

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