Transparency is key to developing a positive public image, speakers at the Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit said on May 7. 

“At Cooper Farms, we are opening up our barn doors more and more every day,” said Gary Cooper, COO of Cooper Farms. “It’s certainly a risk, but I feel that if you aren’t at least a little uncomfortable, you aren’t being truly transparent.”

Cooper’s message of more transparency was shared by Brad Scott, a fourth-generation dairy farmer whose operation appeared on a 2013 episode of the reality television show “Undercover Boss.”

“Every time you open your doors and go outside your comfort zone, the opportunities are endless,” said Scott.

During his remarks, Scott discussed the challenges and benefits of allowing a reality television crew to have full access to his family’s 1,000-cow dairy farm to film the episode, which featured the CEO of Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt. Scott’s farm, Scott Brothers Dairy, supplies milk to Menchie’s. The CEO was able to witness the delivery of a calf during his visit, and said that his time on Scott’s farm was the most exciting part of his undercover excursion.

“After this experience, our farm and the Menchie’s marketing team have a much better connection and understanding,” Scott said. “When they have questions about animal handling, we’re the first people they call.”

Transparency during a crisis

Dr. Helen Wojcinski, science and sustainability manager at Hybrid Turkeys, shared her advice for attendees in times of crisis based on her experience when an undercover video was released showing animal mistreatment.

“You have to have a strong record of animal care,” Dr. Wojcinski said. “Be open and public about your commitment to animal care every day, and make it a part of the culture among supervisors and employees.”

Dr. Wojcinski also shared tips for interacting with the media, including being proactive by being the first to break a story even if it’s negative.

“By facing the situation head-on and releasing our own press release first, we were able to achieve a more balanced story in the media,” she said.

‘Reputation translates to financial success’

Kimberly Keller, senior director of reputation management at Charleston|Orwig. Keller shared that food brands are struggling in developing positive reputations, with fewer and fewer food-related brands faring well in studies measuring consumer trust.

“Reputation translates to financial success,” Keller said. “Your reputation has an impact on your business and your bottom line.”

The summit was held May 6-7 in Kansas City, Missouri. Next year’s Stakeholders Summit is set for May 4-5, 2016, at the Westin Arlington Gateway in Ballston, Virginia.