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Marketing in mayhem: the effects of one BSE case are far from over in Canada. Agriculture companies that serve Canadian cattle producers have had to get creative to lend a hand to their customer base and see them through these tough times. Some companies are finding unique ways to keep front and center with clients--even in disaster.

As the saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures--and in marketing that can mean scrapping three months of strategic planning or stepping outside the realm of your target audience. The current BSE-related financial crisis for Canadian cattle producers is one of these scenarios. The single case of BSE, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, found in an Alberta cow last May sent shockwaves through the entire agriculture industry, forcing borders to close, cash flow to slow and marketers to rethink their strategies for the coming year.

Pfizer Canada Inc.'s Animal Health Division already had months of planning invested in a fall campaign when disaster struck. "We first knew we were going to have to do something different when we were all frustrated with seeing our clients struggling through this BSE mess," recounts Norman Castator, team leader, Beef and Cattle Products, with Pfizer. Out went the original plan, he says, and in with the new plan--the BSE Canadian Cattle Health Credit Program. "Internally, we put together this new program in three weeks. As a team we wanted to put together something that addressed the seriousness of the cash flow problem our clients were experiencing while maintaining herd health on the farm and in the feedlot," Castator explains.

"The program was two-pronged, focusing on feedlot operators who bought vaccines along with Dectomax for feeder cattle, and cattle producers who bought vaccines and Dectomax for cows. Those enrolled would receive a check in the mail based on their purchases to help ease the cash flow problem," Castator says.

Roughly 60 percent of the credits went to feedlot operators, totaling just over $1 million in rebates. "The BSE Canadian Cattle Health Credit Program wrapped up this spring as a huge success. We penciled out a goal of $1 million--we ended up sending $1.7 million back to Canadian producers. That feels good." What also feels good is that not only did loyal customers send letters of thanks and appreciation, Castator says, new clients signed up and even took the time to send along their gratitude and a promise of continued loyalty. "We're extremely pleased with the success of this program," he says.

Though DuPont Canada's ties to the crop protection industry are pretty clear, its fit into a cattle industry recovery program is less straightforward. "We recognize that our success relies on the success of the agricultural industry as a whole, even when it doesn't directly relate to crop protection," says Kelly Furfaro, marketing communications manager for DuPont Canada. "The recent BSE issue affects all areas of agriculture, all producers and all Canadians, and we want to do our part to contribute to response efforts at this difficult time."

Mid-summer last year, DuPont approached the Canadian Cattlemen's Association (CCA) with an offer to help out in any way they could. DuPont wanted to lend a hand with communications, and after some discussion, the CCA, with support from DuPont, started a toll-free hotline, as well as a Web site for producers looking for up-to-date information on the BSE situation. "DuPont managed the logistics and put up the money for the hotline, and the Canadian Cattlemen's Association manages the content," Furfaro says. "Producers were also able to sign up for a daily e-mail containing the 'BSE Bulletin Updates' information," she adds. "We wanted to make sure that the producers could access the information easily and in whichever format they preferred." The CCA produced the information and pre-recorded it daily for the hotline, and this same information was then listed on the CCA's Web site and e-mailed daily.

The BSE Bulletin Updates have become a great way to convey a range of information, from major lobbying developments to relief program deadlines to current cattle prices in different markets. The Updates, Furfaro says, have certainly been well received. "We wanted to do our part to help the industry. We look at it as a holistic approach--keeping producers informed and hopefully afloat, because cattle producers are crop producers too," she says. "And the feedback has been great--our representatives out in the field have really been encouraged by the positive feedback from producers."

The Canadian Cattlemen's Association will continue the daily updates until it does not see a fit for them anymore, which unfortunately seems a long way off. The CCA has also set up the BSE Recovery Fund in response to the overwhelming number of companies, like DuPont, individuals, and communities who called the Association to offer their financial support (see "Funding the Need").

Many companies are going to struggle in the coming months as primary producers lose out on once-lucrative markets. But it's this flexibility to change tactics mid-planning or to think outside the traditional territory that is keeping companies like Pfizer, Elanco Animal Health, and DuPont of mind with Canadian cattle producers even through the toughest of times.

FUNDING THE NEED

The Canadian Cattlemen's Association (CCA) created the BSE Recovery Fund following an overwhelming response from individuals, community groups and large corporations that wanted to help cattle producers through the BSE crisis.

Dennis Laycraft, executive vice president of the CCA, says that the office was inundated with calls and requests from people and groups from all walks of life, not just agriculture, who wanted to help. "Groups were having community events to show their support for the beef industry. Industry players, communities, even hockey teams were all beginning to organize functions and barbecues, all to rally around the cattle producers. The money was coming in, and we needed to find a way to distribute the money that would really make a difference for producers," Laycraft says.

"We knew that it wouldn't be possible to send money to each and every producer. After some deliberation, we designed the BSE Recovery Fund, a fund that originally focused on what would bring profitability to every producer--an open border," Laycraft explains. The Fund began focusing on ways to get the marketplace operating as effectively as possible. Some of the donations went to the Canada Beef Export Federation.

The next step for the Fund was to fuel communications. "The fewer cattle marketed (because of a closed border) lowers our funds to launch communication campaigns for producers or our customers at a time when communication is so important. The first real result of this Fund came when the U.S. border opened to box beef on Aug. 8, 2003," Laycraft says.

After that point, the CCA still recognized the need to fund lobbying efforts to open the U.S. border completely and to communicate with producers and customers, which is how the hotline and the daily updates came to be. Elanco Animal Health went so far as to pull all media advertising last fall and used the budget instead to help rebuild confidence in Canadian beef.

"This money not only came from ag companies but also from communities and individuals. The program has worked to partially open the Canadian market in Mexico, and the movement of support has encouraged national companies to switch to 100 percent Canadian beef," Laycraft says.

The true value of this fund, he says, has come in the emotional support pouring out of communities. "The money helps, but it isn't about who gave the most. The communities, the companies, and all who have demonstrated they support Canadian cattle producers--that's where the real value is in this fund."

Lyndsey Smith is an agriculture writer with Issues Ink, Winnipeg, Manitoba, which publishes several agriculture magazine, including Germination and Manure Matters.
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Title Annotation:Livestock/Dairy Marketing; Bovine Spongiform Encephalomyelitis
Comment:Marketing in mayhem: the effects of one BSE case are far from over in Canada.
Author:Smith, Lyndsey
Publication:Agri Marketing
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 1, 2004
Words:1239
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