Agribusiness+ …why our mainstream media can’t feed you well any more

Well, like the media, there’s a choice of standard food that’s served up to you because you’re like many others (as in a cafeteria, or cheap food hall staples). Then there’s food you choose to eat especially for you (at home, in a restaurant). Of course, we all eat from a mix of sources these days. One is more ‘push marketed’ at you, the other is what really you want, what you decide to ‘pull from the market’. It’s not clear, sure, they both send a market signal via the price you pay – but your buying motivations are different.
The mainstream broadcast media business models are more like push marketing, and new media via the Internet is more up to you, to pull what you want from the information market. What’s really muddied the waters is that the cost of supplying what you want over the Internet has really dropped. Push marketing is expensive, and pull marketing now much less so – the balance has shifted to you, the consumer. Same in the music industry, not so many major labels throwing their weight around the music market these days.
So nowadays, there’s a whole bunch of people running around trying to find the next great business model to save mainstream media. Yes-sir, from minnows to moguls, there are furrowed brows aplenty.

1. AGRIBUSINESS IS ABOUT 40% OF THE REVENUE, BUT SELDOM 40% OF THE NEWS

So, follow the money they say? Let’s do that. Grab a newspaper and cut out all the ‘agribusiness advertisements’. That’d be supermarkets, furniture stores, fashion and clothes, and so on. To save you time, a rule of thumb would have it that there’ll be roughly 40% of the ads relating to agribusiness.(and therefore 40% of the revenue). This is because, on average, agribusiness accounts for 40% of the world’s consumer products.

Now, try cutting out the agribusiness-related actual news and editorial content. It drops to about 10%, if you’re lucky, on current perceptions (more about that below).
2. ‘FEEDING YOU’ HAS TWO IMPORTANT MEANINGS
For Agribusiness, the industry that supplies most of your food to you, that means actually ‘feeding you food’. Thus all media stories about food are important. The other meaning is about your news feed, what the media feeds you in terms of information about your food.
As a good feed of real food is vital to sustain you, the two should be related. In theory, 40% of the newspaper editorials should be informing you about food. Good luck with that. Increasingly, we are disconnecting our food from our culture. Or more precisely, disconnecting our food from who grows it – agriculture.
The other news feed, the other meaning of concern to the world’s mainstream media is more about the indirect meaning of feeding you information so that you can feed your mind. The two are increasingly disconnected it seems, despite the populist reality-show cooking culture we’ve got going of late.
3. MEDIA PARADIGMS ABOUT AGRIBUSINESS NEED UPDATING
Try getting contemporary media talking about agribusiness without slipping into a farming analogy and see how you go. Paradigms about agribusiness need to shift, because its sheer size as a holistic system is mostly understated by a order of magnitude or two. Roughly, the agribusiness sector is 10 to 12 times larger than farming in terms of value to an economy. Yes, farming is huge in its own right, but the media really has got a problem of not seeing the forest for the trees when it comes to the importance of agribusiness to everyone.
The result, the 40% they earn through advertising gets expressed, maybe, as 10% of the messages going out via traditional media approaches. Little wonder a good half of agribusiness marketing shops give-up on mainstream media and head to the specialist rural media.
In a nutshell, it is because agribusiness is so large and has such complexity; it is easier to spin homespun yarns with familiar images of an agrarian past long since gone. We all love these images, and naturally want to hark back to them. The reality of modern agribusiness is quite different today, it is post-agrarian age, it is post-industrial age, and it is even post-industrial-agriculture age. What makes things sad about this reality, is that if we are going to feed billions more, the rate of change will go faster in future than we’d like to admit. The world can’t turn back to older, less productive methods on a global scale, or an awful lot of people will go very hungry indeed. You realize of course, that makes for a far more dangerous world.
4. IS THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA IS TOO WORRIED ABOUT ITS BIG PICTURE TO FEED YOU?
Probably, paradoxically, agribusiness is too worried about feeding you that its big picture is not hitting home runs with the consumer – yet. Times are tough.
Yes, mainstream media is too worried about it business model to deal with the genuine issues underlying what is necessary to feed you.
There’s someone I know that works as a senior editor in the Murdoch Empire, I think now there’s a strategic vision of what it could be. But, will the internal politics of that empire allow him to air it – I’m afraid not. Or a frayed knot, whatever way you want to look at it.
5. MOTHER NATURE FEEDS YOU BEST, AND HER MIND IS HARD TO READ
Whether you are for against the current climate debate, or firmly sitting on the fence, Mother Nature has only one certainty – there is a limit to what she can do. She is wondrous in her natural glory, but finite in her bounty.
If Mother Nature was in business, she’d be in agribusiness, the business of feeding you and every one of us. Figuring out how to nourish 9 billion people in perpetuity, and make a profit along the way, is one almighty conundrum for us all to ponder. It won’t happen as a global loss-making exercise. It’d be a lot easier if the mainstream media realised that they are part of the global food system challenge and gave the agribusiness industry back what it put in (and yes, newspapers are made from trees) in terms of value-for-money. Nourish each other, so to speak.
So we agribusiness advocates are increasingly interested in how Mother Nature is going to feed you, and me, 24/7. It seems the weather’s turning and she is getting a tad cranky with us lately.
6. MORE REASONS WHY THE MEDIA CAN’T FEED YOU
There’s more of course, but you get the picture. Agribusiness contributes more than it gets in return under traditional push marketing (or paid media business models) in the traditional mainstream media. Hence the rise of the Internet, more and more businesses even in the traditionally conservative agribusiness sector, are turning to earned media models to focus on what you want, so-called pull marketing.
They say it is no longer about what you say your brand is, it’s what others say it is. However, it is still about a mix of both approaches, old and new. Consequently there are furrowed brows on both sides, with patches to protect and undreamed of empires yet to be built in the fast moving Internet of the future. Today’s media landscape is in flux, but the shift is on, the trends are established. What does that means for agribusiness? Simple, use the situation to your advantage, pick and choose (yes, you can be in a buyers’ market for a change).
If you’d like to continue to develop this theme for the benefit of ‘feeding the world’ good news about food, then bring your ideas along and join the conversationat: www.agriculture.org.au/group/AgImageInTheMedia.

 Agribusiness+ …growing solutions to feed you.

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