Late last week, The Weather Network (TWN) put a target on its back with a not-too-subtle statement about the environmental impact of Canada’s beef industry. You can see their tweet here.
The issue at hand isn’t new. Beef producers are a perennial whipping boy for climate activists, who believe the industry causes more than its fair share of carbon emissions. Groups like the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) have invested heavily into research to paint a more complete picture of the cattle industry’s impact, citing carbon capture from pastureland as just one example of how the industry is, in its view, sustainable.
On Thursday, The Weather Network waded into the debate.
If you work with ag in any capacity, you know it’s rare to ever find farmers in full agreement. As a boss of mine liked to say, “put three farmers in a room, and they’ll come out with five opinions.”
Unfortunately for TWN, this was not the case last week. Farmers turned up in the thousands to condemn them, with many producers advocating for a full boycott. It wasn’t lost on anyone that the company couldn’t predict the firestorm it was facing.
Regardless of your political leanings, for PR professionals in ag, this extreme social media backlash reinforces the importance of knowing your lane (and when to stay in it) and knowing your audience.
Knowing your lane — and when to stay in it
Let’s be clear: climate change is very much in TWN’s lane. But just because you can form an opinion, doesn’t mean your customers want or need to hear it.
For best results, an issue that a company wishes to publicly address must be aligned with its overall goals. Unfortunately, there’s a tendency for companies to take a stand without a clear goal or picture of success. Having a solid PR strategy can help a company determine which topics require its attention and which do not read: when it’s prudent to speak out vs. when they should stay in their lane, and what type of messaging is needed around those topics.
Knowing your audience
We all check the weather, but farmers check it hourly.
Agriculture companies do a great deal of business with TWN because of how frequently farmers interact with it. A quick signals check against how a key demographic for TWN would receive the tweet likely would have stopped this statement from reaching the public (or at the very least, changed its contents).
It is possible that TWN knew the backlash they would face and proceeded regardless. However, the more likely explanation is that TWN deviated from its strategy, lost sight of a core demographic, and is now dealing with the fallout.
A tip of the hat to the CCA, who quickly sought and received an audience with TWN leadership to discuss how the cattle industry is taking steps to mitigate its emissions. Trust can be rebuilt, but it will take time.
How much time could it take? I am sure the PR team at A&W would be happy take TWN out for some “hormone free” Teen Burgers and tell them.