The Arkansas soybean industry contributes $2 billion annually to the state’s economy. Every soybean farmer pays into the commodity’s checkoff program. Those funds are administered by the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board (ASPB), which invests in research, promotion and education. Our firm developed the idea of Arkansas Soybean Month (ASM), which is celebrated annually in November. ASM is a public relations tactic to recognize the economic impact of the industry in Arkansas and educate the state’s consumers about the commodity’s impact on our food sources.
Primary research through conversations at events, such as trade shows, led our specialists to explore the idea that Arkansas consumers do not know that soybean meal is an integral part of the diet for most animal protein (beef, pork, poultry and farm-raised fish). Through a partnership with the United Soybean Board, our specialists accessed secondary, formal research on consumers and verified that most do not understand the link between the soybean commodity and the food we eat every day. Using this research, our specialists developed a consumer outreach strategy around Arkansas Soybean Month.
During the 2016 planning session, our firm led the client through a process that assigned objectives to each audience targeted in the communications plan. The consumer audience goal, identified by our client, was to inform consumers that the food industry utilizes soybean oil and meal in a variety of ways – consuming those food products supports Arkansas soybean farmers. Arkansas Soybean Month and the Kitchen|Fields Table Tour were the tactics to achieve this goal. Our firm developed a consumer education program, the Kitchen|Fields Table Tour (KFTT), which launched during Arkansas Soybean Month. KFTT’s objective was to promote soy foods and soy-fed protein to Arkansas consumers. Our firm planned the launch of the KFTT around Governor Hutchinson’s proclamation of Arkansas Soybean Month to earn wider awareness and coverage throughout the state.
The goal of the KFTT launch dinner was to capitalize on the increasingly popular local food movement and communicate to consumers how the food industry utilizes soy foods, soy-fed protein and soy-based products (like soybean oil and meal).
The plan for KFTT was to collaborate with restaurants and chefs across the state for Arkansas Soybean Month. We asked each partner to choose an existing dish on his or her menus that we could denote as the “Featured Dish” during ASM. The strategy for restaurant and chef recruitment had three components: 1) The chef/restaurant must be well-known 2) The chef/restaurant needed to have a robust social media following 3) The chef should have experience with media. Our specialists wanted to capitalize on the star-power of the chefs and the following each had created to drive success for the KFTT program. In addition, well-known chefs and restaurants would add instant credibility to the program, which was only in its second year.
Our specialists wanted restaurants to participate the entire month of November, with the option to ask some to come back as feature restaurants later in the year. Our specialists planned to have one feature restaurant per month during January – June 2017 to keep the Kitchen|Fields Table Tour moving after ASM.
Our PR specialists set an objective to increase social media engagement by 20 percent and to increase website traffic by 20 percent during ASM.
Arkansas Soybean Month ran through the end of November 2016. The Kitchen|Fields Table Tour continues through June 2017.
During the month of November, Arkansans were educated about the economic impact the soybean industry has in our state and how they could support their local soybean growers by eating soy-fed protein. We used the Kitchen|Fields Table Tour to promote soy foods and soy-fed protein through partnerships with ten restaurants across the state.
The agency budgeted $15,000 for overall promotion of Arkansas Soybean Month, which included planning, creative production, campaign management, event coordination, event costs and paid media.
Our PR specialists wrote a news release and distributed it statewide promoting Arkansas Soybean Month. The news release included facts about Arkansas soybean production and Kitchen|Fields Table Tour details. Our specialists developed a page on ASPB’s website dedicated to the KFTT, which included information about all partner restaurants. Our specialists developed two hashtags, #ARSoyMonth and #ARSoySupper. Conversations using the hashtags, in addition to social media analytics were used to track engagement during ASM.
Our PR specialists planned and executed a launch dinner for the Kitchen|Fields Table Tour, which was hosted at Brave New Restaurant in Little Rock, a partner restaurant for KFTT. This event was the official kick off for Arkansas Soybean Month.
The dinner included a program of speakers, who diversely represented the Arkansas soybean industry. The speakers included Arkansas’s secretary of agriculture, soybean farmers, a dairy farmer and other industry specialists. Invitees to the dinner included food writers, each with individual voices and outlets to communicate our core messages to their audiences. All attendees were asked to use the official KFTT hashtag during the dinner and when writing their stories about the program and event. The call-to-action following the launch event was to visit a restaurant partner and taste the feature soybean dish. We also used the KFTT to drive traffic to the board’s website. Our specialists were able to use the hashtag statistics to provide a report to the board at a public meeting held just 12 short hours after the conclusion of the event.
Each partner restaurant served a feature dish that included Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board and Kitchen|Fields Table Tour branding in their restaurants, which included table tents, door decals and other materials that included the KFTT logo. The table tents included facts about soybean consumption by the animal agriculture industry in Arkansas. The branded collateral also included the program hashtag, which we continued using for tracking all month. Each restaurant partner also received a Dropbox folder that included social media posts, customizable news release, talking points and the Kitchen|Fields Table Tour logo. Our specialists encouraged each partner chef to feature a meat protein dish that had been fed a diet of soybeans to overcome the stigma that soybeans are only used for edamame and tofu.
The collateral materials presented a challenge at times with restaurant partners that seemed hesitant to display items that might overwhelm the guest or clutter the area; however, our specialists took special consideration to leave some discrepancy to each location, which allowed each chef/owner to brand in a way that was consistent with their existing environment.
Beginning Arkansas Soybean Month with a proclamation from the Governor, paired with the launch of the Kitchen|Fields Table Tour proved to be an effective tool to reach consumers through multiple channels. Our PR specialists posted to the board’s social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) more than 65 times during the dinner. In less than 24 hours following the launch event, #ARSoySupper reached over 314, 951 people via Twitter and Instagram. During ASM total engagements on ASPB’s social media saw a 174 percent increase and a 487 percent increase in total fans.
The Arkansas Soybean Month page on the ASPB site was the third most viewed page in the month of November with the Governor’s proclamation coming in at seventh. New users accounted for 67 percent of sessions during the same month.
We learned through earned media coverage in multiple outlets across the state that people were interested in learning more about the soybean phenomenon. We also discovered through the Arkansas Agriculture Department actively promoting and celebrating ASM that we have the potential to reach an even greater amount of consumers through partnering with other agriculture organizations.