A couple of weeks ago I had a chance to participate in Monsanto’s Media Days event in St. Louis, which brought together about 25 ag media representatives from across the country. The two-and-a-half day session created an opportunity for the company to share what’s coming in the pipeline in terms of new products and initiatives. But it also gave the media a chance to engage in interesting interactive sessions with Monsanto leadership on a variety of issues.
I have attended several of these Monsanto events through the years, and I am always impressed by the candor expressed by company officials. No topic or question was off limits during the sessions. From Supreme Court rulings to dealing with world hunger, there was a chance to engage in some lively debate.
For instance, it couldn’t have been easy for Monsanto officials to have to deal with the USDA-APHIS decision to conduct a full environmental impact statement (EIS) on soybean, corn and cotton plants designed to tolerate 2,4-D and dicamba herbicides. The move could delay the introduction of new products containing these herbicide-tolerant traits to the market for an additional two to four years. Shannon Hauf, Monsanto’s Global Dicamba and Weed Management Lead, fielded questions on the topic and continued to express confidence that approval will eventually occur. She couldn’t give any timetable on how long it would take for the approval, but she said it could work to Monsanto’s advantage by giving more time to show that these products are safe – and desperately needed by farmers.
Hauf ought to think about applying for a job as the press secretary at the White House. I have never seen any company spokesman show more poise and quick thinking in response to difficult questions. Yes, she was disappointed about the ruling, but she quickly pointed out that the delay merely means that Monsanto can bolster its case and present an even stronger argument for dicamba-tolerant products. If somebody were writing a manual on how a company official should deal with a crisis, you couldn’t have found a better example than what Shannon Hauf offered in her remarks.
This was just one example of the interesting interaction that occurred at this meeting. During one afternoon session, two to three Monsanto officials were stationed at each of eight circular tables. The media reps spent about 20 minutes at each table and were free to ask any question of the group. During one of the sessions, a reporter asked an Monsanto official what it was like to engage the media in these kinds of unscripted sessions. The Monsanto official replied that it was beneficial to share information with the media – while also being able to gauge what was on the minds of reporters.
This kind of dialogue is beneficial to all parties. First, it gives the media access to more information to generate the best possible stories to readers. Second, it builds trust between the media and a company.
In the end, everybody’s objectives were realized.