Issues Media Monitoring and Response Analysis: October 2013 – September 2014, A (Fiscal) Year in Review

by Season Solorio, Executive Director, Issues & Reputation Management, and Joe Hansen, Associate Director, Issues Response, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff

Summary
Fiscal year 2014 (October 1, 2013 – September 30, 2014) brought a number of beef industry issues and while there were no major consumer-confidence breaking issues, there were a number of issues in traditional and social media that continued to percolate. A variety of issues, ranging from beef safety, the environmental impact of raising beef, animal health and welfare, and the nutritional value of eating beef, were discussed in both traditional and social media and required strategic communications responses, using data obtained from state-of-the-art media monitoring tools. The Checkoff-funded Issues and Reputation Management team was able to provide important context and help consumers who were seeing these stories or discussing these issues on-line put them in context. Following is a look back at fiscal year 2014 and the variety of issues that the Issues and Reputation Management team responded to, successfully resulting in maintaining consumer confidence in beef and the beef industry.

Background
Maintaining and strengthening consumer confidence in beef and the beef industry is critical to the long-term success of the beef industry and is a core pillar of the beef industry long-range plan. On a daily basis, the Issues and Reputation Management team, on behalf of the Beef Checkoff, carefully surveys the landscape across traditional media, broadcast media and social media to determine which issues warrant a response. Using a variety of tools, including CARMA for broadcast and traditional media monitoring and Nuvi for social media monitoring, the team overlays the data from both applications to create a clear picture of how an issue is playing out in the external environment. The team utilizes this data to create strategic responses to a variety of issues and ultimately, to maintain consumer confidence in beef. This article summarizes three of the largest beef-related issues over the fiscal year.

Discussion
In FY2014, Nuvi, which tracks online and social media, tracked over 4.4 million mentions of beef-related issues, yielding 4.8 billion impressions.  The spike between April and July 2014, which accounted for 2.3 billion impressions and 2.1 million mentions, was primarily due to Rancher Cliven Bundy in Nevada who challenged the Bureau of Land Management over paying grazing fees to graze his cattle on public land, and the national and international media coverage that the story received. Much of the strategic response to this issue came from the Public Lands Council, given that the protest focused on government policies such as public lands fees, and the state cattlemen affiliates located in the Western area of the country.  

 
The Beef Industry Monitor in Nuvi from October 1, 2013 – September 30, 2014.  The right side is the number of mentions and the bottom is the month.

The single biggest source of impressions for beef-related issues in FY14 was a Twitter account, @facts, that tweets out alleged “facts.” The tweet above was tweeted 101 times in FY14 – about once every 3.5 days – with misinformation about McDonald’s hamburgers. These tweets from the erroneous account garnered over 103 million impressions and 27,000 mentions.  McDonald’s did respond to some of the people who tweeted the “fact” and provided them with the correct information, that McDonald’s burgers contain 100 percent beef. In October, McDonald’s launched a major transparency campaign in the United States, called Our Food, Your Questions,” where they specifically debunk myths such as what is in their hamburgers.

The largest traditional media news source was New Day, on CNN, which covered two recalls, Fruitland American Meat and Wolverine Packing Company and resulted in 30.6 million impressions based on five tweets.

While these two outlets may have driven the largest amount of impressions, the responses to these issues were primarily handled by the specific companies. There were other issues that the beef industry faced in media coverage of the past year that required strategic responses from the Beef Checkoff in order to put these issues into context. None of these articles or online conversation lead the Issues and Reputation Management Team to believe that these stories impact consumer confidence or buying behavior,  however these articles and actions may have resulted in a more inquisitive consumer who wants information about these topics at their fingertips when they search for it. Transparent websites that use consumer-friendly language that is easy to understand but also provides important perspective, such as through the Beef Checkoff-funded website FactsAboutBeef.com or the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance website, FoodDialogues.com (funded in part by the Beef Checkoff), continue to play a bigger role in answering consumer questions about how beef is raised. In fact, the 41 blog posts on FactsAboutBeef.com, received nearly 150,000 views in FY2014, up more than 300 percent from 2013. Issues in the media in 2014, which were often put into context through Checkoff-funded websites, include:

Antibiotics
Stories about the use of antibiotics in raising livestock accounted for the largest volume of beef production articles this year.  There were many reasons for this volume of stories. In December, the Food and Drug Administration announced Guidance 213, the voluntarily phasing out of veterinary drugs for growth promotion for medically important antibiotics and Guidance 209 involving changes to the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) regulation.  In September, a report entitled Combating Antibiotic Resistance from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), a National Strategy on Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria (CARB) as well as a Presidential Executive Order, detailed further action that the government will be taking in order to reduce the amount of antibiotics used both in human medicine as well as in animal agriculture. It is important to note that these stories are not beef-specific, but they are related to all of agriculture. Additionally, often times, these articles were fairly balanced, simply reporting on new guidance or executive orders.

Rancho Beef Recall
In February, Rancho Feeding Corporation of Petaluma, Calif. recalled approximately 8.7 million pounds of beef as a result of processing diseased and unsound animals and carried out these activities without the benefit or full benefit of federal inspection, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture Press Release. The recall received coverage in every major media outlet, garnering over 20,000 mentions on social media in the month of February 2014 alone. Much of this coverage was due to the consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies that had to recall their products that contained the beef that was subject to the recall, such as Nestle’s Hot Pockets.  As a result of this recall the Issues & Reputation Management Team published a FactsAboutBeef.com post entitled, USDA Food Safety Inspectors are Required at All Federally-Inspected Beef Processing Plants. To date, the post has received over 530 views online through search engine traffic only. 

Environmental
Over the past year, several high-profile studies discussing red meat, or specifically beef, and environmental impact were published in peer-reviewed environmental publications. The greatest environmental story came as a result of a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) which stated that one-fifth of the global greenhouse gas emissions were from livestock-based food production and that beef was the biggest offender. Thanks to quick-reaction by the Checkoff-funded Issues and Reputation Management team, the Beef Checkoff was able to get a quote into the Associated Press story from Dr. Kim Stackhouse, Director, Sustainability Research for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff, and that Associated Press article was then syndicated nationally.

This quick response enabled widespread pick-up of the quote in many other major media publications including NBC News, Boston Globe, CBS News – Washington, D.C.  The most quoted section of the statement said:

“The PNAS study represents a gross over-simplification of the complex systems that make up the beef value chain, a point which the authors acknowledge. The fact is the U.S. beef industry produces beef with lower greenhouse gas emissions than any other country. The conclusions in this study only serve to confuse consumers about the fact that including beef as part of a healthy diet can co-exist with a healthy environment in the United States, as recently evidenced by the beef lifecycle assessment.”

Nearly half of the total news stories evaluated as a result of the PNAS study included some version of the quote by Dr. Stackhouse above.  For more information on the response to the PNAS study, see the October 2014 issue of Beef Issues Quarterly.

Conclusion
While there weren’t any major issues over the past fiscal year, there were issues that percolated and therefore are equally important to monitor and manage.  This is why having a strong proactive program, built on establishing relationships with influencers and proactively building the reputation of how beef is raised, as well as a strong reactive program, which can quickly turnkey and respond to issues by developing content to put these complex issues into perspective, are critical to the long-term success of the beef industry. As a result of this dual-pronged approach, in FY2014, the Beef Checkoff met the 2011-2015 Beef Industry Long Range Plan core strategy to “Strengthen the Image of Beef and the Beef Industry” and to “Increase the Consumer Image Index measure from 17% to 20% of consumers saying the positives of how cattle are raised for food strongly outweigh the negatives.” According to the 2014 Consumer Image Index measurement, 21 percent of consumers said that the positives of raising cattle for food strongly outweigh the negatives (up from 20 percent in 2013).

On behalf of the Checkoff-funded Issues and Reputation Management team, we look forward to continuing to protect and preserve consumer confidence in beef into the future through this dual-pronged approach.

Additional Resources

Tags: Beef Issues Quarterly, Issues Monitoring, Winter 2014, Year in Review 2014

December 3, 2014