‘Tell the reporter that you are busy’

The Fresh Produce Assn. of the Americas represents growers, distributors and importers of Mexican farm produce. When it learned that the Los Angeles Times was preparing this series, the trade group sent its members “sample talking points” for responding to inquiries from customers and the media.

Among the public relations pointers:

  • “Never speak badly about another company or competitor.”
  • “Do talk about your own operations and tell the truth about what you know.”
  • If a reporter calls for comment, stall. “Tell the reporter that you are busy. Schedule an appointment to talk after you have researched the reporter, reviewed your message platform and considered the two key points you want to communicate during the interview.”

The Times obtained the communications from a grower.

Dear FPAA Members,

The FPAA has learned that a reporter from the Los Angeles Times is in the process of writing a story on social responsibility and labor in Mexico. We do not know when the article will be published, but we wanted to reach out to members to help you prepare in the event that you or your growers are contacted by the reporter for an interview and to help you prepare for when the story is published.

While the FPAA does not know the content of the upcoming article, we do anticipate that there will be negative reporting on labor practices. The FPAA has been working directly with some companies that were contacted by the reporter in order to discuss the issue. Any members that may have been contacted are encouraged to contact the FPAA directly to discuss their thoughts/responses/concerns.

Until we have a better understanding of what the story will say, we ask that members do not forward this email to avoid confusion or unnecessary responses to an article that has yet to be published. We want to minimize confusion and misinformation, and not forwarding with help with that.

We at the FPAA know that for over 100 years, Mexico’s farmers have worked to provide consumers with safe, health fruits and vegetables grown in a socially responsible manner, having seen first-hand the steps that growers take to provide safe, reliable employment with fair wages, housing, healthcare and more. When it comes to worker treatment and labor practices, we know that more can always be done and that even today more is being done. We want to help you be able to tell your story about the good things you and your growers do, the things you have been doing for years and the new things you may be implementing to continue to improve.

Read the FPAA's sample talking points for members..

In addition, we will be hosting a seminar for members on October 10, 2014 at 12:00 pm at the FPAA office. Lorna Christie, who has conducted crisis and branding seminars for FPAA members previously, will be here to conduct the session. The purpose of the seminar will be to help members traveling to the Produce Marketing Association’s Convention in Anaheim in October prepare their messages and talking points in the event that the article is published and you are asked questions from your customers and others. As part of this seminar, there will be a few slots to have one-on-one consultation for FPAA members the morning of October 10. If you would like to work with Lorna one-on-one, please contact Allison Moore. The slots are available on a first come, first serve basis.

In order to further assist members in telling their story, the FPAA has developed a tool kit for members that will help a company prepare, gather information to tell its story, and convey the actions that companies take to be socially responsible with customers and the media. This tool kit includes:

  • Customer Letter Template (in the event that a story is published and you receive questions from customers)
  • Employee Communication Template (to help update your staff on the situation)
  • Crisis Management Checklist
  • Media Tips
  • Key Messaging
  • Creating a Crisis Team

The templates are designed to be customized to your individual company’s situation and should be developed and discussed with the help of your management team. Once the anticipated L.A. Times story is published, that will allow individual members to further tailor the templates depending on the content of the article. Additionally, the FPAA is available to assist members with any questions moving forward.

As some basic background, here are some tips if you are contacted by a member of the media.

Never speak badly about another company or competitor or point fingers at someone else.

Do talk about your own operations and tell the truth about what you know. Make sure you are getting out your positive messages about your company’s values/actions.

Never repeat a negative or accusation or reuse a “bait” work in your response. A “bait” word is a negative word that a reporter may use in questions. Examples include, abuse, slavery, greed, etc. Note the following examples:

  • Q. Why do you abuse your workers?
  • A. We don’t abuse our workers. – wrong answer
  • Correct answer: We respect our workers’ contributions to our success.

What to do when the Media Calls

  • Make sure you are the right person to interview. Ask the reporter about the topic, the type of questions he or she wants to ask, and their deadline.
  • Tell the reporter you would be happy to answer their questions but also recommend that they contact FPAA directly for broader industry information.
  • Tell the reporter that you are busy. Schedule an appointment to talk after you have researched the reporter, reviewed your message platform, and considered the two key points you want to communicate during the interview.

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