LANSING — Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) is discontinuing its long-running county Farm Bureau newsletter program. County-specific newsletters will be retired with the current fiscal year, which concludes Aug. 31—meaning the document you’re holding is the last of its kind.
Rest assured, though, that this is not the end of county-specific news and information sharing.
In his new position as MFB Member Communications Specialist, Jeremy C. Nagel is developing a new member communications system that, in part, replaces the existing county-specific newsletter program. The new system will lean first and foremost on electronic distribution means, but will also likely include a printed product for those members who demand one.
Factors informing the transition include steadily declining program participation, continually increasing costs burdening county Farm Bureau budgets, and reallocation of communication staff resources within MFB.
“At the state level, one of our biggest challenges at the state level is trying to cover, meet and satisfy every member’s communications preferences,” Nagel said. “Technology has dramatically increased our available options for delivering information to members, but not everyone is comfortable with it, not everyone has access to it, and plenty of members simply don’t prefer it.
“And just for the record, it’s not an age thing at all. People too quickly assume old timers don’t have email or smartphones, and that young farmers don’t value print,” he said. “The reality isn’t that simple. Lots of younger folks prefer print, and a plenty of our seniors are far more tech-savvy than we give them credit for.”
Across the broad spectrum of MFB membership, those preferring electronic communication now substantially outnumber those committed to print. That fact is among several key reasons the new system will be electronic first and print second. Timeliness and the almighty bottom line are two other reasons.
“One of the loudest and most common complaints about county newsletters was their quarterly schedule,” Nagel said. “In recent years we experimented with offering more flexibility in the frequency and timing of newsletters, but that actually backfired. It increased the amount of staff time on this end, and we didn’t see counties shuffling around the calendar like we anticipated—they mostly stuck to the usual quarterly cycle.”
Increased staff time means a bigger bottom line for a program whose costs to the county Farm Bureau only ever increases. Ink and paper never get less expensive; their costs only ever increase.
The expense to county Farm Bureaus was among several factors that led to steady decline in the program for decades. Ever-frugal counties first stopped sending newsletters to associate members. Then they started paring down their frequency, dropping from four to three to two and sometimes only one newsletter per year.
Part of Nagel’s new mandate is to streamline and reduce the overall quantity of electronic communication MFB sends to its members. It’s become an openly acknowledged problem that the state Farm Bureau’s well-intentioned staff frequently overwhelm members with too much information. His aim is to create a new communications vehicle that brings county-specific—and program-specific—content together into a single statewide product.
“Much of the traditional county newsletter content was based on template articles that are 95 percent identical from one county to the next,” Nagel explained. “In a new statewide publication, we’ll be better able to spotlight innovative county-level activities that grow from our members’ creativity. That’s the really good stuff other counties ought to be seeing—effective, new ideas for them to consider trying in their own counties.”
Generating that content has traditionally fallen to member-volunteer newsletter editors.
“And it will continue to,” Nagel said. “The communications committee structure may go away, but we’ll still be looking to our members to serve as our reporters in the field.
“The new structure doesn’t change much for our county newsletter editors,” Nagel said. “All we’re changing is how the information they gather gets to their county audience. Our member editors do great work and we can’t afford to lose that. Their contributions are as essential as ever.”
The new member communications system will emphasize brevity in events reporting and timeliness in pre-promoting member engagement opportunities. Routine post-event coverage of state-level events will take a back seat to previewing upcoming local activities and events.
“What we don’t need are dozens of slightly different permutations on template articles that don’t say much more than so-n-so from County X attended this state event two months ago,” Nagel said.
The new member communications system is on a fast track for implementation as soon as possible, but there may still be a gap between that implementation and the retirement of the existing county Farm Bureau newsletter program.
Input from grass-roots Farm Bureau members is informing this transition at every step; don’t hesitate to share your thoughts, questions or concerns with your regional representative or directly with Jeremy.
Contact: Jeremy C. Nagel, 517-323-6585