Is Your Agricultural Program Branded for Success?

Article excerpt

Starbucks. McDonald's. Target and Wal-Mart. Ford, Chevy and Toyota. John Deere and Caterpillar. It doesn't take long for images of these American icons to enter our thoughts when we see their logos. They each have brand power, a strong reputation with consumers and the power to influence the way we think. Does your agricultural program have the same characteristics?

This thought may not have crossed your mind before, but as we continue to face more urbanization, shrinking production agriculture and the continued challenge of limited educational resources, it is essential that we think of our programs as many of the aforementioned companies do.

Great! Yet another thing I have to put on my plate as an agricultural science educator! The classroom, FFA Activities, CDE's, fundraising, alumni and parents, my involvement in my agricultural teachers' association and my school... and now there is more? Believe me, I am right there with you.

Agricultural science educators should be teachers first and foremost, but we usually have a long list of additional responsibilities - and these are in addition to our personal lives. Can it all work? Can I really do more? I believe you can, and that a few simple strategies can actually help save you time and energy while building your program! Let's keep it simple! The strategies you can apply to "brand" your program and chapter don't need to be complicated. Take one or two of them on each year until they are a part of your program's recognized routine. Customize them to meet the needs of your individual program, staff, community and students. You may even find that some of these suggestions cause you to think of your own better ideas. Get your students involved, as they can play a vital role in your program's branding too! In fact, aren't they truly your agricultural education program's brand? So, why shouldn't they be involved? OK! OK! So I'm on board, but where do I begin?

The simple answer to that question is: what is your program's role in the lives of your students? How are you perceived in the community? What are some strengths you can capitalize on while addressing some of your weaknesses?

A great way to guide this train of thought is through a staff discussion about your program's mission statement. If the program already has a clearly articulated mission statement, great... feel free to skip down to the next paragraph for step two. If not, creating one is a very simple process. There are many web sites that can help; search "creating a mission and vision statement" on your favorite search engine, and you will find ample help. It is important to define what you are all about before you try to "brand" your program. The companies above have done it. When we think of Wal-Mart, we think low prices; when we think of Starbucks, a good cup of coffee in a unique environment. What do you want your program to be known for? These are the questions to ask yourself as you create your program's mission and vision.

Step Two: Your Target Audience.

Agricultural programs are unique when compared to the companies listed above in that they are many things to many people. Ask your students, parents, administrators and supporters what your agricultural science program means to them, and you will likely get as many answers. Most of us would agree that we are in the business of educating students, but we do have other roles. Here are a few of the stakeholders we need to keep in mind:

* Students

*Parents

* Sponsors/supporters (this usually includes the local agricultural industry)

* Booster clubs

* Alumni

* Teachers, administrators and school board members

* Advisory committees Other (university programs, state staff, National FFA)

I'm sure you can think of others, too.

As stated before, most of us agree that students come first. But beyond that, individual programs will dictate the remaining order. …

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