Caring About Communication

“Communication leads to community, to understanding and mutual valuing.” – Rollo May

JP Cativiela_b-w

J.P. Cativiela

james garner_b-w

James Garner

Communication is vital for any organization, and the dairy industry is no exception. With the support of Checkoff Dollars from the California Dairy Research Foundation (CDRF), J.P. Cativiela and James Garner at Dairy Cares ( help make complex issues and new successes in the California dairy industry accessible to the community. Formed in 2001, Dairy Cares is a coalition of 14 dairy organizations that focuses primarily on environmental sustainability issues. Cativiela and Garner explained how their communication work through blogs, articles, social media, newsletters and more puts a “face” on the dairy industry, helping to capture the diverse nature of the hundreds of families, companies and communities that make up dairy farming. This widespread and varied nature of dairy production is another reason that a coordinated communication effort is so important. Without the work of Dairy Cares, many of the water quality initiatives, improvements to animal welfare, conservation efforts and more made by members of the dairy community would go unnoticed by the wider society. “Our job is to educate and provide facts that are often missed or unknown,” said Cativiela.

Garner explained how two decades ago, the general perception was that dairies were not doing anything to protect water and air quality. “There were many dispersed efforts to talk about the importance about dairy, but there was nothing being done consistently or in an organized way about what dairies were doing to take care of cows and the environment,” he said. “There was a need for the dairy industry to respond. Dairy Cares’ focus provides a vital contribution to the nutritional and economic story.”

Garner and Cativiela both say they can readily see the impact Dairy Cares and the CDRF have had through their targeted efforts to reach opinion leaders and educate influential community members on the changes and programs occurring within the dairy community. “Today, most informed opinion leaders understand that dairies in California are the most regulated in the country, and they have the strongest environmental initiatives anywhere,” explained Cativiela. “CDRF saw the importance of communicating about these kinds of efforts and has supported us all along the journey.”

One of the reasons that Garner cites for the success of Dairy Cares and its educational communications program is that they view communication as a science, not just an art form. “We use an evidenced-based approach,” he described. “We measure our response rates to different types of outreach, track the ROI of our spending—did we reach the right people and have the impact we intended? How can we do more with our resources?”

As stewards of the resources from CDRF and Dairy Cares, both Cativiela and Garner looked for ways to use them wisely. One approach they have developed and frequently use is targeting specific people or groups to receive their messages. “We’re basically trying to maximize the use of our resources by putting our information in front of those who will actually be interested and who might do something with that information,” said Garner.

Technology has come to play a large role, from using chat rooms, blogs or online groups to identify opinion leaders and consumer concerns to using Twitter and Facebook to garner followers. “Every day we track media, every month we track what’s important and what’s trending,” said Cativiela. “We update our communications plan every year, and we tweak the action steps regularly. We sit down with CDRF’s Executive Director Dr. Gonca Pasin to look at issues, our goals and how to get there.”

Communication in Action

A current example of the Dairy Cares communications method involves one of the biggest concerns in California right now: the drought. Twitter, blogs, news outlets, senate floors—many people in many forums are focused on the state’s water crisis. In response to such attention, Garner and Cativiela wanted to disseminate the message about what the dairy community is doing to conserve water while protecting water quality. For example, California dairy farms regularly monitor water quality and are heavily investing in initiatives and research to improve water use efficiency and groundwater protection. This work is intended to further advances by the dairy community, which already has made significant strides forward in milk production and water use efficiency—today, it takes 65 percent less water to produce a glass of milk than it did in 1944.

After identifying the issue and outlining the message with Cativiela, Garner put together a column ( exploring the ongoing discussion about how much water is used to produce different types of food, including an infographic showing the advances made by the dairy community. This article was then shared on Facebook and Twitter, and emailed along with additional content in the regular newsletter. The campaign reached 115,000 people who were interested in milk, drought or farming. “Our goal is not to reach everyone, but rather everyone who cares,” Garner explained.

“The sustainability of the California dairy industry and all industries is of increasing importance to consumers and communities. For the dairy industry, sustainability is not new,” said Dr. Pasin. “The California Dairy Industry has an amazing story to tell, yet few are telling it. Dairy Cares is helping us to communicate our industry’s sustainability milestones to address various misconceptions and plan better for long-term proactive environmental strategy.”

“A critical part of CDRF is to improve consumer confidence,” Cativiela added. “We want to include milk drinkers and dairy consumers in the discussion, especially in drought, because people want to consume in confidence. Our communication efforts have depended on CDRF’s support. Without it, we would not be nearly as effective in reaching these critical audiences and building awareness around dairy’s important sustainability messages.”