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Agrimarketing : May 2012
Ask anyone about their favorite Hall of Fame, and you'll get a variety of answers, ranging from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to various sports' Halls of Fame. All have a few things in common, despite the disparate subjects. They are dedicated to the best in that particular field or category. The same is true for the newly created Agricultural Public Relations Hall of Fame. Begun by the Agricultural Relations Council (ARC) this year and sponsored by Agri Marketing magazine, the Agricultural Public Relations Hall of Fame will bestow honors to some of the most influential leaders in the ag PR industry. And in this inaugural year, two groundbreakers in the industry were chosen --- Don Lerch and Lyle "Leo" Orwig of Charleston|Orwig. As a founding member of ARC and a 66-year career veteran, Lerch tells of a different world for agricultural public relations. Now a vibrant, gregarious and insightful retiree, Lerch explained when he and colleagues started the organization just after World War II, the need for public relations in agriculture was just emerging. NEW WORLD OF AG PR While there were agricultural advertising agencies already functioning, ag public relations agencies were just being started, according to Lerch. He tells of a nation where the farmer was "highly regarded," having fed the Russian army with a fatty pork dish with bay leaf that was shipped to hungry members of the Russian army at the front line. Because of the scarcity of food around the world, the farmer was held in "very high esteem." However, by 1953, the euphoria had worn off, and the plentitude of food taken for granted. Concurrently, the implementation of DDT and subsequent congressional hearings about the resulting danger to wildlife led to a public distrust of the farmer. "The non-farmer knew better how to farm than the farmer," Lerch said of public opinion. From the hearings came the shocking news to agriculture that "every use of every pesticide throughout the U.S. had to be justified." Because of the large amount of work and change that meant for agricultural professionals, those in agriculture came to realize the importance of agricultural public relations. "No longer was the farmer central to food production; the public now would control what agriculture did or it would govern what it did," Lerch explained. Lerch, with a background of ag customer outreach, farm broad- casting for CBS and his own PR firm in Washington, D.C., was uniquely equipped to work with more than 20 other interested parties to formalize the future of agricultural public relations by combining forces to form ARC in 1953. By doing so, he laid the course for many professionals who would address various audiences through the ensuing 59 years to promote agriculture and protect and educate those producing our nation's food supply. VERY ACTIVE In contrast, Orwig is still actively working in the agricultural industry and is daily continuing to have a profound effect on agriculture. The graduate of agricultural communications and economics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign went on to work as an Account Executive and Director of PR at ag agencies and as a Publisher for the Agri Marketing and Agri Finance magazines from 1976 to 1982. Orwig co-founded agency Charleston|Orwig in 1992, and today has nearly four decades in agricultural publishing and agricultural communications under his belt. His agency, Charleston|Orwig focuses on building strong voices for agricultural brands such as Alpharma, Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition, Chemtura, Dairyland Seed, Hoard's Dairyman, Illinois Soybean Association, Novartis Animal Health, Pfizer Poultry Health and Smithfield Foods. His deserved reputation and continued contributions to agriculture lead him to be held in high esteem by his fellow agricultural public relations professionals. Lerch and Orwig were recognized at the ARC annual meeting in Charleston, SC, in March. Introduced by ARC Hall of Fame committee chair Deron Johnson of Pfizer Animal Health, the two inaugural inductees shared their memories of life-long careers in the field. "The induction of Don and Lyle truly represented a watershed moment in the history of ARC," says ARC President Mace Thornton, deputy director of communications for American Farm Bureau Federation. "Over time, this Hall of Fame will recognize all of the trail-blazers in the agricultural public relations profession, and we could not have picked two more deserving individuals for the inaugural honors than these gentlemen." AM 56 Agri Marketing May 2012 AGRI-MARKETERS UPDATE AGRICULTURAL PR HALL OF INDUCTEES by Amy Keith McDonald, McDonald Marketing Communications Lyle Orwig (l) and Don Lerch