Archive | Public Relations RSS feed for this section

Having a story to tell helps your commodity become a brand

11 Mar

UK Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board chief strategy officer Tom Hind told the recent Oxford Farming Conference that a growth opportunity exists for British producers who can talk about their food in a way which appeals to consumers. This is equally true for South African growers as the trend towards the interest in provenance brings consumers and growers closer together.

Consumers are increasingly influencing  the choices of what growers plant and which cuts and styles of meat are desirable. Anyone watching the hike in demand for cauliflower following the Tim Noakes low-carb trend will know first hand the power the consumer has to influence what gets sown.

The “build it and they will come” business philosophy may have been all the required consumer engagement in a nascent economy but today, with competition for tastebuds at a high, more is needed and innovators are not only growing more zucchini, for example, but spiralizing it as a pasta replacement. The need for innovation is a given and the expanding range of value-added products proven.

Carried as a cover story in Farmer's Weekly Magazine, February 7, 2017

Carried as a cover story in Farmer’s Weekly Magazine, February 7, 2017

Influencing the taste shapers leads to influencing the buyers. This is most effectively achieved through a marketing approach: have a story to tell and use it to create a demand by getting the influencers to engage with the story. The meteoric growth in social media not only speaks to the ego-centric society we live in but also to the desire for people to make connections with people and with brands that resonate with them.

A multi-pronged approach is needed but it begins with getting the message straight: what do we want to say about our product and our people and how are we going to say it?

One of things I do as a communications consultant is to help businesses craft those messages and then to develop a strategy how to use them as the bones to create a skeleton and, over time, to weave and spin stories to flesh it out. Finding the heart, in this analogy, is the key to creating a campaign of stories that all talk of the same thing and resonate with their target audience.

Accepting that the consumer is powerful in determining the success of your business also means that those who influence the consumer have power too. When it comes to food there are just a few that influence the many.

Story carried in

Story carried in

What you put in your mouth is your choice. One of the biggest food trends is the stratospheric growth in fussy eaters – people who, for a variety of real or imagined reasons, eat this but not that. Never before has finding something six people will enjoy at a meal been more difficult. Restaurants are also shaping production by selecting certain cuts. The popularity of pork belly, for example, began with top restaurant chefs serving it which  was followed by media covering it and now pork belly is found on almost every restaurant menu. The taste shapers are those writers who decide what to include in their recipe editorials. People like me as public relations consultants for food brands help to promote one product over the next. If you have any doubt about the power of PR over media coverage just page through a few different magazines of the same month and note the number of same brands/ingredients/restaurants that are mentioned. The consumer is hungry to know what’s new and the media, and those of us in  media-support industries, are happy to feed that hunger.

Farmer's Weekly.

Farmer’s Weekly.

You don’t necessarily need a third party to achieve influence over the influencers. If you have the time to dedicate to reading the media that your market reads and identify who the writers of influence are, you’re some way there already. Marketing thinker Seth Godin puts it neatly: “The issue is not getting your word out. The issue is getting people to care. The answer is not to get your word out more. It’s to change what you’re talking about.”

Also speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, Simon Stelling, chief executive of food analyst MCA, said the UK’s foodservice market was worth more than £87bn in 2016 – an increase of more than 2% in value and volume. Stelling said that the number of people visiting restaurants and other foodservice suppliers was continuing to climb, with 93.1% of UK shoppers saying they regularly ate out in 2016. Although the numbers won’t be as great in the South African context, that there is a growth in eating out is a given. The growth in interest in food has also translated into a celebrity-chef culture, plethora of recipe books and concomitant increase in food-related media. My job is to help a client find the story to tell and then to leverage my network of media contacts to encourage them to write about it which, a little like Chinese water torture, becomes a relentless pressure on the consumer to buy your product.

In 2014 Nielsen commissioned a study by inPowered on the role of content in the consumer decision-making process. It concluded that PR is almost 90% more effective than advertising.

Michael Levine, the author of the book, Guerrilla P.R., says that the best analogy for public relations is gift wrapping, “If I went to visit a woman today and gave her a gift in a Tiffany box, it would have higher perceived value than if I just gave it to her plain.  Because she and you and I live in a culture where we gift wrap everything, our politicians, TV stars and even our toilet paper.”

A great example of the efficacy of industry-wide promotion is the success of SA Olive, the grower organisation representing the common interests of the local olive growers. Their SA Olive sticker has only become known as the “Seal of Quality” that it is because of media coverage around their annual SA Olive Competition. Their competent and creative use of the media helped shape the now entrenched perception that South African olive products, and Extra Virgin Olive Oil in particular, is at least on par and in many cases far superior to well-known global brands. Their strategy was to not only tell the story of the quality and success of local growers but to also draw attention to the ways that inferior products are often masked and misrepresented.

The South African Avocado Growers Association is another example of the positive impact of category marketing and their choice to invest in sponsored content with Suzelle DIY’s How To Be An Avocado Aficionado.

Perhaps the most successful grower-driven marketing effort has been The Pink Lady Association. Although talking their lead from the global brand owners, the Pink Lady Association of South African has a number of local programmes and events around which they build stories to share in their social-media communities and in the media at large. At this stage you’re hopefully convinced of the value of marketing and in the greater efficacy of using Public Relations as your marketing tool of choice. Where to begin?

What sets you apart from your competitors? Select five points and flesh them out. Perhaps you are the largest supplier or the smallest one. Each truth has benefits to exploit. The former means you can guarantee volume and the latter, perhaps, means you’re keener to gain marketshare and will work harder to do it. What do you and your team believe in? Perhaps you’ve innovative because of shrinking natural resources. Have you come up with a solution to use less water or adopted a technology to scan your crops for dry spots and now watering more effectively? A range of story ideas can flow from these. Do you have a link to a farm school learner that has done particularly well or is there a someone who has shone more than others at work? What about the things that we don’t typically associate with work: faith and religious practice; interest in sports; a favourite recipe – each of these can produce angles for editorial. Each helps you to talk about your brand and begin the process of  influence over the consumer.

It is not enough to be a great farmer nowadays. You also need to be a great marketer and learning to think about yourself, those that work for you and what you produce in the way that a journalist would. This will make you more successful. Even if you feel you don’t have the resources to hire a consultant don’t make the mistake of doing nothing. At the very least connect with the journalists who cover your area and submit photos and short news pieces to your local press. They will, naturally, ask you to purchase advertising. That’s their job, too. First find a way to tell your story in an article and then, at a later date when you have a very commercially-focussed need, take an advert to support them. Three things will help you along your way to dealing with reporters: Be pleasant, be accurate and, most essentially, be quick about it.

Brian Berkman is a Western Cape-based journalist and public relations consultant with a special interest in the agricultural and food-service sectors. Reach him at or 083 441 8765.


Benchmarking PR fees

21 May

Brian-BerkmanAnswering how long a piece of string is seems simpler than knowing the average hourly rate for public relations by a consultancy.
Many PR professionals bill a time-based fee which reflects how long a job should take to complete. Rightly, in my opinion, the more skilled and connected the professional, the faster it should take in practice. The difference between the actual time and the billed time is the reward.
Some bill based on achieved coverage, either as a percentage of the dreaded Advertising Value Equivalent or per piece of coverage based on top, second or third tier media placement. Others follow a menu of outputs combined with inputs billing more if the CEO makes the call that generates the coverage than if a junior staffer does.

Most will ask for a retainer – a set monthly or yearly fee that will cover a shopping list of agreed upon services. Not only does the method allow for fairly accurate budgeting but it also means that the PR professional can plan a calendar of events not available to those working on an ad hoc basis.

Although I have recently been asked to quote on a tender-style
job where I’m sure the contract will go to the lowest price, more than 20 years industry experience tells me that PR professionals are rarely appointed without first being short-listed, recommended by one’s peer group or, in most cases, I suspect, being a friend of a friend. Relationship is the currency.
In these cases I think fees matter far less than the PR industry thinks. If you’re at a braai and hear the host being jostled about not being able to open a magazine without his ugly mug appearing in it, then you’ll want the same publicist, irrespective of cost.
Like all purchases, deciding with whom to partner on the PR front is an emotional decision and not a financial one. It is essential to find someone you can trust. After all, deciding who you will let manage your reputation and steer you away from dangerous controversy must be based on more than a tip from someone you meet at a kid’s school outing.
So, now that we agree that PR support is not as price sensitive as once imagined it raises the question how someone smart selects their communications professional?

Selecting from award winners is a good place to start as long as you know there are many, myself included, who have never entered awards and others who, with the financial backing of international agency groups, enter many awards in many different categories. So with the number of awards not the indication of excellence previously thought what happens next?
Although anyone with a brain knows public relations is much more than media liaison, only the brainless will suggest that media liaison is not an essential part of the communications mix. If I were to appoint a PR professional I would ask media for a recommendation. It is they, after all, who receive the PR output firsthand. Ask media in your target market who they recommend as a professional who sends print-ready and accurate information. Ask who submits suitable images that are correctly captioned and ask, most knowingly, who responds to queries quickly and understands the nature of deadlines.
I was recently asked to benchmark my fees by a client and found the exercise challenging as reference points are not widely available. To change this I’ve decided to dedicate a PR-Net, a peer network for the communications industry that I run, meeting to this very topic.

Details about the Cape Town meeting on Thursday, May 26 at 11am are at


Decide to be happy

8 Feb

Decide to be happy.

I’ve decided to remind myself how lucky, blessed, whatever you call it I am to have this life and live this life where I do. Deciding to be happy doesn’t make our President a man of integrity, it doesn’t change our shrinking economy, it doesn’t keep the lights on nor does it impact the poverty around me. What it does do, for me anyway, is not weigh me down with the heaviness of it all. When I decide to be happy I celebrate all I have. I celebrate the beauty around me. I celebrate the many opportunities I have to be amongst nature without paying a hefty price for it. I celebrate the mountain. The sea. Life.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Free Type2 info session in Bellville

28 May

Approximately three-and-a-half million South Africans suffer from diabetes. The majority of people in South Africa have Type 2 diabetes with many cases being undiagnosed because there are very few symptoms initially. An unhealthy lifestyle such as poor food choices and obesity contributes to the cause and progression of type 2 diabetes.

The route to a population with pre-diabetes and diabetic complications is a short one.

On Thursday, June 19 between 6pm and 7pm at M-Kem 24-Hour Medicine City in Bellville, there will be a free Type 2 information session with Dr Louise Spruyt and I.

Dr Spruyt has a doctorate from Oxford University in immunology and a Post Graduate Qualification in Diabetes and Diabetes management. I have shed 70kg and now no longer take medication to manage diabetes proving that the disease can be beaten. I supports people to achieve a healthy weight with my Type 2 Revolution.

I will share 10 tips to stick to a restricted eating plan while Dr Spruyt will talk about diabetic warning signs and answer questions.

There is no charge for the session but booking via is essential as places are limited to 30.









Use the right knife for the job

19 Sep

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was to use the right knife for the job. I suppose it is obvious to use the tool designed for its purpose – it is pretty impossible to fillet a fish with a carving knife, for example, so I shouldn’t have been that surprised that my regular mountain-climbing shoes (ancient New Balances) were getting soaked despite me dodging the water and walking up the mountain like a bandy-legged crab.

I do have amphibious shoes (excellent Columbia Power Drains) but in the cold weather I don’t want to walk with wet feet so I headed back to Columbia to see if they had a shoe I could walk through the water in and keep my feet dry.

The Taulas Ridge boot is waterproof and has tread that sticks to the rocks and stops stones from shifting underfoot.

The Taulas Ridge boot is waterproof and has tread that sticks to the rocks and stops stones from shifting underfoot.

Actually, I scored big time. Not only did I get a boot (think 4 x 4 for your feet) that has Columbia’s OutDry Technology but the Taulas Ridge (R1699) also has the best tread I have ever experienced. I’ve got used to feeling the small rocks shift and slip under my feet on the mountain, especially after heavy rain which washes away the top soil, but these boots grip in a way that any anxiety I had previously about slipping is totally cured.

As a boot it also grips my ankle in a way that gives me forward/ back ease of movement but not side to side. I really like that as it prevents sprains. What I don’t like is it is a mission to get into and out of them. Columbia would do very well to increase the size of the loop at the back of the boot so that you can use two fingers to pull the boot on. I also love the chili colour which happens to match my Columbia rain jacket.

While shopping for the shoes I noticed their new range of cammo gear. I never thought I’d be the kind of person to want to wear camouflage but theirs, a mossy, woodlands scene, is so attractive I love it. But, best part of this stealth gear is that it is designed to be silent. The swish-swash sound my rain jacket makes when I walk irritates me so much I think next month I’ll get myself a cammo rain jacket – just in time for summer!

When JP walks on the mountain with me he still has to avoid the puddles – I just walk, proudly, straight through them. Let’s see how long it takes before he gets himself waterproof shoes…

columbia shoe



Do what frightens you first for the best chance of growth

13 Aug

I used to be a scaredy-pants but now I look out for opportunities to experience things that I’m frightened of. I think doing that is one of the few ways we can grow.

You’ve read about my kayaking in Madagascar experience before but this piece, first published in VroueKeur and then in BizCommunity, explains it best. Click here to read it.


Buy a gastric band at half-price sales.

23 Jun

Hello from London. There can be no better way to see the coastal cities of The Baltic than by ship and our 12-night cruise with Royal Caribbean delivered everything it promised – and more.
In time I will post links to the travel articles arising from the cruise but now just a few words, and pictures, about how I managed to maintain my low-carb, high protein diet while on board.

It was harder than I imagined it would be to limit my eating. Despite there being many suitable options after a few days into the cruise I simply couldn’t resist any longer – I felt worn down by the variety and quantity of food available that fitted my diet perfectly.

The good news is that I managed to avoid my poisons: starch, sugar, alcohol. The bad news is that I had, at times, double or triple helpings of meats and vegetables.

In the dining room I would end my meal with a Caesar salad, (no croutons) but one day asked the waiter for fresh pear and Stilton cheese. Every Royal Caribbean staff member tries to wow you with their service and Renold did my delivering pear and Stilton to my table every night in addition to everything else. This is just a tiny example but it illustrates how strong one must be to stick rigidly to an eating plan.

I managed the situation by using the gym everyday and by using a temporary gastric-band – size 32 pants which reminded me that my tummy was full.
With every shop in London and Europe on half-price summer sale I plan to fill my wardrobe with voluntary gastric bands – and if I end up looking like a stuffed turkey because my trousers are too tight at least I won’t forget to stop eating.



Perfect food – fuel and delicious

23 Apr

Salmon and steamed broccoli.

Salmon and steamed broccoli.

JP cooks salmon and broccoli better than most restaurants. He sears it both sides in a very hot pan with a bit of butter and olive oil and then cooks it skin-side down for four minutes with a lid on, seasoned with lashings of Ina Paarman’s Cajun spice. Broccoli is steamed for three minutes in a little salted water. I could eat this dish every day.

A perfect no carb, high protein meal.

Pringle Bay feeds my heart now instead of food.

9 Apr

Next challenge – Kayaking in Madagascar

16 Mar

Had fate not intervened, one year ago today I would have had bariatric, weight-loss surgery making a tiny pouch of my stomach and re-routing my intestine. I want to honour myself for having made the transition from being morbidly obese to reaching a healthy weight rather by changing my eating and physical activity.

This pic was taken in May last year when we were in the Maldives. First time in a Kayak.

This pic was taken in May last year when we were in the Maldives. First time in a Kayak.

I am fundamentally changed. People don’t recognise me. But I also don’t recognise myself. As a travel writer I have often turned down invitations which would stretch me physically out of fear that I would be uncomfortable. In April this year, I am stretching myself physically and emotionally by accepting a very generous invitation from Jenman Safaris to join them on a Madagascar Barefoot Luxury Kayak Adventure which, over the course of a week, will see us kayaking in the South East of Madagascar, camping in forests and on the beach and also staying at beach lodge accommodation.

Taken on Pringle Bay Beach, March 3, 2013

Taken on Pringle Bay Beach, March 3, 2013

There will be many firsts for me along this trip but I am looking forward to them with excitement and some anxiety. I think I have missed out on many enriching experiences in my life out of fear of not being able to cope and accepting this trip signals another new start.