First, let's have a moment of silence, or something, to ponder the things you could have done during the hour it took American Idol to eliminate Shannon Magrane like it was always going to. Homework. Dance parties in your room. Unfucking your habitat. Weird benders on the interstate. Literally anything at all would have been more eventful.

Anyway, none of you actually did that, or maybe you really did that considering you're here, but in either case, let's just get through the results at the speed they require. The bottom three were Shannon, Elise and Erika, and only one person deserved to be there. You don't even to speculate on why this is the case--Idol is unkind to female artists, particularly older artists, particularly female rockers. This is unfair. It has absolutely zero relation to how good or shittily people sang. It isn't new at all, either, and isn't all that different from the patterns by which mundane musicians get fans or don't. So we won't whine anymore except HI THERE! IF YOU'RE READING THIS PLEASE JUST THROW OUT A COURTESY VOTE FOR ERIKA OR ELISE.

Now that we've gotten our bold going, and considering that the rest of the episode was an anticlimax, start to finish (Who's in the bottom three? Well, Ryan called up one group with Elise, another with Erika and another with Shannon. Who's safe first? Well, Elise is slightly more popular than either of those other two.), let's continue with some superlatives. In bold.

LEAST CORRECT STATEMENT: Randy: "Good singers can sing anything." No they can't. Good singers know what they're best at. The thing about this year's top 10 is that none of the singers are bad. Even Shannon did pretty well during her final song. The problem is that their song choices top out at OK, are frequently terrible, and only once or twice per season has anything truly been a standout (Erika's "The Edge of Glory," Skylar's "Stay With Me," maaaaaaybe something by Elise Colton or Phillip if they had standouts instead of just being consistently pretty good.") This is how we get people trying the same Mariah and Whitney and Celine songs over and over again, because by this logic, if you're a good singer, you see those songs as vocal hurdles to clear rather than stories to tell or styles to demonstrate.

WORST ATTITUDE: Jimmy Iovine. Contestants didn't follow your advice. We've been over this. Don't use your face time to complain about this, man, or blame the artists for botching or rejecting your ideas; it just comes off as petty.

NOT-WORST ATTITUDE: Elise does not have an attitude problem. Put yourself in her shoes: you're consistently one of the best vocalists on the show, and you've gigged long enough (shows per week in the double digits!) to know this, and the judges have praised you consistently. Then, week after week, you end up in the bottom three--then, to cap this, everyone talks about how you don't smile enough. Frustration is actually the most appropriate reaction here! And Elise has earned that right since that one glorious note of screentime during auditions.

BIGGEST MISMATCH BETWEEN STYLE AND PRESENTATION: Tommy Hilfiger, the show's image consultant. There are certain kinds of music you associate with the Tommy brand. None of them are dubstep.

MOST TRANSPARENT ATTEMPT TO GLOM ONTO MUSICAL FADS: Jimmy Iovine again. He comments upon the resurgence of "blue-eyed soul" and "Asian pop music," by which he means Adele and K-pop. This is where it would make more sense to have dubstep, but maybe that's the territory of Simon Cowell's DJ show.

GREATEST MISMATCH IN GENERAL: Demi Lovato and Daughtry's performances, compared to everything last night. See, Idol audience? Rock exists outside Richard Marx and Michael Bolton's bearskin-rugged domains! And sure, they might be on the blander side of rock, but on Idol? The stage is in tatters. Rat-tat-tat-tat-tatters.

LEAST ENTHUSIASTIC PROMOTIONAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Jennifer Lopez's new single and video, for which Jeremy Rosado, Heejun Han and whatever Shannon Magrane produced more visible excitement.

BIGGEST MISSED OPPORTUNITY: The Ford music video / ghost house / Super Mario World green-bubble-izer. See, if you're going to CGI people green, you could probably CGI up some green gas, right? Or maybe it'd take a bigger budget, but you are Ford and advertising on Idol so this shouldn't be an issue. Anyway, you get people to just ram the ghost gas with your Ford. Ford: the car for people who aren't afraid of no ghosts. We're just suggesting.

OPPORTUNITY THAT MIGHT'VE BEEN MISSED: Ryan's two separate fakeouts, one only 15 minutes into the show, about non-eliminations: "Pack your bags. ...For the summer tour!" and "Unfortunately, [singing an obscure song] has cost you. ...Seeing your family this summer--you're going on tour!"

MOST PLAUSIBLE CONSPIRACY THEORY: Bear with us. So you know how Richard Lawson thinks Colton's a demented demon fucking with people? This would be plausible if we didn't like Colton so much. Our theory is that Camille Von Hugel is mucking with contestants' souls from past the filming. Why else would Fox devote so much time to developing a stage mom character? Stage moms are liabilities on these things! Anyway. She noticed Phillip Phillips was a frontrunner, and she's already undermined his energy so much that in every interview he seems half-asleep. It's how "Turn the Beat Around" was chosen for Jessica Sanchez, then the frontrunner. It's why Erika and Elise, the two best all-around female contestants, are constantly where they don't belong in the bottom three. Next week will probably be Hollie's turn.

Succeeding when environmental activists oppose you

Public Relations Quarterly July 1, 2003 | Bodensteiner, Carol Activists on all fronts are becoming more of a factor in raising issues to a heightened level of public awareness, shaping public opinion, and forcing action in the policy arena. Often it is groups like PETA that garner the sensational headlines with their extreme measures; but, local activist groups can be every bit as much of a force factor. Corporations, organizations, and public relations professionals are well advised to understand how activists operate, bring activists to the table whenever possible and be prepared to communicate in a more comprehensive, pro-active way when activists are engaged on their issue.

In early 2002, Sparboe Farms, one of the largest egg producers in the United States, sought to buy land in Cerro Gordo County, Iowa, to use as the site of a new, state-of-the-art, animal welfare friendly egg production facility.

Before the land was purchased, surveys done, or permit requests filed, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI), was founded as an organization committed to eliminating large scale confinement agriculture in Iowa. It had mobilized public opinion against Sparboe Farms. Angry crowds of Cerro Gordo residents gathered. The media reported, and former supporters of the Sparboe Farms facility scattered. Faced with what appeared to be overwhelming public opinion in opposition, Sparboe Farms backed away from the deal.

Management at Sparboe Farms was stunned by the public response in Cerro Gordo County. Sparboe Farms had been in business in Iowa since 1980. The relationship it has with the rural communities in which they do business is good. The company had every reason to expect that Iowa, a state that leads the nation in egg and pork production, would welcome the facility that built on the state's agricultural foundation, had a strong environmental record, brought much needed jobs, and contributed millions of dollars to the community and state through salaries, taxes, and support of other businesses.

In setting the company's communication strategy, Sparboe management took into account the heated public debate in Iowa fueled by a less than successful record of communication by the hog industry and ongoing discussions in the Iowa legislature related to confinement facilities. Sparboe believed the company would do itself no good by participating in the fury of the moment. It was the considered opinion of Sparboe Farms management that the company's good name and clean record with regard to the environment would carry the day. The company decided to stay under the radar, believing this approach would work to their advantage.

However, those opposed to the new facility contend that such large facilities are a threat to the environment, to smaller farmers, and to the way of life Iowans hold dear. The opposition Sparboe faced in Iowa is being played out across the United States as there is increasing concern for the environment and the finger of blame for polluted water and air is pointed increasingly at agriculture. While egg production has been concentrated with a few major egg producers since the 1950's, the trend to fewer and larger farms has accelerated in the past decade with beef, hog, and dairy farms, as well, creating concern about how well these large operations with thousands of animals can protect the environment.

Activist organizations such as ICCI have become more focused in their efforts to block large confinement operations. Around the country, national environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Waterkeeper Alliance, may be better known, but lesser known local groups may be just as powerful.

It is sometimes easy to dismiss groups such as ICCI. The organization claims nearly 1,800 members, a number that represents only .06% of the Iowa population that now approaches 3 million. Their tactics are confrontational. They often seem to care more about getting the public scared and angry than in finding the facts. But it is a mistake to overlook them. Their passion keeps them focused. Their passion makes them persistent. They do not give up. They do not go away. They organize. They get petitions signed. They lobby. They make sure their point of view is heard.

In addition, because of the large concentration of confinement livestock operations in Iowa, the public as a whole is more aware of the potential environmental impact. Current Iowa law places the responsibility for zoning and permitting these confinement operations at the state level. Citizens and county boards of supervisors increasingly believe these decisions should be made at the local level. The Iowa legislature worked to find a compromise solution in the 2002 session and, given that almost no one was happy with the outcome of those deliberations, will certainly address the question again.

The situation in Iowa is not unique. Similar confrontations between activists and agriculture and citizens and legislatures are being played out in Texas, California, Idaho, Washington, and no doubt many other states. All of these circumstances represent a new playing field for communicators.

Organizations that want to be successful need to understand the strategies, the intent, and the passion of activist groups. While organizations such as Sparboe Farms have prided themselves on following the rules set out for them by regulatory agencies, doing good business for their customers and employees, and staying out of the public eye, it is a fact of life that these approaches may no longer be enough.

After being turned away from Cerro Gordo County, Sparboe Farms continued its quest to acquire a site in Iowa. The company operated on a tight internal deadline to buy, build, and begin production to meet the needs of a major customer. They undertook a dramatically different communication strategy to achieve a favorable outcome.

Dissecting the Sparboe Farms case provides a useful perspective on the activist approach and how corporations and other organizations must operate to be effective.

How ICCI Is Effective 1. "National" organization; local voice. ICCI operates from a headquarters in the state's capital but the staff works diligently to organize in local communities. If they even anticipate that a large farmer intends to expand or a corporation such as Sparboe Farms has plans to site a new operation, they rapidly search out local people to be the focal point of organizing activities and to be spokespeople. The newly organized county group often has its own name, e.g. "Concerned Citizens of Cerro Gordo County." This national/local strategy is one used effectively by national organizations such as the Sierra Club and PETA. The national organization has the resources to mount an ongoing effort; it has the tactical experience based on previous encounters in other communities; it often has research and contacts that help shape the newest campaign. But a local face is critical for credibility in the local organizing effort and to speak to media and local citizens. go to web site force factor reviews

2. Fear of the unknown. People are most concerned about things they know least about. It works to the activist's advantage if the opposition chooses not to speak on its own behalf. This was true in Cerro Gordo County. Sparboe Farms management felt they were not prepared to share information about the new facility because they were still negotiating for the land, hadn't done survey work, hadn't filed for permits with the state.

This was a mistake, and ICCI took full advantage of it. Sparboe Farms chose not to attend community meetings called by local citizens to discuss the new facility, thus leaving the discussion to people who had no information or wrong information and opening the door to the worst case scenario.

3. Worst case scenario. It is a fact that some confinement livestock operations have had problems with lagoons breaking and manure getting into waterways. It is true that some operations have failed to recognize the impact of spreading waste on fields so that odors are minimized or spreading waste in incorrect quantities. In the absence of any information to the contrary, however, activists are willing to paint everyone with the same, broad brush. These broad brush allegations are often neither fair nor true. The vast majority of farmers and corporations are environmentally responsible. They want to be good neighbors. But manure spills draw the attention of the media; activists, and the public. And in the absence of any other information, local citizens are left to believe that all organizations are the same and that the managers of the new facility will do everything in the most damaging way possible. They are encouraged to believe that the new neighbors will be bad neighbors.

4. Protests and rallies. There is nothing like a rally with placards in the local high school gym to get people wound up and the media interested. When these events are organized by the activist organization, which may have no interest in a balanced hearing, it is no wonder company officials are reluctant to attend. Even when the events are organized by elected officials, they can deteriorate into shouting matches. Iowa has seen too much of this approach for companies to be ready and willing to step into the fray, though there is increasing awareness within agribusiness that not participating in these discussions may yield a result that's even worse.

5. Utilizing the media. It is important for activists to keep an issue hot, and paid media is one way they accomplish this. ICCI ran a series of ads in local papers that took a variety of message approaches. They published petitions that were an extension of a door-to-door, grassroots petition effort underway in the county. They challenged Sparboe Farms on management practices in terms that were inaccurate and inflammatory. They attacked local members of the board of supervisors who supported the new facility.

All of these techniques - grassroots organizing, holding public meetings, staging protests and rallies, and utilizing the media - are stated ICCI strategies. All of these are strategies ICCI applies consistently and often effectively.

A new location, a new approach After being turned away in Cerro Gordo County, Sparboe Farms set its sights on finding another location. Eventually, the company found a site in another north central Iowa location: Wright County. Wright County is a largely rural county with a large number of confinement livestock operations. It is also home to another Sparboe Farms egg-laying facility. Economic development leaders in Wright County had indicated an interest in talking with Sparboe Farms about siting the new facility there, but such interest was no guarantee of success. Supporters in Cerro Gordo County had quickly changed their minds in the face of angry citizens.

Sparboe Farms plotted a strategy going forward that was based on full but managed, advance disclosure, making and working with friends at the local and state level, over communicating, sponsoring public meetings, and working with the media. In fact, Sparboe used most of the same strategies ICCI employed but used them to create an environment based on openness and trust rather than the environment of fear and distrust ICCI sought.

How Sparboe Was Effective 1. be ready to communicate before you're ready to communicate. Sparboe Farms intended to share their plans with the Cerro Gordo community after they'd surveyed the land, knew it would work, and could talk specifics. That was weeks too late. Once word was out, as it inevitably would be, that Sparboe was interested in land, the activists went into action. In Wright County, the Sparboe strategy was to communicate as much as possible as often as possible to as many people as possible well before a site was identified. It bears saying that this was not an easy decision for Sparboe management nor was it a decision that was uniformly supported throughout the company. The possibility that word of Sparboe Farms' interest in land would get to ICCI and scare potential sellers away was real. Nonetheless, once the company decided on this approach, management carried through.

A spokesperson and point person for the project was tapped. Sparboe Farms is owned and operated by several members of the Sparboe family. Garth Sparboe, son of CEO Robert Sparboe, was given the responsibility. Garth Sparboe was articulate, believed strongly in the outreach strategy, and had the advantage of carrying the Sparboe name, which was an important factor for Iowans.

2. Be transparent. Once the decision to communicate was made, a set of fact sheets was developed, each one covering a concern identified through the Cerro Gordo experience. Fact sheets detailed the specifications of the facility, how manure and odor would be handled, how flies and other pests are managed, employee numbers and wages paid, and potential economic impact. Results of research conducted by Iowa State University on the nutrient value of poultry manure compared to commercial fertilizer became the basis of another fact sheet. These fact sheets were posted on the company web site, included in media packets, and provided to anyone who had questions. Since the questions were largely consistent, having prepared materials took considerable pressure off company spokespeople and ensured consistency in communications.

3. Build friends before you need them. Since Sparboe Farms had never asked for state money or local concessions for any of its facilities - a rarity in the economic development world - the company had never built relationships with political decision makers. As a result, key people who could be supportive were largely unaware of the company's history, operational record, and impact on the Iowa economy. This had to change fast.

At both the local and state level, Garth Sparboe worked to identify political, business, and opinion leaders who needed to be aware of the company's interest and intent. At the state level, Sparboe representatives met with members of the Governor's staff, the secretary of agriculture, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and the Iowa Department of Economic Development to share plans, answer questions, unearth concerns, and ask for guidance. Similar meetings were held with local economic development officials, members of the county board of supervisors, neighbors, and other opinion leaders. The company also asked if these people would publicly support Sparboe efforts to site a new facility. The responses were varied. In all cases, any support was based on Sparboe history and willingness going forward to be proactive with good environmental practices.

4. Engage the activists directly. A core decision for Sparboe Farms was to meet with ICCI staff. This meeting had two strategic goals. The first goal was to see if there was any common ground for the two organizations. Operating on the assumption that reasonable people can find win-win solutions to most problems, Garth Sparboe genuinely hoped to find a way to work with ICCI. ICCI staff reiterated that their members are opposed to any large scale confinement agriculture in Iowa. This was a position Sparboe Farms could not compromise on. In spite of this response, Sparboe extended an invitation to ICCI to attend a public meeting the company intended to hold in Wright County.

Failing at the first goal, the second goal of the meeting was to gain a strategic advantage. By having the face-to-face meeting at ICCI's Des Moines office and inviting them to participate in a public meeting, Sparboe removed an ICCI trump card: the ability of ICCI to say it wasn't included in discussions that affected its members or to claim Sparboe Farms wasn't being forthcoming with its plans.

5. Hold controlled public meetings. As constructed in Cerro Gordo, public meetings can be a disaster. Emotions run high. Pandemonium reigns. Sparboe Farms wanted a different kind of public meeting, one where they could lay out their plans and answer legitimate questions, a meeting where rational people had a rational discussion. The approach they chose was an invitation-only meeting. The invitation list included local business and economic development leaders, members of the county board of supervisors, neighbors to the new facility site, political representatives for the county, the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, and ICCI. Media were not invited to the meeting. However, a media briefing was scheduled for the same day in the afternoon.

Though ICCI initially said they could not participate in such a meeting, ultimately they could not refuse to attend. But whether ICCI did or did not attend, Sparboe Farms held a strategic advantage the invitation alone gave the company a solid plank for communication. While most state-level elected officials chose not to attend the meeting, Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge did participate. Her attendance sent a strong, positive message about Sparboe Farms and Iowa as well as a broader message about large scale confinement agriculture in Iowa. Local business leaders, economic development officials, and neighbors of the proposed new facility filled the meeting room.

A third-party facilitator moderated the meeting. A well known, well respected individual in Iowa, the facilitator was able to ensure that all questions were taken, that no one dominated the conversation, and that the discussion stayed on point. ICCI representatives asked many pointed though sometimes irrelevant questions. To Sparboe Farms' credit, company representatives answered all these questions in a straight forward, matter-of-fact manner.

Sparboe representatives closed the meeting with a blanket offer to hold additional meetings if the local community wanted them. Additional meetings were not necessary.

6. Be there. Always. One-on-one meetings, public meetings, media briefings: none of these was considered enough. County officials who supported the project were going out on a limb and needed to know it wouldn't be sawed off behind them. If the officials called a meeting, Sparboe committed to be there. If citizens asked questions, Sparboe Farms needed to provide answers. As a follow up to the public meeting and media briefing, Sparboe Farms ran an ad in local papers reiterating key points about the proposed facility, but more importantly, urging anyone who had questions to contact Garth Sparboe directly. Every call or letter was answered with a personal call or visit from Sparboe.

7. Working with the media. The media covering the fire storm in Cerro Gordo County were a significant problem for Sparboe Farms. When you're not prepared to talk and, indeed, have made a corporate decision not to talk, any call is a problem call. The situation was just the reverse in Wright County. Having made the decision to communicate openly with everyone, the media were just one more audience. A media briefing held the same day as the by-invitation public meeting was attended by local print and broadcast media. Sparboe representatives, including CEO Bob Sparboe, stayed as long as there were media questions.

In fact, Sparboe expected much greater statewide media attention on their Wright County proposal because of the previous problems. Because ICCI could not organize significant local opposition, statewide media gave the story only passing reference. Local media coverage was largely positive based on the significant vocal support of local business and economic development leaders. go to web site force factor reviews

How ICCI Countered ICCI was diligent in attempting to thwart the proposed new facility. They pushed forward on a petition drive as a means to educate people to their position, gain support, and gather names to be used against Sparboe Farms during the permitting process. They ran ads designed to raise concern about the new facility's impact on environmental quality. They regularly visited the state Department of Natural Resources offices to scan the records for Sparboe Farms infractions.

In the face of wide open communication by Sparboe Farms, and because the company had built awareness, understanding, and support at both the local and state level, none of the ICCI approaches proved effective. The petition drive garnered a few hundred signatures, but many of these signatures came from ICCI members in other parts of the state.

Conclusion It is dangerous to believe that problems may all be avoided with effective communication. It was critically important to Sparboe Farms' success that their record with the environment, their employees, and their neighbors was clean. But looking at the strategies employed by ICCI, it is apparent that all of these may be muted or made moot by well planned, effective communication efforts. In Cerro Gordo County, ICCI and emotion ran the show, with Sparboe Farms scrambling to catch up in a race for which they never really made it out of the starting gate. In Wright County, Sparboe led.

Sparboe Farms was successful in winning approval for the Wright County project. They bought the land, were awarded the required permits, and built the new egg laying facility. A comprehensive communication strategy helped in that success.

It is important to remember that the clean environment organizations like ICCI seek is a legitimate and desirable goal whether or not you agree with the organization's entire platform or methods. Everyone wants quality water and air.

Organizations like Sparboe Farms cannot be effective at communicating if they do not have a solid foundation of responsible operation and care for the environment. Conversely, doing the right thing may be fruitless if the communication battle is lost. Effective communication can help ensure the public, activist groups, and elected officials can tell the difference between a company that operates responsibly on an ongoing basis and one that doesn't. A company that is acting responsibly, is a good neighbor, is a solid contributor to the community, should not be turned away through misinformation, emotion, and fear spread by activists. A well thought out and executed communication effort can help ensure this doesn't happen.

Succeeding with the project is gratifying; establishing an ongoing relationship with all the players may be more important. As Garth Sparboe points out, "We have to continue to make an effort to bring all the players together. We have to find out when what they're saying makes sense and respond to that whenever we can. Waiting until we have a project we want to site may be too late." Wise organizations will consider how an ongoing dialogue with all stake holders, including activist organizations, may help uncover how organizations, citizens, and elected officials can work together to understand each others' needs, interests, and concerns, move forward in acting on them, and achieve a common good.

[Sidebar] Management at Sparboe Farms was stunned by the public response.

[Sidebar] Grassroots organizing, holding public meetings, staging protests and rallies, and utilizing the media are strategies ICCI applies consistently and often effectively.

[Sidebar] Fact sheets took considerable pressure off company spokespeople and ensured consistency in communications.

[Sidebar] Sparboe Farms wanted a different kind of public meeting, where rational people had a rational discussion.

[Author Affiliation] Carol A. Bodensteiner, APR, Fellow PRSA, is a marketing and public relations consultant. She has extensive experience in advising and coaching business to business clients on communication strategy. For the past 20 years she has also trained clients to prepare them for media interviews ranging from home town newspapers to "60 Minutes." Recently she was a Visiting Assistant Professor at Drake University teaching public relations writing, research and issues management. She now serves on the National Advisory Board for the Drake University School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Previously she was the president of CMF&Z Public Relations, one of the Midwest's largest business-to-business public relations firms. Her professional career also includes time as publications editor for the American Soybean Association and editor of Soybean Digest magazine. She earned her MA from Drake University and her BA from the University of Northern Iowa.

Bodensteiner, Carol