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Controlling the Uncontrollable
by Stephanie Liska

IT TOOK ALL OF 90 SECONDS for Mother Nature to alter the landscape and lives of those farming and living in Grundy County, Iowa when an F-5 tornado leveled the town of Parkersburg, Iowa and re-defined the meaning of "grain bank" and "storage" for the Sinclair Elevator.

Agronomy Manager Brent Kannegieter describes those 90 seconds: “It was a normal day the end of May…custom application rigs were running, fertilizer applications were basically done, our feed mill runs 24 hours a day and that was progressing and we had bins full of corn, ready to be ground into feed.. at 4:59 on May 25th.

The tornado went right through the Sinclair location, an independent elevator just east of Parkersburg, Iowa, leveling buildings, twisting equipment like toys, pulling grain bins apart and sucking grain into the endless sky.

When the uncontrollable happens, the disaster management plans are crucial.

Disaster Management is:
1) The discipline of dealing with and avoiding risks.
2) The discipline that involves preparing for disaster before it happens.

Yes, it is a discipline, something that can be controlled and cannot be procrastinated over. The disaster management plan should be updated and reviewed with all employees on a and multiple copies should be kept onsite and offsite. Also, your plan needs to include a communications plan in the time of a disaster—an understanding of what you want your customers and prospects to say about you in the time of and after a disaster.

Uncontrollable Events can lead to Controllable Conversations in your marketplace place when you have a plan. How you plan to respond and communicate to and with your customer base following an uncontrollable event will set the tone for how your customers will be talking about you in the market place.

To make sure you have a positive Word of Mouth in the Market following a disaster make sure your disaster communications plan includes the following:

Do not remain silent. Communicate quickly and often with your market place. Remember, silence only creates a forum for your competition to position your future.

Designate one person and a back up to handle your marketplace communications. This individual's sole task is to make sure there is no misrepresentation of your response to your disaster or your future plans. This person needs to have a very good understanding of your customer base and how the disaster can impact their needs.

Communicate specifically and often with your employees. They are the first line of communication to your customer base; they need to know what they can talk about in the marketplace and what you aren’t ready for them to talk about. What they have to say to customers is critical to what your marketplace will be saying about you after a disaster.

For example, you don’t need the feed mill operator telling customers that the mill will be operational within the next week, when in reality you can’t even get contractors in to fix the mill for three more weeks.

Identify a core group of influential customers who you can communicate with often about the status of your business and your plans to be fully operational. This core group should be listed in your disaster communications plan with all their contact information.

These individuals will be your voice in the marketplace… at the coffee shop, the sale barn or at the ballgame on Friday night. If they know your plans they will communicate your message to your market place and you will be controlling the conversations.

Plan your media contacts. In your communications plan list the contact information and specific requests for other communications channels such as the local newspaper and radio. Use these media to get your message to your marketplace on a regular basis.

Finally, be sure and test all aspects of your disaster plan. The time to find out something in your plan is not complete or not going to work is not during a disaster. Also, testing gives you and your designated communications person the chance to calmly discuss the types of customer conversations and Word of Mouth in your market place that you want to create and avoid in the time of disaster response.

Real results.

The Sinclair Elevator is operational from a satellite location. The new office should be complete by September. The dates when the feed mill will be fully operational and when they can start accepting grain at the Parkersburg location is still on hold; they aren’t communicating a date to their market place that they cannot commit to. Their customer base is watching their daily progress and knows the future of the elevator.

Kannegieter comments, “Our customers are our number one priority and communicating with them—a lot of times in the beginning over the radio—has been one key thing we have done right throughout this process. At this time, we don’t anticipate losing any customers, even though Mother Nature really gave us a challenge.”

Stephanie Liska is the President of Beck Ag, Inc. the industry’s leader in the development and implementation of Word of Mouth Marketing Strategies. Stephanie has more than 20 years of industry sales and marketing experience. Prior to leading Beck Ag’s team, Stephanie worked for AgriBusiness Group consulting with various organizations improving their organizational learning strategies. A graduate of Iowa State University, her personal mission is to develop people towards exceptional performance. Stephanie can be reached at 866-375-4390 or by e-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it


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