Answering the Call

CLIENT: United Egg Producers

The Challenge

A highly contagious disease, avian influenza, spread quickly through Midwestern poultry flocks in the spring of 2015.

Within 100 days, about 48 million birds were lost to the disease, including 12 percent of the nation’s egg-laying hens. Farmers felt a tremendous emotional and economic toll. Because eggs are a daily staple, concerns about price spikes and disruption in supply were widespread.

United Egg Producers needed to deliver up-to-date, accurate and consistent information about the situation to media, egg farmers and the public.

The Results

Our Approach

We developed a preliminary response draft as a “just in case” measure as part of the full-service communication support we provide to United Egg Producers. When avian influenza was detected at an egg farm, we immediately crafted a detailed response plan based upon our extensive experience in the food industry. We coordinated with UEP, USDA and egg and poultry organizations to provide consistent messaging to the media and stakeholders. Key messages were reiterated in a variety of materials and routinely updated with developing issues as the outbreak unfolded.

As the point of contact for media inquiries, we wrote and provided statements, answered questions, coordinated interviews and connected reporters with others who could best answer specific questions.

We developed materials for use by UEP farmer-members to protect their flocks and communicate with their customers, local media and elected officials. These materials included stakeholder updates, Q&As, newsletter articles and contact lists. We coordinated nearly 20 conference calls, where up to 275 farmers and egg industry members dialed in for situation updates. Additionally, we supported producers with affected flocks by establishing communication guidelines and supporting media inquiries.

The Results

The avian influenza outbreak has been referred to as the most devastating animal health crisis in U.S. history. During the outbreak, we provided facts to and coordinated resources for more than 130 reporters, resulting in stories like this one in the New York Times. Most coverage was factual and considerate of the affected farmers, with an accurate description of the impact on the food chain.

Because of consistent messaging through the egg community and the media, consumers clearly understood the disease was an animal health issue and did not impact human health or safety of eggs and poultry meat. Egg sales analysis showed that egg purchases remained consistent during the outbreak.