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Moving the Needle on Corporate Engagement, Tom Wilson of Monsanto

Keynote Tom Wilson of Monsanto opens the PRSA Midwest District Conference and advises PR professionals how to create an engagement strategy that resonates with consumers.

Kicking off a conference is no easy feat. The audience is low on caffeine, flooded with morning emails and anticipating great things from the lineup of speakers. Faced with a room full of public relations professionals with high expectation for his opening keynote, Tom Wilson, Vice President, Global Communications & Corporate Marketing at Monsanto, wasn’t phased at the PRSA Midwest District Conference — after all, he’s faced tougher audiences before.

For the last 24 months, Wilson has been a key driver in moving Monsanto’s engagement strategy beyond its traditional customer base of farmers.

“As consumers have become more and more interested in food, they have also become more intrigued by food production. While Monsanto may have been founded in 1901, the company has been constantly changing. Monsanto is not the same company today that was it was all those year ago,” said Wilson. Currently on the company’s list of changes is becoming more transparent.

So how do you create an engagement strategy for a 100+ year old company with thousands of employees? Wilson suggested three ways to make this a reality.

  1. Set your organization up for success – don’t go back to your tendencies: Monsanto had long been practicing B2B communications, which weren’t working well with consumers. Today, Monsanto’s engagement strategy transitioned from limited conversations with allies to embracing dialogue with other groups.

    “We’ve focused our conversations on how Monsanto has been able to make food more affordable and accessible for a growing worldwide population. This strategy has allowed the company to have the conversations consumers want — and keep things positive,” said Wilson.

  2. Don’t lead with defense: For companies facing outside attacks, it’s important to consider if the negative commentary could be warranted. For those issues that can be addressed, respond appropriately. However, it’s impossible and ill advised to answer to every claim or piece of criticism.

    “Some people will never be on your side. Focus on your strategy and others will come around,” he said.

  3. Go slowly – change doesn’t happen overnight: Upon taking his position, Wilson was faced with varying opinions of how long it would take to build positive perceptions in the public.

    “I remember some felt only a few weeks were necessary, while others believed it could take up to a decade,” he said. “For now, it’s most important for us to focus on what’s working rather than jump to the next topic or audience. We need to continue to use the resources we have in a way that fits Monsanto’s current strategy.” 

This post is courtesy of Patty Bloom who currently serves on the PRSA St. Louis Communications Committee. She is an Account Manager at Osborn Barr, an agricultural marketing and communications company with offices in St. Louis and Kansas City. Patty earned her Master's Degree in International Affairs at Penn State University and her Bachelor Degree in Journalism, Strategic Communication at The University of Missouri-Columbia. You can find her on Twitter @PCBloom.

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