The power of our trust in farmers

Australian farmers have again been ranked in the top ten in the Australian Readers Digest’s annual survey of most trusted professions, presenting new opportunities for agriculture, writes Cox Inall Director Lucy Broad.

In fact compared to 2013, farmers have moved from tenth into eighth position, on a par with veterinarians and air traffic controllers in the trust stakes.

It is the tenth anniversary of the survey, which also looks at Australia’s most trusted individuals. Year on year, there is considerable change in the individuals who score high “trustworthiness”, as the tide of news and public opinion swings wildly.

Our most trusted appear to consistently hail from the medical field: Charlie Teo (neurosurgeon), Fiona Wood (burns specialist) and Ian Frazer (immunologist). Fourth on the list is Chris Riley, founder of Youth Off The Streets and fifth the popular actor, singer and thoroughly gorgeous Aussie bloke Hugh Jackman.

However, the survey tells us that former AFL coach James Hird has fallen more than 20 places in this year’s list as a result of being engulfed in the supplements controversy, and Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has also lost altitude following a stormy year.

Our most trusted professions have actually remained largely unchanged for the 10 years the survey has been running.

Leading the list are those who we trust with our lives, literally. Paramedics, firefighters, rescue volunteers, nurses, doctors, pilots, pharmacists, and air traffic controllers! And then come farmers, who we simply cannot live our lives without.

At the other end of the spectrum taking positions 47-50 are, perhaps not surprisingly, insurance salespeople, politicians and door-to-door sale reps. Journalists aren’t far behind.

To trust something or someone is to believe in their reliability, truth, ability, or strength.

It’s an incredibly powerful emotion, and one that has an important role to play in communications.

Throughout many marketing and communications campaigns you will find spokespeople or “key influencers” (to use the communications jargon) used by companies to help cut through the information noise and influence consumers with clear, believable messages.

It’s why the NSW State Government’s Road Trauma prevention campaign uses the highly respected neurosurgeon Professor Brian Owler – someone the community holds in extraordinarily high esteem and trust.

It’s probably also why you won’t often see advertising campaigns fronted by clergy (No. 36 and falling) or CEOs (No.  41).

But it does explain why supermarkets and some dairy companies have started using trusted farmers to front their advertising campaigns promoting fresh, healthy Australian produce.

In Cox Inall’s day to day communications work when we are trying to encourage adoption of innovative farm practices, we regularly use farmers as spokespeople.

Our own experience has shown us that peer to peer communication using credible and trusted influencers is one of the most effective ways of encouraging behavioural change.

So perhaps there’s something in all of that for the agricultural industry more broadly.

As it continues to struggle with its image, and community perceptions, perhaps part of the solution lies in agriculture using spokespeople that, year on year, are shown to be some of the most trusted and truthful in our community.

Whether it’s more effective messages about career opportunities for young people, animal welfare best practice or environmental sustainability, perhaps it’s our trusted farmers who should be out front delivering them to the broader community.

  • Lucy Broad is the Director of Cox Inall Communications, based in Sydney.

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