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The perils of perception

Friday 2 March 2018

This week, the Ministry for Primary Industries released a report on New Zealanders’ views of the primary sector.

The 148 page report repeated the questions asked in a benchmark study in 2008 that explored urban and rural New Zealanders’ views of the agriculture, horticulture, forestry, food, aquaculture and fishing industries.

Fishing did not fare well, with both urban and rural respondents having the least positive view of fishing compared to all other surveyed industries. Only 40 percent of rural respondents and 39 percent of urban respondents held positive views about the fishing industry.

No comparison on the previous study is available as fishing was not included in 2008 but the findings are no surprise. And nor were the reasons why. They believe we overfish, have a ‘poorly-managed’ quota management system, and have high rates of bycatch.

Seafood New Zealand is now in production for year two of the industry’s Promise television campaign, which was specifically designed to address the public perception of the industry, gain trust and grow reputation.

Reputation is the number one issue facing industries and corporations globally. Without reputation and trust the so-called social contract to operate is diminished. Put simply, a negative public view of an industry will not only affect bottom lines - it also influences government policy.

The experts in reputational management will tell you that many factors are behind a surge in companies addressing trust and reputation. Foremost is the increasing reliance by the public to draw their news from social media and the increasing use of social media to spread misinformation, or fake news.

It is a difficult battle to fight. Those same reputational experts will tell you that the public distrust three out of four institutions in New Zealand and that 61 percent of people believe search engines and social media over human editors (39 percent).

This week’s MPI report did show that there are some in the public who acknowledge that negative media reports resulted in the full picture not being visible to the general public.

One respondent said; “The media will highlight anything that is wrong and suddenly the Green Party go to town on it.”  Another  said; “But then the other primary industries, the wineries, the sheep and cattle, the fisheries, they are all doing great things for the country and I think those farmers are doing amazing sustainable things but you only see them if you watch Country Calendar.” Yes, quite.

All of which reinforces the need for the seafood industry to continue the journey to turn the tide of public perception by telling our stories and telling them well.

It will not be an overnight fix.

Last year’s Promise campaign clawed us back a few percentage points and this year’s will do at least that - but probably more. This needs to be a constant in the industry’s planning for the future.

We know we are a more responsible, more sustainable, more innovative and more environmentally-conscious industry than we have ever been, but we need the public to believe that as well.

MPI’s study points out that the participants in the study talked about the need for transparency and more accurate information to help guide useful conversations that were currently more influenced by partial and often negative information from media platforms.

That is why underpinning our Promise campaign with a code of conduct is essential. We should be living by the code – and most of us are.

The very last quote from a respondent to MPI’s study says; “I think my overall attitude is that I really like our primary industries but I really want them to do better. I don’t want them to disappear, I just want them to be nicer.”

Wise words.

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