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November 20, 2018

Building our reputation by opening our gates

Fonterra’s Director of Brand Jillian Laing explains Open Gates and the challenge in building corporate reputation. 

Working on improving corporate reputation can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. There are additional challenges when you don’t sell products under your corporate brand – how can you have a relationship with someone you may never meet?  This is certainly the case for the corporate brand team here at Fonterra. 

We’re proud of our Co-op, proud of the dairy we make and proud of the prosperity we bring to New Zealand. We want Kiwis to feel that way too. Our Open Gates event saw 16 of our farmers open the gates of their dairy farms to more than 8,400 Kiwis throughout New Zealand. 

Last year, research indicated that one of the things stopping people liking us was the perception that dairy farming was harming New Zealand’s waterways.  Whilst farming has no doubt contributed to the problems facing our rivers, dairy farmers have spent over $1 billion of their own money on environmental improvements over the past six years and they’re committed to doing a whole lot more.  We needed to let New Zealand know we weren’t sitting on our hands while our nation’s clean green image floated down river.  But this was easier said than done.  When we did a bit more research we discovered that if we just told people the improvements that Fonterra farmers had made, they wouldn’t believe us. Then we realised there was something in the old adage “seeing is believing”, and Open Gates was born. 

Open Gates is an invitation to Kiwis around the country to come and visit a Fonterra farm. It’s a chance to meet the farmers, see what life looks like for a dairy cow and check out the work our farmers have been doing to care for the waterways.  It’s also an opportunity for Kiwis to have some fun, play games and learn more about Fonterra – who we are and what we stand for. 

We first ran Open Gates in December 2017.  To say the business was nervous about the idea would be an understatement.  If we hadn’t had some pretty robust research in our back pocket we might have chickened out, but we put our faith in the data and took the plunge.  And it worked. We knew that Open Gates had the potential to change people’s minds about how they felt about our farmers and Fonterra and it certainly did that – 77% of people who visited a farm felt more positive towards Fonterra and 17% of people who came on farm changed from feeling neutral towards Fonterra to becoming advocates for us.  However, the campaign worked on another level too.  Just by the act of opening up people saw us as more transparent and open, and people who saw the Open Gates campaign gave us a higher reputation score than those who hadn’t. 

So that’s why we ran Open Gates again recently. This year we got to do an even better job, which led over 8,400 people enjoying a day out at one of our farms, meeting our hardworking farmers, seeing the care that they show to their animals and land.  For many, this was the start of their new relationship with the Fonterra brand. 

If you didn’t get along to Open Gates this year you can see what happened at www.opengates.co.nz