Land O’Lakes at SXSW: Transforming Perceptions of Rural America

CMO Heather Malenshek urges marketers and individuals to bridge the rural-urban divide for a more vibrant and interconnected future.

It’s time for brands – as well as individuals – to start using their collective power to reshape perceptions of rural America. Our food system and our collective future depend on it.
That was the premise of Land O’Lakes Chief Marketing Officer Heather Malenshek’s captivating and emotional talk at SXSW 2024, “The Rural-Urban Divide and How Brands Can Make a Difference.”
"Rural America isn't just farmland and coal miners...rural and urban are both vibrant, evolving, and moving our country forward,” she said in the presentation. “Urban and rural are often pitted against each other as rivals, and when we do that, everyone loses.”
Throughout the presentation, Heather emphasized the importance of authentic brand purpose, highlighting Land O'Lakes' unique perspective as a farmer-owned cooperative that is focused on benefiting our members, their farms and businesses. Our company’s operations span diverse sectors like soil health, crop inputs, animal nutrition and food production, of which rural communities are an essential component.
That is why portraying them accurately is vital to the future of the food system as we know it. A key takeaway from Heather’s talk is the interconnectedness of rural and urban areas, which challenges the notion of the rural-urban divide. Heather outlined a step-change framework rooted in atmosphere, subculture and behavior, emphasizing the importance of understanding and valuing both rural and urban communities.
"If you've seen one rural community, you've really only seen one rural community...from farming communities in the Midwest to isolated native lands in the Southwest...they are really pretty diverse," Heather said in the presentation.
Backed by insights from research conducted to understand rural America’s diverse nature and related examples of grassroots initiatives, Heather introduced a series of recommendations for ways leaders and marketers can support Land O’Lakes in its efforts in this space, including:

  • Join Land O’Lakes’ Modern Rural Collective, which aims to convene marketers and media that have a vested interest in a more vibrant rural America to bridge the rural-urban divide by providing tools, insights and research to authentically represent these communities.

  • Portray rural America as vital and essential, including being careful about what words we use when talking about these communities. We have a lot of power as marketers to change and shape these perceptions.   

  • Become a "Changemaker," which she defined as individuals committed to societal welfare and willing to act. These Changemakers, including attendees at SXSW, play a crucial role in reshaping perceptions and supporting rural communities.

In essence, Heather Malenshek's presentation at SXSW urged audiences to reconsider their perceptions of rural America. Through authentic storytelling, collective action by the marketing community, and a deeper understanding of rural communities, we *all* have a role to play in fostering resilience, prosperity, and unity across our nation.

Learn more + join us

You can listen to the recording of Heather’s presentation on or read more about Heather’s POV on bridging the rural-urban divide on the Land O’Lakes blog.
For brands and executives interested in joining the Modern Rural Collective, please visit