For millions of Americans of all ages, summer is a time for county fairs, jackpot shows, and other lifestyle exhibitions where people who have dedicated hard work to their animals’ health, growth, and overall care, compete live among their peers. With these animal owners in mind, the Research Farm team at Purina kicks off the summer with a multi-day event, the Honor Show VIP, where 4-H Educators and breeders across the country tour the Purina Animal Nutrition Center in Gray Summit, Missouri. Like the lifestyle shows themselves, Purina’s Honor Show VIP celebrates passion and discovery in a way only possible by coming together at an inspiring and cutting-edge center such as the Purina Animal Nutrition Center.
Purina holds over 40 VIP (Very Important Producer) events annually, across all species — cattle, dairy, swine, equine and show animals. On average, the events last three days each and attract about 125-225 participants.
“This is not a rewards trip,” says Kurt Schultz, director of sales and marketing for the Purina Animal Nutrition Center. “It’s a very in-depth look at how we at Purina can help a producer achieve their goals.”
Kurt oversees the Events and the Farm Selling teams, whose members each serve as a “captain” for a species. Farm selling captains work closely with Purina researchers and sales managers around the country to develop specific agendas for the events.
Since the research farm was founded in 1926, Purina has invited producers to witness their inner workings and results. Following a major research investment in 2013, Purina expanded and enhanced research units and began developing the farm selling team as it stands today. By the following year, that team dramatically improved its ability to attract high-value producers. What makes these events so successful? It’s a matter of unmatched customer experience and face-to-face problem solving with Purina experts.
“I mean, we could send you a bunch of literature you could read at home. But…it’s the whole interaction here that counts. Interacting with people who make it their life’s work to improve this industry — and to be around other producers and network with them as well,” offers Kurt.
Enter spring 2020. COVID-19 forced shutdowns around the world. The Honor Show VIP could not go on as planned.
“Nothing can ever replace an in-person event on the farm. It’s how we show our research, how we show how our products are developed,” says Gretchen Riley.
As customer relations manager, Gretchen oversees training and events for Purina’s lifestyle feeds at the Purina Animal Nutrition Center, including the farm’s annual show feed event.
Gretchen adds, “But we thought, instead of doing nothing, let’s try to provide something at a virtual level, so the sales team can still have an opportunity to reach out to customers.”
The effort to take the Honor Show VIP online would prove to be colossal. In person, participants would get to choose tours, panels, and workshops they want to attend covering all aspects of the show world — from selecting the right animal to making sure it looks great and, of course, proper nutrition.
Says Gretchen, “When we bring people to the farm, they’re with us for about three days. We wondered how we would keep their attention when they’re just sitting in front of a computer.”
That’s where a creative virtual platform came in.
“We’ve been finding creative ways to bring the live event experience into a virtual space,” says Chris Johnson, Land O’Lakes’ director of global travel and corporate events.
Since early in the pandemic, Chris’s team has had to navigate differently and bring forward new technology for hosting large gatherings across the enterprise’s business units.
Chris’s team joined efforts with, the Farm team at the Purina Animal Nutrition Research Center, Marketing and Sales to design an online event unique to the Honor Show VIP.
The online platform combined live and pre-recorded materials, including videos that ambassadors shot from their ranches across the country.
Debbie Friedman-Hueller is the manager of Meetings and Events operations.
“It was an opportunity to collaborate with the Purina Farm team,” says Debbie, “to understand the goals and successes from past years’ in-person events. We used that data and perspective to outline opportunities, access, and reach that this new digital format offered us – so that instead of merely trying to replicate the in-person experience, we embraced our situation and its possibilities to completely reimagine the event.”
The platform performed. During pre-recorded modules, speakers fielded questions from participants via a live chat feature. Customers could request meetings with the sales team and could even take a virtual tour of our farm by clicking on different barns to get a little information.
The live chat unearthed an unexpected benefit in the way of networking and peer-to-peer interaction that went beyond what Purina and Land O’Lakes Inc. could have dreamed of for a virtual space.
Says Chris, “Sometimes we would have a potential customer listening in asking if a Purina product is really all that good. Then five or six current users would answer — yes! It’s not Purina telling them, it’s a peer, or another horse owner or another person who shows cattle. So, it really validates the value of our products.”
The testimonials rolled in through surveys as well. Viewers repeated positive feedback about Purina’s expertise and the virtual format:
“Thank you for so much great and relevant information! We’re excited to start using some new ideas in our herd immediately.”
“Great showmanship tips made my kids come in and watch! Thanks!”
“This was a wonderful alternative to being at the farm!”
“Thank you all for a wonderful experience with your Honor Show VIP presentations this morning. It was worth waking up very early to meet the time difference (logging in from Hawaii).”
In total, the Honor Show VIP brought in almost 2,000 views — nearly ten times the typical in-person attendance — and measured that at any given time throughout the two-day event, simultaneous views were in the hundreds. What’s more, more than 99% of viewers felt the virtual event and platform offered a positive experience and more than 99% said they would return to the recorded sessions after the event.
Gretchen says, “I think this year has taught a lot of folks to try things differently and to react to things differently. A big thank you goes to the whole team that it took to put this together. It was a great learning experience of how we can expand what we do well already.”
When looking to the future, the cross-functional team agrees — nothing replaces a live Honor Show VIP or visit to the Purina Animal Nutrition Center Research Farm. But if it can help Purina create new business with their innovative nutrition programs and expertise, they’ll continue to pursue creative ways to bring the farm to viewers online.
If you’re a member and want more information about the events at Purina’s Research Farm, reach out to their team. Email Purina Animal Nutrition events manager Jane Smedra at email@example.com.