Last week I was privileged to attend the 2014 British Guild of Agricultural Journalists John Deere Training Award held at John Deere’s Nottingham based headquarters.
The course has been running for 22 years now; seeking applicants from all over the United Kingdom and providing aspiring horticultural and agricultural journalists with the skills needed to forge a successful career in the agri-media industry.
I was surprised to obtain a place on the course for 2014 but was very pleased to be crawling along the M5 last Sunday, Nottingham bound and chomping at the bit to learn as much as possible over the three-day course.
Having checked in at the hotel, I popped down to the bar to meet the other course members before the training award officially began, with the course leader David Mascord launching us all into a series of warm up exercises.
Monday was when the real hard work began and the entire course convened at John Deere’s headquarters in Langar; ready for an intense day of lectures and writing tasks.
John Deere’s PR consultant (and course organiser) Steve Mitchell introduced us all to the head of marketing at John Deere, Gordon Day, who proceeded to provide us with an overview of the company’s history, its current dominance of the tractor market and the continuing development of its FarmSight technology system.
The FarmSight system was one that I was aware of, but it was interesting to get an inside overview of the technology and the potential it had for helping day-to-day farm operations and management.
By utilising JDLink wireless as part of the FarmSight package farm machines can be constantly monitored by a third party; be it in terms of location, performance and control set-up. As such, the system would enable a farm manager to oversee all farm machinery operations from a single location (provided that they had access to a computer), making it much easier to co-ordinate operations and ensure that everything is running as efficiently as possible.
(If you would like to read more about the FarmSight system, or watch some videos regarding the product, do check out the John Deere website)
After the presentation, David Mascord resumed the training from where it left off on Sunday evening and we soon found ourselves immersed in writing tasks and mini-tests; learning how to carry out effective interviews, compose compelling news articles and construct magazine features.
We had a brief pause in proceedings to test drive some of John Deere’s machines before heading back to the training room to stage a mock press conference with the returning Gordon Day.
Having been suitably grilled about John Deere’s machinery market share, FarmSight and the company’s dealership structure, Mr Day was released from our journalistic clutches and we were set an overnight assignment. By first thing on Tuesday, everyone had to write an introduction to a news article that they would have written based on the press conference that had just occurred.
So, having retreated to the hotel, a couple of hours were spent frantically scribbling before we all reconvened for a jovial evening meal; trying to forget about the assignment and the fact that it was going to be assessed!
All too soon Tuesday morning reared its sunny head and I found myself back at John Deere HQ, ready for the last day of training.
With some trepidation I handed in my overnight assignment, silently willing David to be kind in his assessment of my efforts when he came to examine the introduction later in the day.
Once our assignments were handed in, the group was treated to a brief overview as to the importance of social media in agri-journalism by one of the course ‘observers’ and AgriChatUK co-founder, Simon Haley.
It was inspiring stuff and certainly left me re-assessing the way in which I use social media to promote and research my written work. Simon’s words left a great impression on me and I can see why he has been in such high demand for presentations about the benefits of social media and it’s role as a business communications tool.
(The AgriChatUK website is well worth a visit – http://www.agrichatuk.org – and ‘chats’ happen every Thursday from 8pm-10pm, covering a wide range of agricultural issues. Alternatively follow Simon on Twitter)
Steve Mitchell then gave us an overview of work in the PR industry, before we investigated potential freelance writing opportunities and how to go about adapting news articles from press release material.
We also obtained some advice on how to get the most out of the work experience placements that every attendee has arranged for them as part of the training award.
Whilst that was an end of the formal training, I will still have to complete a 400 word agricultural news article which, along with the entries from all the other award attendees, will be judged by a panel of experts and a winner declared.
The whole experience was brilliant and I left Nottingham with a renewed confidence in my writing, determination to fulfil my agri-based ambitions and a lot of new ideas.
My sincere thanks go out to Steve Mitchell for organising the training, John Deere for sponsoring the award, to the British Guild of Agricultural Journalists and to David Mascord for putting together such a strong training package.
I would strongly recommend anyone considering a career in agricultural journalism to enquire and apply for the course next year (visit the British Guild of Agricultural Journalists webpage to find out more: http://www.gaj.org.uk/award/bgaj-john-deere-training-award).