Exploring dairy science careers: Communications, public relations

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This is part of a new series of articles by Michigan State University Extension that will explore careers in dairy science that are not always the ones that come to mind. The first article focused on becoming an academic specialist and this article will concentration on communication opportunities. From animal care to advertising, professors to public relations, there is a career path in dairy for everyone! I recently sat down with Sara Long, an independent consultant about her background in the dairy industry, how she came to her current position with dairy and her advice for others seeking a similar career.

Melissa: What is your position and how does it relate to the dairy industry?
Sara: I’m an independent Communications Consultant and Public Relations Strategist working with dairy and agriculture organizations and programs in Michigan.  I help these groups share their message with broad audiences.  Many people in dairy are too busing doing their jobs; they don’t always have time to chronicle these “doings.”  To do this, I have to stay up-to-date on communication trends in dairy, agriculture and other fields.  Listening is just as important as talking.  I can hear what others are saying about the dairy industry and know which are the best stories to share.   

Melissa: What is your background with dairy?
Sara:  I was born and raised on a small dairy, milking about 25 registered Holsteins.  I didn’t realize how much dairy was a part of me until the farm was dispersed.  The following year I started buying cows to build my own herd.  I’ve judged dairy cows and coached judging teams.  I’ve worked in the Canadian AI industry.  I have cows today, Holsteins and Jerseys, and have always remained active in dairy.

Melissa: What educational path brought to your current role related to dairy?
Sara:  I have an Animal Science bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University.  Though I never pursued a graduate degree, I’ve never stopped learning.  One of my first jobs was with Semex, a genetics exporting company in Canada.  That was a tremendous learning experience and I was able to learn about the U.S. as a foreign country instead of a domestic one.  It gave me a unique perspective on communication, human relations and dairy as a global industry.  Now, I attend public relations conferences to learn about how other businesses communicate.  I keep a pulse on opponents of agriculture including what messages are sent, how it’s done and what might be next. 

Melissa: Why did you choose to work in a dairy field?
Sara:  I really liked cows, I was familiar with all aspects of the industry, and it’s where I was and still am most comfortable.  Dairy is my passion and I wanted to keep learning more about it.

Melissa: What advice would you have for someone wanting to pursue a career similar to yours?
Sara:  Never rule out opportunities or experiences when they come along because everything builds over time.  It may not make sense now, but somehow everything fits together.  You should follow your passions, but you also need to know what you don’t like and then don’t do it!  You find this out by being involved in clubs, organizations, traveling, internships, etc.  There is a limited window we all have to explore life, so take full advantage of that!  Everything in life is a learning experience – accept your new knowledge, good or bad, and keep moving forward.

Melissa: Is there any other information you would like to share?
Sara:  Be educated and keep learning.  Pay your dues. We all have to start low and work our way up and it’s really the only way to build credibility.  Take chances and risks.  Some will work out and others won’t, and do those all those things you always wanted to.  There is nothing wrong with changing the direction of your life.  You are one person – live for you!

Be sure to read the first article in this series, Exploring careers in dairy science series: Academic specialist.


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