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What it takes to become Alice

PD Editor Karen Lee Published on 08 June 2010

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Each May six finalists are put to the test in one of the country’s most rigorous job interviews to see if they have what it takes to become the next Alice in Dairyland.

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As a full-time public relations professional employed by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), Alice works with the media, speaks with rural and urban audiences and teaches students about all aspects of Wisconsin agriculture, which is a $59.16 billion industry.

So what does it take to become Alice?

Like most jobs, it starts with a written application and resume, due to DATCP in January. Applicants must be at least 21 years of age, and demonstrate:

1. Considerable knowledge of and/or work experience with Wisconsin’s agriculture industry

2. At least three years of experience, education or training in communications, marketing and/or public relations

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3. Public speaking experience

4. Experience planning and executing public relations and/or marketing campaigns

All applications that meet the benchmarked criteria are invited to participate in the second step of the process, a personal interview that takes place in February. From there, six finalists are chosen.

The last step in the process is a three-day public interview, known as the finals. During this time, a three-member selection panel evaluates the finalists.

The Wisconsin finalists selected for the 63rd Alice in Dairyland position included Christa Behnke, Clintonville; Andrea Bloom, Loyal; Christine (Lepple) Lindner, Fall River; Sheri Nelson, East Troy; Katie Reichling, Darlington; and Rochelle Ripp, Lodi.

All with agricultural backgrounds and years of hoping to one day have the chance to vie for the position of Alice, many of the finalists admitted they spent their entire lives preparing for this moment.

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Once selected, many spent at least one to two hours per day preparing for the finals, while others said it was upwards of three to four hours a day. In the week leading up to the event, a number of them took days off of their current jobs to finish their preparations.

“I found myself constantly preparing at every spare second in between my full-time work responsibilities,” says Christine (Lepple) Lindner, marketing manager for ANIMART.

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What did they do? They all read up on agriculture issues and current events. Each of them visited the Wisconsin companies they planned to showcase in their TV interviews. They all developed their finale speech and visuals to accompany it. And, of course, practice, practice, practice.

“I practiced my speech on different groups,” says Sheri Nelson, an internship program coordinator for Food Export Association of the Midwest. “I even practiced with some of my non-ag friends so I could see if I was using the right terminology.”

Lindner says she spent the most time working on her finale speech. She hit the streets to video consumers about the economic impact agriculture has on them.

As she walked every day, Katie Reichling, a part-time herd manager for Endless Horizons and substitute teacher, thought about her speech. “I came up with so much I wanted to share, I had to cut out some to make it fit the time,” she says.

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Christa Behnke, a May graduate from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in agricultural and applied economics with a certificate in environmental studies, shadowed the 62nd Alice in Dairyland, Cheryl O’Brien, for a day to gain a better understanding of the position.

Andrea Bloom, a marketing and communications specialist with Vita Plus, leaned on local resources to gain more experience. “I didn’t have much experience with TV so I met up with a Madison news anchor to practice with him for a day,” she recalls.

The TV interview portion was where Rochelle Ripp, an associate marketing executive at Filament Marketing, focused most of her time. From touring the company and preparing a press release, lead, talking points and props, it took a lot of time, she says.

This year’s finals took place May 20-22 in Rock County in the center of the state’s southern border.

When the finalists arrived on Thursday morning they went straight to a local radio station to record their radio and TV interviews, conducted by Wisconsin radio personality Bob Meyer with Brownfield. The finalists are evaluated on their clarity and voice, along with knowledge and content. All interviews were taped so the selection panel could watch and listen to them later.

They then had lunch at Northleaf Winery and toured United Ethanol LLC in Milton, Wisconsin. Each tour stop was assigned to a finalist to report on what they learned in a 60-second talk during the finale program.

Following the tour, the finalists returned to the hotel where they were presented with their writing assignments. By Saturday morning, they had to submit a 600-word information piece about the impact of agriculture when you go to the grocery store. They are evaluated on writing style, grammar, content, information and clarity.

That afternoon, they each had a 30-minute personal interview with the selection panel before returning to their rooms to prepare for the next day.

Friday was a day filled with tours. The finalists visited Kuhn North America, an ag machinery manufacturer; Decatur Dairy Inc., a cheese factory; Larson Acres Inc., a growing 1,500-cow dairy; Kerry Ingredients & Flavours, a food ingredient manufacturer; and Arndt Farms, a feeder cattle, grain, vegetable and mint farm.

After a short break, the finalists appeared on stage at their first public event. At the impromptu question- and-answer session the finalists had to introduce themselves and answer a question related to their biographies.

Two more questions followed and were questions Cheryl O’Brien, the 62nd Alice in Dairyland, received from young students and adults. The selection panel rated the finalists on their ability to think on their feet in front of an audience and how they handled themselves.

“I was nervous for the impromptu Q&A because I didn’t know quite how to prepare,” Ripp says. “The unknown is really nerve-wracking.”

“None of us really knew what to expect and what questions we would be faced with,” Nelson adds. “It is meant to be that way, however, because in the day-to-day travels as Alice, all sorts of people ask questions to her and she needs to be ready to answer.”

On the third and final day, there was one last tour to The DeLong Co., a family business specializing in grain, fertilizer and agronomic services, seed, transportation, wholesale goods and pet foods. There was time to rehearse in the afternoon and by early evening the finalists were meeting people from the host county before the public banquet and finale program.

The finale introduced the finals process to those in the room, welcomed past Alices and provided a venue for the last two steps in the process – the 60-second agribusiness tour talk and the three-minute speech.

Public speaking is essential to the job, and this finale speech is an opportunity to demonstrate the finalists’ ability to connect with and hold a large audience. This year’s theme is the role agriculture plays in consumers’ lives.

Throughout the three days each finalist was also evaluated on their participation, demeanor and interaction with others during the finals process.

“This is one of the craziest job interview processes out there. You aren’t just walking into an interview and spending 30 minutes discussing your resume. You’re up early, you’re on all day and you still have more to do late into the night. Because the finals process includes such diverse components – from personal interviews to impromptu public question-and-answer sessions – you have to find a way to show your passion and energy all the time in every situation,” Bloom says.

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Following the three intense days of interviews and public appearances, Lindner was selected as the state’s 63rd Alice in Dairyland. She starts her contract on June 7 and during her year will travel more than 40,000 miles and visit more than 400 events, talking to students, civic groups, consumers and media about Wisconsin agriculture.

“It was incredibly rewarding to go through this process with highly talented professional women passionate about Wisconsin’s diverse agriculture industry,” Lindner says.

Behnke doesn’t regret her decision to run for Alice. “It was great to make friends and meet five other women into agriculture just as much as me! Other job interviews don’t give you this opportunity and even though I’m not Alice, I have made great connections in the agriculture industry.” PD

For more information on Alice in Dairyland and the Alice program, visit www.aliceindairyland.com or www.datcp.state.wi.us and click on “Marketing Agriculture.”

PHOTOS :
TOP RIGHT: The six finalists toured Kuhn North America in Brodhead, Wisconsin, to see one of the many agribusinesses that contribute to the state’s $59.16 billion ag industry. (left to right) Katie Reichling; Andrea Bloom; Sheri Nelson; Cheryl O’Brien, 62nd Alice in Dairyland; Rochelle Ripp; Christine (Lepple) Lindner; and Christa Behnke.
TOP LEFT: Alice finalist Rochelle Ripp, right, shares her enthusiasm about Wyttenbach Meats with Bob Meyer, left, of Brownfield during her mock TV interview.
MIDDLE RIGHT: Bob Meyer, Brownfield, left, conducts a mock radio interview with Christa Behnke, one of the six finalists for the 63rd Alice in Dairyland position.
MIDDLE LEFT: And the next Alice is…Christine (Lepple) Lindner, right, of Fall River, Wisconsin. She was congratulated by Cheryl O’Brien, left, the 62nd Alice in Dairyland. Photos by Karen Lee.

Karen Lee
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