Farm Broadcasting As A Family Business

Kelly Allen, Susan Allen and grandson Jett in
the roping arena.

Business and families can be a toxic mix especially for husband and wife partners who find it nearly impossible to separate business from their personal lives, but Susan Allen, co-owner with husband, Kelly, of the Ag Information Network points out, “Farmers and ranchers have been successful family business owners for generations.” She considers their company, Ag Information Network, much like a working cattle ranch with each family member contributing in areas they are gifted. “We don’t work for each other, we work ‘with’ each other and the most valuable asset we have is complete trust. You can’t buy or hire that.” She adds, “Whether it’s side-by-side gathering and doctoring of the 400 yearlings in the steep, rugged, wolf-infested, Blue Mountains outside of Pendleton, OR, or making a tough employee decision, there is such freedom knowing that our goal is the same—to be in this for the long term and to create value for the family for future generations.”

Prior to purchasing the network, Kelly Allen’s early  career years  included working for Fortune 500 companies with a focus on product/brand management, building marketing plans and managing brands for consumer goods products and later for high tech product lines. After moving back to the Northwest, he did consulting for start-ups and turn-arounds. This eventually led him back to his agricultural roots and the purchase of a farm radio network, which he has managed for the past 20 years. The Ag Information Network has been a part of NAFB ever since Kelly purchased the company. In 2000, Kelly served as the Marketing and Promotions Manager on the NAFB Board of Directors. Until their move to a ranch in Walla Walla in 2012, Susan produced the daily Food Forethought radio program and the Open Range Report while also helping with affiliate relations. With the advent of social media, Susan is focused more on company outreach efforts through newsletters and Facebook. Also, she does creative work writing commercials and developing ad campaigns for clients.

Tommy Allen and Susan Allen hold a brainstorming session
during “saddle time.”

Growing up in wheat ranching, Kelly watched college friends return to the farm and noted those with outside business experience had more to contribute, thus he felt strongly about outside experience for his two sons. Tommy Allen interned at one of Portland’s premier PR agencies, and then worked for crop chemical company Wilber Ellis and most recently sold wheat combines and large equipment for a major John Deere distributorship. In September, he joined the Ag Information Network as Vice President of Marketing. “The timing was right for Tommy to return,” Kelly said. “His past five years working with farm and ranch decision-makers has already proved a great asset with ad agencies, not to mention our own reporters who have used his many connections for stories.” Tommy’s ranching experience of running 400 head of yearlings and his years of calf and team roping, all combine to make him the ideal person to represent the network, Kelly added. Families inherently know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Susan believes this provides a climate that allows freedom to share ideas and think outside the box. Tommy who was raised to love hunting and fishing had the idea to develop a daily outdoor show. Sportsman Spotlight is now one of the network’s most popular programs, and Tommy’s brother, Austin, an avid big-game hunter, is a regular guest. Having been raised in a family business, Susan is sensitive to the fact that working and traveling together can stress a family relationship. It’s often spouses and siblings who feel disconnected so she and Kelly work to include the whole family whenever possible. Tommy’s  brother, Austin, who is one of the Northwest’s top John Deere large equipment salesmen, has a seat on the company board, is pictured on their website, and helps with marketing campaigns as well as being on call as a farming information resource. Tommy’s wife, Desi, does the majority of company photography and layout, and Kelly and Susan’s four grandchildren appear regularly in ads and Facebook postings. If you visit Sportsman Spotlight at you will see their two daughters-in-law in the duck blind, and their sister-in-law with a record ram.

The Allens’ friendly family bull that the kids dubbed
Snowball is featured on their business card along with
he Wallace Stegner quote that Kelly, Tommy and Susan
believe, sell and live every single day. “The West, not
merely a place but a place of Mind.”

“Family has become a huge asset to our business. We have a host of clients on the East Coast and Midwest who are fascinated with our western way of life here in Walla Walla’s beautiful  wine country and follow us though social media. Our children and grandchildren are our best ambassadors. We continually post pictures of them ranching, roping, riding, hunting and fishing.”