Orwig Announces Agency Retirement

From chapter FFA reporter to chairman of one of the most highly respected communications agencies in agriculture, Lyle Orwig (Allied Industry Council member, Hartland, Wisconsin) has left an indelible mark on hundreds of ag companies and professionals. The well-known ag communicator recently announced his retirement from the agency he co-founded with John Charleston in 1992 — then known as Charleston│Orwig and since rebranded as C.O.nxt.

Over a 28-year span, Orwig guided the agency’s growth, leading strategic communications, branding campaigns, reputation management, and corporate social responsibility programs for many agricultural and food companies. Along the way, he was a mentor and guide for anyone who worked with or for the agency.

top photo: Lyle Orwig received the Dix Harper Meritorious Service Award from NAFB in 2006.

In introducing himself, Orwig often says he was born and raised on an Illinois farm, but “I’ve yet to grow up.” That Illinois farm near Kankakee, Illinois, kicked off his passion for farmers, agriculture, FFA, and the University of Illinois.

“My communications career started as the Greenhand FFA reporter at Clifton Central High School,” Orwig recalled. “As a sophomore, I was elected chapter reporter and started sharing FFA news with local radio stations and newspapers. In the summer, one of the weekly newspapers hired me to cover the county fair, which led me to becoming the school correspondent for The Kankakee Daily Journal.” 

Attending a state workshop for chapter FFA reporters opened Orwig’s eyes to the long-term potential of his part-time reporting gigs.

“The workshop was held at the University of Illinois. After touring the journalism department and seeing the photo and TV studios, I thought this would be a good career to pursue,” said Orwig.

In January 1974, Orwig graduated from the University of Illinois, armed with a degree in ag communications.

“My classmate Ken Rinkenberger told me he had decided to graduate a semester early to avoid competition from other highly sought-after grads like Colleen Callahan and Jay Vroom who were graduating in May. I followed Ken’s lead, which turned out to be a good decision. I had interviews that fall for opportunities with Kent Feeds, John Deere, National Livestock and Meat Board, and Big Farmer magazine.”

But Orwig had his sights set on a job with Reiman Associates in Milwaukee. Earlier that year, Dr. Jim Evans had taken Orwig and a group of other University of Illinois students to a NAMA meeting in Chicago where they heard a memorable presentation by Roy Reiman.

“Roy talked about taking the editors of the ‘seven sisters’ fashion magazines to cotton fields to explain the benefits of renewable cotton over the synthetic fabrics that were popular in the 1970s. That sounded like the kind of ag promotion and education that would be fun,” Orwig said.

After initially getting a “no jobs open” letter from Reiman Associates, Orwig received a call three weeks later from the agency’s PR director, Gary Myers, offering a job as a PR assistant account executive. That launched a successful career in public relations, advertising, and publishing.

Orwig’s first exposure to farm broadcasting came during what was earlier known in ag communications circles as “Hell Week.”

“The NAFB and AAEA annual meetings and International Livestock Show all were held in Chicago during the same week in November. That is where I met Orion Samuelson and many other broadcasters active at that time. This experience got me interested in understanding the broadcast side of PR and how to disseminate information through the airwaves.”

The young PR professional brought his interest in farm broadcasting to his next position as associate editor for Agri Marketing magazine. There, he had the opportunity to build even closer relationships with farm broadcasters, especially during Agri Marketing-hosted hospitality suites at the annual NAFB Convention. However, those relationships didn’t prevent him from being kicked out of his very first NAFB business meeting.

“In those days, farm broadcasters and farm magazine publishers were highly competitive and didn’t get along that well. When the NAFB business meeting started, I came in to report on the meeting for Agri Marketing. Roddy Peeples came up to me and said: ‘You’re not a voting member so get out,’” Orwig recalled.

bottom photo: L-R Lyle Orwig; Karen Potratz, PR Director at C.O.nxt; and Dave Harding, former PR director of Charleston|Orwig, at 2019 Trade Talk

Over time, farm broadcasters warmed up to him and all the NAFB Allied Industry Council members. Orwig became the first Allied Industry Council member to serve on the NAFB Board of Directors, as a non-voting member during his first term then as a full voting member the second term. In 2006, Orwig received the Dix Harper Meritorious Service Award and also has served NAFB as a Foundation Board member since 2009.

“Through the NAFB Foundation scholarship program, we’ve been able to attract college ag-comm talent to farm broadcasting. There are many opportunities at radio stations in rural America, and the Foundation has helped broaden the industry by funding scholarships, internships, and advanced education for current members,” Orwig said.   

Via his involvement with NAFB, Orwig has observed many changes along the way.

“Years ago, broadcasters brought 20-pound recorders with microphones to interviews. Now they talk into iPhones.

“One thing has remained consistent: Broadcasters have always understood the value of working with advertising partners. Trade Talk solidified that relationship, providing broadcasters with several hours of programming in a half-day session, while meeting advertisers’ needs to communicate with their target audiences.”

As he enters retirement, Orwig looks forward to spending more time with his wife, Karma, and his three grandchildren as well as working on his golf game from his home in Chaska, Minnesota. He also continues as an entrepreneur, working with his new partners to grow the Certified Agriculture Dealership program, originally created for Ram trucks.

“The program focuses on helping farmers save money when purchasing a new farm truck from a Certified Ag Dealer. The farmer is then eligible for AgPack, which is a partnership with 12 other ag companies which offer discounts/rebates on their products,” Orwig explains. “It’s a win-win for both. The farmer gets an ROI on his truck, and the company gets a new customer.”

With that entrepreneurial spirit still strong, there is no doubt farm broadcasters will continue to see Orwig at farm shows and ag events in the future, fostering the relationships that have served him so well.