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Spotlight on … Jody Donohue

Spotlight on … Jody Donohue

Head of Communications and Government Affairs, North America
Ceva Animal Health

May 2024

A lot of us have become accustomed to a hybrid work environment, but your arrangement still seems extreme. You’re not bicoastal, but still…

I get it. On Monday morning, I drive two hours from my home in Fredonia, Kansas, to our company’s U.S. headquarters, in Lenexa, Kansas., a suburb of Kansas City. And then I drive two hours back home on Friday nights.

That’s unusual, but your background, for a public affairs professional, is unusual, anyway.

That’s true. There’s a lot to be said for a more typical experience, which might be growing up in a big city, majoring in government or international affairs, maybe going to grad school in Washington, doing an internship on Capitol Hill, then working for a federal agency, and then getting hired by a major company. My experience is different. I majored in agricultural journalism at Kansas State University, and for my entire career, I’ve never been based east of Kansas City. I do work in Washington a few times a year — it just depends on the issues we’re engaging in.  I always enjoy and learn a lot from these experiences. This is especially the case with Council events, where I get to meet with peers from different organizations.

You spoke at this past September’s Government Relations and Policy Conference?

Yes, on a panel called “Working Across Your Public Affairs Function.” I talked about the importance of setting priorities and alignment with the team with which you have to interface internally. And I emphasized how crucial it is to really know who your stakeholders are.

How do you mean, “really knowing”?

Let me try to explain it this way. At Ceva, among other things, we produce vaccines for livestock. We’re a pretty small company, with only about 625 employees in the U.S., and — being at our headquarters in this country — I deal with a remarkable number of them all the time. I know the people in the lab who actually make the vaccines. I know the warehouse team and the supply-chain people. I go to the poultry farms. I’m embedded with these teams, and there’s no substitute for that kind of on-the-ground knowledge. It is invaluable for being effective at communications and public affairs. I’m first and foremost a communications person. I’m a storyteller at heart, and I guess it is in my DNA.

In what sense?

My ambition, when I was studying journalism, was to write for agricultural trade journals. From the time I was 5, I wanted to be a writer. I come from generations of Irish storytellers, with that “gift of gab.” We recently found a collection of things my great grandmother had written, including articles in the local newspapers. She was a wonderful writer, and I only discovered that in the past few years. So that interest in writing has been in the family for generations. But I realized soon enough that to make a decent living, I needed to do more than write for agricultural publications, so I quickly moved into communications in a broader sense.

And that included working in travel and tourism?

Yes, in Coffeyville, Kansas., which is about an hour south of Fredonia. Coffeyville was the site of a famous gunfight in 1892, when the Dalton Gang tried to rob two local banks at the same time.  They failed. As part of my work in tourism, right out of college, I was part of a troupe of living historians, and we’d re-enact the gunfight for tourists. I’ve also robbed trains – now that is really fun. People who are really interested in the Wild West still go to Coffeyville. Our tourism office was part of the local Chamber of Commerce, so there was more to the work than staging fake shootouts, of course. We were also lobbying in the state capital and dealing with city and county officials, so I was also working in economic development, which led me into the career I have today.

So — why the long commute?

My husband and I live on a cattle ranch that has been in his family since 1867. It’s pretty small compared to a lot of other ranches in Kansas, with about 200 cow-calf pairs, maybe 600 head total when we’re not in a drought. Until recently, my husband had been a fulltime cowboy. But lately he has been away from the ranch volunteering with the Kansas and National Association of Conservation Districts. He’s even going to Washington, D.C., himself now to talk about water resources and native prairie issues with Congressional staff and federal agencies.  He’s a real grassroots lobbyist. He’s now interested in public affairs in a way he had never been before, and it’s wonderful to be able to talk with him about our work. After more than 25 years of marriage we have something new in common.

Reach Jody at [email protected].

[Really knowing who your stakeholders are] is invaluable for being effective at communications and public affairs. I’m first and foremost a communications person. I’m a storyteller at heart, and I guess it is in my DNA.

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