NEW PRODUCT - Feeding moms bargain prices
NEW PRODUCT - Feeding moms bargain prices
Client: PBM Products (Gordonsville, VA)
PR Team: Siddall, Matus & Coughter (Richmond, VA)
Campaign: Babymill Infant Formula
Timeframe: March 1999 to present
Budget: dollars 100,000+
Labels have cache. And brands can command serious consumer loyalty, even
when it comes to infant formula. Cautious new mothers are reluctant to
try a cheaper alternative to the formula that comes recommended from
their pediatrician. Moreover, the large national brands, Enfamil and
Similac, work with hospitals to promote their products and get new moms
hooked right at the beginning.
A recent poll conducted by the National Family Opinion Poll asked 600
mothers to prioritize their top concerns for their newborn. For 85% of
respondents, the top concern is getting the best nutrition for their
baby, while nearly 50% said that they would like to save money. What
most mothers don’t realize is they can do both.
Infant formulas manufactured in the US are required by law to meet
rigorous FDA standards, making all of the brands nutritionally
equivalent. However, private label and store brands cost up to 30% less
than the market leaders Enfamil and Similac. Mothers can save dollars
400 a year by buying generic brands.
When PBM Products launched Babymill infant formula in March, they hired
Siddall, Matus & Coughter (SMC) to convince skeptical mothers that their
products were equal to the leading brands in terms of quality - and less
’Enfamil and Similac own the market, and we needed to break that
barrier,’ says Pam DiSalvo VP, director of public relations of SMC. With
a target audience that was mostly comprised of pediatricians and
mothers, the PR team realized that ’mass advertising was not the most
effective way to reach them - they like to see medical data.’ SMC needed
to reach moms and pediatricians in a way that not only made them aware
of Babymill, but also made it an established part of the culture.
The main goal was to treat it not as a consumer issue, but an
educational campaign, promoting Babymill as well as all other generic
and store brands.
’It was also very hard to pitch the story from a media standpoint,’ says
DiSalvo. ’There is no controversy, no sensation, no sense of emergency
in infant formula.’
The PR team also wanted to focus all of its efforts in the week of the
launch to make a big splash. ’Every day of that week we were doing
something big - visiting the media, launching the VNR, and sending out
medical spokespeople,’ says DiSalvo.
On March 22nd, the day of the launch, SMC ran a full-page educational
announcement describing the issues in USA Today and trade
Pediatricians were mailed a letter introducing Babymill and explaining
how the formula was equivalent to the leading brands.
Some markets had local events. In Richmond, VA, PBM sponsored a Healthy
Baby Nutrition Day in conjunction with Huggy’s Diapers at a local
To attract mothers with kids, the event featured clowns, games and a
local bank offering bank accounts for children. Babymill spokespeople
were present to describe the formula to mothers and convince them to try
it. ’We were able to have one-on-one talks with many mothers,’ says
Also, West Glen Communi-cations of New York was hired to produce a VNR,
B-Roll package, SMT and radio news release. The TV and radio news
packages defined the FDA regulations that monitor infant formulas and
compare leading brands to store brands.
Pediatricians and FDA regulatory officers were quoted as saying that all
brands are alike and safe.
The SMT featured 18 interviews with Dr. James DeMarco, a pediatric
expert, answering questions on infant formula in general and name brands
versus store brands.
’When we were pitching the stories the reaction was, ’wow, we didn’t
know that’,’ says Annette Minkalis, senior VP of broadcast services at
The campaign garnered 27.3 million impressions overall, landing a major
story in The Washington Post. ’The smart thing was treating the campaign
not from a packaged- goods point of view, but from an educational
viewpoint,’ says DiSalvo. ’It’s been a lot more than just promoting baby
The highest receptivity was from the broadcast media, with the VNR
garnering 12.5 million media impressions, in 23 top markets. Total
broadcast coverage reached 13.7 million in the top 50 markets. Babymill
was prominently featured on ABC and NBC in major markets such as
Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia.
SMC will be continuing the campaign into the fall. ’We are planning a
major push to more directly communicate with doctors and moms,’ says
DiSalvo. - Falguni Mehta
CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS - Managing the Melissa virus
Client: Worldtalk (Santa Clara, CA)
PR Team: In-house and DWJ Television (Ridgewood, NJ)
Campaign: Taking advantage of a crisis
Time Frame: March 1999
Budget: Less than dollars 30,000
When the Melissa virus started clogging hundreds of thousands of
computers around the world - including those of high-profile companies
such as Intel, Charles Schwab and Lucent - with lists of pornographic
web sites, Internet security company Worldtalk knew they had the perfect
platform to launch a campaign.
The company had been left out of a number of Internet security news
stories and was eager to gain more visibility. It had already approached
DWJ Television to discuss producing a video news release and a satellite
media tour when the Melissa virus, one of the fastest replicating
viruses ever detected, launched its assault. ’We called Worldtalk and
asked them if they’d be willing to be experts on this story,’ says Dan
Johnson, president and founder of DWJ. ’There was a lot of confusion and
apparently no other big experts.’ The client decided to go for it.
Since Worldtalk and DWJ had discussed creating an SMT to take advantage
of a breaking news story and position Worldtalk as an expert to the
media, the PR team was able to react quickly. They decided the SMT
should cover how companies can remedy the situation and protect their
computers, and whether corporate America is taking adequate precautions
against e-mail and Internet security problems.
In addition, the SMT included information on a copycat - and potentially
more dangerous virus - known as ’Papa,’ which fired off numerous e-mails
with stolen hard drive files.
The challenge was how to implement the SMT and make it successful on
such a tight timeframe.
’Usually we have two weeks to book a satellite media tour, but I got the
call late the night before and started booking the next morning,’ says
DWJ senior producer Gerri Freid Kramer.
The next day, DWJ drafted a media alert for the TV stations and started
calling approximately 700 media targets. Meanwhile, the production crew
booked satellite time, and arranged for a studio in which Worldtalk’s VP
of marketing, Simon Khalaf, was to be interviewed. This was made even
more logistically difficult since Khalaf was on the West Coast and DWJ
was on the East Coast.
Finally, the transmission was made only 24 hours after the virus
Approximately 14 million viewers saw the SMT. Ten stations did
one-on-one interviews, including Reuters Financial TV (Washington, DC),
WLS (Chicago) and KGET (Bakersfield, CA). In addition, several stations
used the satellite feed, including Business News Network and WBFF
’The Internet security industry moves at such a rapid pace that it is
critical that we react quickly to events such as the Melissa outbreak,’
says Heather Clark, Worldtalk PR manager. ’Our SMT made us immediately
available to the press and the general public in order to address the
issues surrounding the virus attack.’
Worldtalk’s approach to the Melissa virus was so successful, according
to Clark, that the company would again use the same rapid methods to
computer-oriented crises. - Jan Jaben-Eilon
NEW PRODUCT - Devouring the Y2K Bug
Client: Knudsen’s Candy (Hayward, CA) and Silicon Valley Confection PR
Team: In-house and Attention Business Communications (Pleasanton,
Campaign: Y2K Chocolate ’Bug’ Debut
Time Frame: May 1999 to December 1999 Budget: dollars 5,000
Pitching a timely product that lends itself to eye-catching photography
- especially for the art-starved gray pages of the business press -
doesn’t necessarily take strategic planning or substantial funds.
In fact, sometimes all it takes for a low-profile mom-and-pop business
and a tiny upstart firm to generate major-league buzz is the right
mailing list and edible samples. That’s what Knudsen Candy Company and
Silicon Valley Confectioners learned when they launched a chocolate
novelty product called the Y2K Bug.
When Rich Yacco and Al Abrahams, founders of Silicon Valley
Confectioners, approached Knudsen Candy Company president Dave Knudsen
last March with the idea of mass-producing a chocolate beetle to play on
the Y2K hysteria of the approaching millennium, Knudsen says he believed
they had a hook that would sell.
’Usually I turn these kinds of things down, but these bugs looked so
cute, and the idea seemed so timely, we decided to go ahead and do it,’
recalls Knudsen, whose family-owned and operated business has been
producing candy for wholesale and retail sale for more than 25
To tie in with the product’s timely theme, Yacco and Abrahams crafted
the tagline: ’Eat it while there’s still time!’ Now it was simply a
matter getting the candy bugs in front of the press. For this, the two
companies pooled resources and enlisted the help of Barbara Lewis,
president of Attention Business Communications, who had worked with
Knudsen in the past.
Three press releases were crafted for the media relations effort. First,
Lewis drafted a general product intro release for the Y2K Bug, which was
accompanied by a photo of the product and distributed nationally via
Business Wire. The wire service sent the release to business print and
electronic media and distributed it (for an additional fee) over the
specialized Y2K wire, which carries news and features surrounding the
Approximately a week later, Lewis developed a second release for the
candy, food marketing and grocery trades that announced the new product
showing at the upcoming All Candy Expo in Chicago. A third release
targeted key tech journalists, business media and local TV, radio and
newspaper contacts identified by Yacco and Lewis. An ice-packaged
chocolate bug accompanied both releases. In all, approximately 100
chocolate bugs were sent out.
Within weeks of the mailings, newspapers in both companies’ backyards
ran highly visible profiles spotlighting one or the other company as
well as the bug itself. For example, the Contra Costa Tri-Valley
Business Times ran a story on the front page showing David Knudsen
holding a tray of the bugs, along with a full story inside.
Similarly, the June 24 San Jose Mercury News ran a photo and profile on
Yacco and Abrahams on the front cover of the ’Silicon Valley Life’
section. The Hayward Daily Review carried a captioned photo of the
product, and several candy industry trades ran items as well.
The biggest hit to date, however, stemmed from a story by a Reuters
reporter who sighted the bug at the All Candy Expo. Based on this wire
report, CBS This Morning showed the Y2K Bug during the first week of
July. CBS Radio also ran an item in an ’Eye on Y2K’ segment.
Sales have also been affected by the media coverage, with orders pouring
in from such places as the US Department of Energy, Fry’s Electronics
and 7-11 parent company the Southland Corporation.
Obviously, the lifespan of a campaign tied to the Y2K bug is
However, Lewis plans to prolong the publicity at least through
’We’ll probably send out a follow-up press release talking about the
orders received after the show and the overwhelming response to the
product,’ she says.
In addition, Lewis says a pre-holiday publicity push is in order. ’We
will do a press release aimed at the general consumer, telling them
where they can buy these bugs as presents,’ says Lewis, who also plans
to target food editors and reporters putting together holiday gift
And what about Silicon Valley’s Yacco and Abrahams? Fueled by the
success and attention generated by the Y2K Bug, the two plan to roll out
several new products with different themes as early as November. - Aimee
EVENT MARKETING - Reading is fundamental
Clients: Orange County (Santa Ana, CA)
PR Team: In-house
Campaign: A Reading City
Time Frame: January 1999 and ongoing
Budget: dollars 70,000
Dismal test scores last year convinced Santa Ana, CA city leaders and
educators of the need for a program to encourage reading and promote the
value of literacy. Although the city’s motto for several years has been
’Education First,’ living up to it has been a problem - 70% of its
50,000 students, who are packed into crowded classrooms, lack fluency in
’Many of our children come from homes that don’t have a lot of printed
resources,’ says Jane Russo, an organizer and area administrator for the
Santa Ana Unified School District. Estimates of the cost of an all-out
campaign ranged from dollars 5,000 to dollars 100,000, to be covered by
private and public sources and possibly state or federal grants.
The city wanted its citizens to understand that reading is the basis of
all learning, says librarian Robert Richard. ’Learning leads to academic
success, and that leads to greater earning power.’
The city also wanted to communicate the idea that reading for pleasure
results in greater comprehension, larger vocabulary and correct
Richard adds: ’Children who read demonstrate higher self-esteem, better
relationships with parents, school success and improved chances of going
to college.’ Therefore, access to books is important to improved reading
scores. ’It’s not just to improve standardized test scores,’ stresses a
city council member.
Santa Ana’s goal is to establish the importance of reading and make it a
public priority. It wants to highlight and honor existing reading
efforts; to mobilize the adult population to engage kids in reading; to
create regular opportunities to honor community reading champions; and
to maximize external resources available for reading programs.
The primary objectives include identifying and supporting reading
efforts - particularly the reading of books - and driving home the
obvious advantages of learning through reading by helping to create new
opportunities for reading activities at home, school and work.
To launch the program, the mayor called on business and civic leaders,
educators and celebrities to support the drive and if possible, to
provide resources, including contributing to a web site.
A city council committee will provide monthly reports to the community
and recognize’s ’reading champions’ by featuring them in the reports and
publicizing them through news releases and local television, as well as
the web page.
To mobilize the adult population to engage the kids in reading, another
objective is to create and sponsor a reading summit by mid-November.
This would tie in with ’Education Celebration’ next April, a Santa Ana
Unified School District parent conference and library book sale. The
city’s adults are asked to make a greater effort to give youth access to
books by reading aloud to young children for at least a half-hour a day.
They are also encouraged to take children to the local library or
bookmobile, create reading opportunities in business, organizations and
neighborhoods and give books as gifts.
Finally, to maximize the resources that are available for reading
programs, the committee aims to create a resource book, convene a
reading coordinating council and identify and apply for grants.
So far, says librarian Richard, the program has generated tremendous
goodwill for the city, with letters of appreciation and encouragement
pouring in from educational institutions, including the University of
California at Irvine and Cal State Fullerton, members of the state
legislature and book publishers.
Santa Ana has been busily engaged in preparing to move the program into
high gear this fall. But it will take time to measure the campaign’s
’We are making a long-term commitment,’ says Santa Ana Mayor Miguel
’But it takes years and years of implementation to get an impact. We’re
going to do everything we can.’ - Alvin M. Hattal.