Face-to-face with farmers
Client: DuPont Agricultural Enterprises (Wilmington, DE)
PR Team: Rowland Worldwide (New York)
Campaign: FarmFront Radio
Time Frame: March 1997 to December 1998
Budget: dollars 350,000
More than two years ago, DuPont Agricultural Enterprises made a choice. Company executives felt a need to go past traditional market research that asked farmers what they were growing and what products they were using.
DuPont representatives went out to meet face-to-face with their customers, 2 million farmers and producers who generate 25% of the US gross national product. DuPont people met with growers, went to field days, and spoke with thousands of farmer customers. They learned that farmers and seed dealers expected more of them than just good products.
'We found that our customers regarded us as a rather stuffy and scientific company. We wanted to make more of a connection with them, so we would be seen as a company, which listened to our customers,' recalls Michele Cunnane, PR manager at DuPont.
Farmers felt that DuPont was in a unique position to provide them with a platform from which they could share their ideas, concerns and successes with each other as well as the non-farm public. They asked DuPont to help them gain recognition as the business persons, parents, citizens, and community leaders they are, and to share their views with the rest of America.
The research findings were simple. Farmers felt isolated from mainstream America. Also, they felt that people who consumed their crops as food every day did not see them as 'stewards' of the land, which is precisely how they viewed themselves.
The non-farming public didn't understand the new technologies farmers were integrating into their production: precision farming, use of geo-stationary satellites, the Internet. Even people in farmers' own hometowns didn't realize that their average asset base was dollars 1.4 million.
There was obviously an information gap between the 2% of the population that feeds the rest of the world and the world surrounding them.
In short, farmers asked for a voice?a way to create a dialogue and be heard. Based on its face-to-face research, DuPont turned to its PR agency of record, Rowland Worldwide, to develop specific strategies. Rowland engaged News/Broadcast Network, who in turn took the problem and proposed a highly creative solution. That's how the idea of a syndicated radio show was born.
The idea was to equip a field reporter with a mobile home and radio-production gear and send him out to develop one-minute stories that would then be distributed to hundreds of radio stations nationwide.
Starting in January 1997, N/BN was given a budget and the go signal for an April 1997 launch of the radio media tour (RMT). 'We wanted a credible, traveling syndicated radio program, that was pre-booked on more than 100 radio stations and distributed via satellite to 2,500 more,' says Mike Hill, president of N/BN. 'The schedule called for seven months of travel through 13 Midwestern states.' The team at N/BN did a number of tasks simultaneously. These included developing a network of 'cleared' radio stations in key states and auditioning, selecting and training a radio broadcast producer and on-air talent.
The audio team also had to buy a Class A recreational vehicle (RV), purchase and install a complete digital audiotape studio in the RV, and license and produce music for use on the RMT. The N/BN crew worked closely with Rowland on logos and signage for the vehicle and its promotional materials as well as tour routes.
The 1997 version of FarmFront Radio launched on April 30 from St. Louis. And from the beginning, the flexibility of the program was key to its ongoing success.
The distribution process designed by N/BN allowed radio stations and networks to access FarmFront Radio stories from two separate satellite feeds, custom feeds via phone lines as well as the National Association of Farm Broadcasters hi tech line.
The 1997 FarmFront Radio reporter was Matthew Fisher, who toured for eight months in the RV that mostly doubled as his home. Fisher's stories, both scripts and audio, were available on the DuPont web site at www.dupont.com/ag/us.
More than 21,948 broadcasts over Fisher's eight months on the road yielded 85,600,000 impressions. The program was lauded by broadcasters, and won Creativity in Public Relations Awards in both the Agribusiness and Technical Excellence categories.
The '97 tour was so successful that Dupont put a second tour out in 1998, hosted by broadcaster Eric Thompson, formerly of KZAT in Tama, Iowa. He was supported by a network of field reporters, who were gricultural students paid by a foundation grant.
N/BN asked for an increase in stories to three per week, for a total of 105 episodes, which ran through December 1998. The second RMT generated more than 120 million impressions, Rowland sources report.
'The program achieved a sort of snowball effect,' helped along by local word of mouth each time the van appeared in town, explains Cunnane. 'The response was 100% positive.' DuPont remains committed to radio as a means of reaching key publics.
Since the company acquired Pioneer Hybrid International, it has launched the studio-based radio show called 'AgriTalk'.
'At the moment, we're going through something of a restructure, but once we've identified our strategy for the future, we may well bring back FarmFront Radio,' Cunnane predicts.
Raising the roof for opening
Client: Red Roof Inns (Columbus, OH)
PR Team: Buchanan & Associates (Dublin, OH)
Campaign: Breakfast for 20,000 on the roof
Time Frame: March to April 1999
Budget: dollars 20,000 per event
Mailing out eggs was just one of the concepts that Red Roof Inns 'cooked' up to publicize the hotel chain's grand opening in the Denver International Airport.
In recent years, Red Roof's ownership policy has shifted from company-owned to franchised inns. In April 1999, Buchanan & Associates, Red Roof Inns' PR agency, staged an event that marked an important stage in the company's history.
Not only was this the 300th inn opening, but it was the first-ever airport opening in Denver. Competition was stiff with a popular regional chain, Red Lion Inns, sharing the same target market and coincidentally, a portion of the hotel's name. Although Denver's Red Roof Inn had officially been open for 90 days, occupancy rates were hovering at 20%, well below the chain's national 70% average. 'It was very important not only to have franchise success,' says Jack Buchanan, PR firm principal, 'but also to put heads in the beds.'
'We needed to make our mark quickly,' agrees Gail Whitcomb, director of corporate communications at Red Roof Inns. The PR team also wanted to build the brand name of Red Roof Inns in the economy lodging segment, and portray its personality as 'fun and quirky.' Plus, it needed to ensure the Denver airport franchisee's success to build its reputation for future locations. But the most important goal was to increase occupancy rates. To do all this, the PR team needed to catch the eye of the media and 'the folks at the airport who would be able to recommend the hotel to travelers,' says Whitcomb.
The solution was 'Breakfast for 20,000 on the Roof.' All 20,000 airport personnel, from baggage handlers to airline crews, were invited to this event on the morning of April 9th. A genuine Midwestern bacon-and-eggs breakfast was served by Inn personnel from 5 to 10:30 am, without fanfare or grand speeches. Since a significant number of the airport personnel are traditional, budget-conscious Red Roof Inns customers, this was a way to allow potential patrons to experience the new property firsthand.
Two weeks before the breakfast, all airport vendors received a letter containing invitations for themselves and a dozen other guests. Letters were delivered in person by Red Roof Inn 'greeters'. Airport staff were thrilled with this personal touch. 'It made a change from the unhappy travelers they're normally dealing with,' Whitcomb recalls.
Life-size cutouts and posters of Martin Mull, the 13-year company spokesperson, were displayed throughout the airport. According to Whitcomb, Mull is the ideal embodiment of the Red Roof Inn personality with his 'eccentric and quirky' character.
The mini cartons of hollowed-out eggs were hand-delivered to key media, along with media kits and press releases. The Mayor of Denver was also invited, but only on the condition that he bring his secretary.
On the day of the breakfast, Red Roof Inn executives and franchisee staff personally served the airport employees. 'It was a chance to bring out the Midwestern values of the inn,' says Buchanan, 'and show people that we are just fun, honest, regular folks.' Two roundtrip airline tickets, 250 free hotel night stays, and T-shirts were given out at the event.
More than 550 airport employees stopped in for breakfast, along with local TV and major newspaper reporters. Local radio stations interviewed Red Roof staff live at the event. 'We were surprised that people were at the door of the hotel at 5 am,' says Whitcomb. 'People even came all the way to the airport on their day off.' The variety of people?from pilots to policemen?that showed up, were even more of a surprise Total media impressions were 650,000, Buchanan reports.
For the first three nights following the event, a majority of the Inn's guests were walk-ins. Occupancy rates went up immediately, and have continued to rise about 10% for the current period.
The franchise owner, an operator of 37 other properties, called it one of the most successful hotel openings he had seen. Due to its success, the breakfast event has become a prototype for all future airport openings across the country.
The same prototype was used to open the Red Roof Inn at Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport at the end of June. Inns at the Seattle and Portland airports will be opened in August and September. 'In another 6 to 12 months we may even do an opening in Manhattan,' adds Whitcomb.
Hoop dreams & happy meals
Client: McDonald's Corp. (Oak Brook, IL)
PR Team: Golin/Harris International (Chicago)
Campaign: Recharging McDonald's All-American Basketball Game
Time Frame: July 1998 to March 1999
Budget: dollars 100,000
For more than 15 years, McDonald's sponsored the only high school, all-star basketball game in the country. The event has raised more than dollars 2 million for charities dedicated to sick kids and their families, including famous Ronald McDonald House. The games have been played in differenct locations each year, ranging from big cities to small towns. This year's game was held in Ames, Iowa.
High-profile NBA stars, such as Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, and Magic Johnson, participated as high schoolers. Virtually all of the players (98%) in the annual event eventually receive pro-basketball contracts.
But several years ago, other marketers started running all-star basketball games and McDonald's faced competition for players, sites and media publicity.
'It is definitely the most prestigious game for players to appear in, but the general public came to think of it as just another high school all-star basketball game,' says Kevin Bradbury, account supervisor at Golin/Harris, Chicago. So G/H was challenged to inject new life into the game.
According to Bradbury, the strategy was twofold: to generate excitement among McDonald's employees and to find ways to create excitement about the game itself. The PR team set out to devise a fun and compelling program at McDonald's headquarters that educated its employees on the history of the game.
The PR team used the McDonald's restaurant in its Oak Brook, IL, home office as All-American Game headquarters. Photos of past all-American players who went on to the NBA were displayed, as were NCAA standouts.
Employees competed in a trivia contest with the chance to win a game ball signed by the team. Key game statistics and historical highlights from past contests were available on site and a video highlight reel ran continuously.
In addition, four current Chicago Bulls?Bill Wennington, Andrew Lang, Keith Booth, and Cory Benjamin?who had previously played in the McDonald's game held an employee autograph session.
In another tactic, John Charlesworth, the fast-food chain's midwest division president, along with former coach John Wooden, spoke at a formal banquet for the 1999 players. Ken Barun, Ronald McDonald House Charities president and CEO, gave a live ESPN courtside interview during the game telecast.
Working without the benefit of paid advertising, the PR team paid special attention to the sports media: For the first time, a media game guide was published. Another first was retiring Michael Jordan's number 23 McDonald's All-American jersey in honor of his retirement from the NBA. The event capitalized on March Madness by distributing a press release announcing teams in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA college tournament that had players who were former McDonald's All-Americans.
There were approximately 400 million media impressions with more than 1,200 point placements and 100 broadcast segments. Bradbury adds that there were eight nationally distributed AP photos.
The '99 high school All-Americans appeared on the Rosie O'Donnell Show and on ESPN in a special program, 'A Week In The Life of a McDonald's All-American.' Perhaps more importantly, the game raised money for this year's designated charity, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Iowa.
Bradbury said Golin/Harris will examine last year's PR effort, see how they have raised expectations and take those ideas and improve them each year.
'We learned that you don't necessarily have to reinvent the wheel with an existing program, but should be open to adding elements that will enhance the program and give it a new and different feel.' That sounds like a winning long-term proposition.
Changing the Latino image
Client: National Council of La Raza (Washington, DC)
PR Team: Capitoline/Manning Selvage &Lee (Washington, DC)
Campaign: Latinos on TV
Time Frame: 1994 to present
Budget: dollars 300,000
ABC network'sbroadcast on of the American Latino Media Arts Awards (ALMA) on June 3 for best performances in film, TV and music videos drew more than 5 million viewers. While the program recognized and highlighted the talented Latino population, surprisingly, more Latinos were shown on TV in the 1950s than in the early 1990s. To increase awareness of this ethnic group in entertaiment, the National Council of La Raza (NCLA) initiated a campaign with Manning Selvage & Lee.
Managing director Joe Gleason and VP Kathy Mimberg of MS&L helped NCLR to implement a carrot-and-stick strategy. First, the PR team wanted to educate the networks, corporate sponsors, and public about how underrepresented and distorted their portrayal of Latinos was on prime time TV. At the same time, NCLR's longer-range goal was to showcase Latino performers and to promote positive portrayals of Latino-Americans.
NCLR commissioned a report by the Center for Media and Public Affairs that assessed the portrayal of Latinos on TV.
The report found that when Latinos were shown 'their portrayal ... reinforces crude and demeaning cultural stereotypes. Positive media portrayals of Latinos are also uncommon.' Reality-based shows such as America's Most Wanted and Cops tended to affirm the stereotypes shown in entertainment programming.
Right before the Emmy awards were telecast in September 1994, the PR team held a press conference was held at the National Press Club to release the report, 'Distorted Reality.' The event generated news coverage in The Los Angeles Times, a key target to reach Hollywood, and other national newspapers. While the networks covered the press conference, they never received broadcast clips from it. However, satellite feeds featuring clips from the conference were sent to local stations in selected markets.
A follow-up study was issued in April 1996 that discovered 'some welcome progress,' recalls NCLR VP for Communications Lisa Navarrete. Corporate members of NCLR's board also persuaded the networks to feature Latinos in more positive roles. One corporate PR executive disclaimed a desire to 'dictate' program content - controlling broad cast ad dollars to influence programming - but emphasizes, 'We want our commercial messages to appear in appropriate programming.'
ABC now broadcasts the ALMAs, and NCLR produces the program. Navarrete credits the campaign with bringing 'this long simmering issue' to the forefront of the entertainment industry.
The Screen Actors Guild recently released a report that argues the entertainment industry still tends to ignore the fast-growing Latino market. So, La Raza says, there's more work to be done.