CORPORATE CASE STUDY: CMPB milks PR for all its worth in promoting dairy industry

'Got Milk?' was an instant ad hit, but the California Milk Processor Board's broad thinking and tireless promotion efforts are what made the campaign an integrated marketing triumph.

'Got Milk?' was an instant ad hit, but the California Milk Processor Board's broad thinking and tireless promotion efforts are what made the campaign an integrated marketing triumph.

Promoting a commodity such as beef or eggs can challenge even the most creative of PR teams to come up with an angle that excites consumers. These product categories may be refrigerator staples, but they hardly make good dinnertime conversation. Except for milk. Since the inception of the California Milk Processor Board (CMPB) - the force behind the Got Milk? campaign - 10 years ago, the udder output has gone from a boring dietary staple to the product behind one of the most famous advertising campaigns of all time. But Jeff Manning, executive director of the CMPB, isn't content with dominating a single branch of marketing. For years, he and his team have worked to make - and keep - the Got Milk? campaign a PR story as well, resulting in hundreds of hours of broadcast mentions and an equal number of print stories. "I really was a firm believer in PR and integrated marketing," says Manning, a veteran of the advertising industry and a former Ketchum employee. "That's where I was coming from. You don't just go to advertising." The CMPB was created in 1993 to stem the decline of milk sales per capita in California. "Large dairies in the early '90s were seeing a continual downtrend in sales, and decided they needed to chart their own destiny," recalls Manning. "That's the first time that any processor group in the dairy industry had put a program together." The milk processors of California, companies that prepare milk for the market, but don't actually own dairy cows, decided to assess themselves a three-cent-per-gallon tariff to fund the new marketing organization - a sum that now brings in close to $25 million a year. Manning was the first employee hired, and he quickly set about finding an ad agency. After only a few months, he settled on Goodby Silverstein & Partners, and the Got Milk? campaign was launched that fall. "We popped the clutch and took off," says Manning. By 1995, the campaign had cemented its popularity enough that the national milk processor board licensed the tagline and began exposing the rest of America to the catchy phrase. But Manning didn't realize to what extent the campaign was turning into a cultural phenomenon until he received a call from a Mattel product manager who wanted to know if the company could name its new dairymaid Barbie the Got Milk? Barbie. "I just kind of rolled my eyes toward heaven and said, 'Thank you, Lord,'" says Manning. "Here's Mattel asking us to use our trademark with one of their dolls. That was really a defining moment. That was when we began to realize that we had the beginnings of something much bigger than a tagline." Winning over the media But despite people's interest, the campaign still hadn't developed into a lasting PR story. In fact, Manning was having a difficult time drumming up media interest. Working with a large agency, he spent more than $300,000 on a media effort to lure reporters into writing about milk. The CMPB asked a group of people to not drink milk for a week, then conducted interviews about how the experience affected them. Despite the hefty investment, not a single journalist picked up the story. Known for his hands-on approach, Manning got a list of the reporters the firm had pitched, and called each one, asking what he could have done differently to gain their interest. "They defiantly told me it was not news," recalls Manning. "They said, 'You made it up, you created this event. We know you created it, and milk is not news.'" But the calls paid off with a valuable bit of insight that changed the way Manning approached the media. "Each one also asked, 'Are you the guys that do the Aaron Burr commercial?" says Manning, referring to a Got Milk? ad in which a young man loses out on a phone contest because his mouth is full of peanut butter and his answer of "Aaron Burr" is unintelligible. "From that day on, we've never publicized milk. We've only publicized the campaign," says Manning. "We completely let go of the product publicity, and focused on the campaign." That approach has paid off. As the Got Milk? campaign approaches its 10th anniversary in 2003, its antics and consistently appealing ads have created an enviable media following. Recently, the campaign garnered national news coverage when the media caught wind of a letter the CMPB sent to 20 California towns asking if any would be interested in changing their name to Got Milk? to celebrate the anniversary. Manning says it was just a preliminary inquiry, and wasn't even meant to reach the press. "The joke around here is that we did not even have a press release," he says. But the media loved the story, and outlets as far away as Florida picked it up, proving the campaign is still a hot topic. Always exploring new avenues Got Milk? also scored press earlier this year for an edgy advertisement aimed at the Latin market, but aired on network television. That spot featured La Llorona, a mythic Mexican woman who wanders the Earth weeping for the children she drowned after being spurned by her husband. The story is very familiar to Latin audiences, and parents often warn children that La Llorona will come for them if they do not behave. The ad was a hit with many audiences, and the tragic figure of the "weeping woman" caught the media's attention. Despite the heavy press duties, Manning's only has three full-time employees. That means the CMPB depends heavily on its three outside agencies. "I basically push people in the right direction and cut checks," says Manning of his lead role. Aside from Goodby Silverstein & Partners for advertising, the board uses LA-based Anita Santiago for Spanish-language efforts, and Los Angeles-based Roxana Lissa Public Relations for all PR and media efforts. The relationship with RLPR began in 1999 with project work in the Latin market, and has grown from there. "Jeff Manning is very proactive, hands on, creative, responsive, hard-working, and demanding," says Roxana Lissa. "He is extremely involved with us, and it is a great client-agency relationship. He doesn't mind taking risks as long as they have a direct impact on the bottom line." Manning says he is a strong believer in the value of small agencies, such as Lissa's 15-person shop. "I just think that's how you get the best stuff," says Manning. "You have to have a relationship with the principal in a company. I don't demand having dozens of people on the account, I just demand great work." Looking toward the future, Manning is busy coordinating plans for next year's anniversary. "2003 will be the Got Milk? decade, which is mind-boggling," says Manning. " But I don't want to pound our chest and say, 'Got Milk? is 10.'" Instead, Manning is looking for ways to highlight the contributions he believes the campaign has made to integrated marketing. He points out that Got Milk? was a pioneer in terms of both licensing deals and strategic alliances. "We're trying to think of ways Got Milk? changed marketing in a good way," he says. But don't think the CMPB has lost sight of its main focus. Milk is always on Manning's mind. "If something will help us sell more milk, we'll do it - assuming it's legal," he promises. ---------- California Milk Processor Board Executive director Jeff Manning Agency Roxana Lissa Public Relations

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