Client: Cargill Dow (Minneapolis)
PR Team: Gibbs & Soell (Chicago)
Campaign: Cargill Dow Blair Plant grand opening
Time Frame: February - April 2002
Budget: About $350,000
Cargill Dow is a relatively new company, formed five years ago as a joint venture by Cargill and Dow. And it's proposing to do something totally new: make plastic resin from corn, under the brand name NatureWorks.
The company had been using PR for the past two years to get its message out to potential markets, but as it prepared to open a massive plant to produce its new resin, senior management wanted to do something to thank employees for their hard work, and to foster an esprit de corps as Nature-Works products hit the market.
"We wanted to signal to the world that we were open for business, says Mike O'Brien, Cargill Dow communications leader.
The decision was made to hold a grand-opening event at the company's new plant 18 miles outside of Omaha, NE. But the bulk of the company's then 200-plus employees worked at its Minneapolis-area headquarters. Furthermore, holding major events at the plant presented logistical and security issues. Nevertheless, Cargill Dow had to find a way to make employees the primary focus of the campaign, and get media attention along the way.
A two-day, five-part event was planned to include an employee and VIP reception at the Omaha Zoo, bus tours of the new plant, an employee rally open to VIPs and the media, breakout sessions highlighting products made from the new corn-based plastic, and a final employee-only party to cap off the activities.
Cargill Dow chartered two 727s to ferry employees from Minneapolis to Omaha, with employees from Japan and Europe flown to Minneapolis to catch one of the charters. About 220 employees made the trip, and they were met at the airport by charter buses, and taken to the plant for walking tours.
The first night's party was held at the Omaha Zoo to tie in with Cargill Dow's key messages about the environmental friendliness of NatureWorks products. Unlike some plastics, NatureWorks is biodegradable because of its corn base.
The next day featured an employee rally in an Omaha hotel ballroom, attended by company officials, Nebraska's senior US senator, and Jim Woolsey, a former CIA director who has been outspoken on the need to reduce US reliance on Mideast oil. (Plastics made with NatureWorks require half the oil other plastics do.)
Breakout sessions followed, showing various products that could be made with the resin. These sessions were aimed at trade media from fiber and packaging outlets. Journalists from national publications interested in the bigger picture were invited to a roundtable with company executives.
Workers' children dedicated a time capsule at the plant, which provided outlets a photo-op for print. The second day ended with an all-night employee party.
More than 450 employees, customers, media, and other guests attended the event. Coverage included stories by AP, Reuters, daily newspapers such as the Omaha World-Herald, and a feature story in The Washington Post. Thirty trade publications in the chemicals, plastics, packaging, fibers, and agriculture markets covered the event.
"We were given the challenge of structuring an employee event and getting residual news coverage. We really took that challenge to heart," says Steve Halsey, client service manager with Gibbs & Soell, the agency that handled the event. O'Brien adds that informal employee feedback has been positive.
Gibbs continues to support the market rollout of Nature-Works. Future PR efforts will include spotlighting companies that introduce new products using NatureWorks resin.
On the employee communications front, an interactive video has been created to help train new employees, while educating them about what the company produces.