After a busy day at work, Lou Raffel likes to retreat to his Chicago-area home for a relaxing dinner. And there's a good chance it'll be something as simple as scrambled eggs and onions."I eat a lot of eggs,
says the affable Raffel, sitting in an office filled with three dozen commemorative eggs of every color and size. "But I ate a lot of eggs before I came here. And I don't just eat them for breakfast."
As president and CEO of the American Egg Board, Raffel has guided a 26-year campaign to encourage egg consumption. And in today's produce-or-get-out business atmosphere, having the time to craft a well-thought-out effort for eggs is the type of luxury few PR people are given. And Raffel has directed his efforts at healthcare professionals, food retailers, and consumers in an ongoing campaign.
"Everyone in the eggs industry agrees that demand has increased,
says Raffel. "We believe that the change in attitude has been accomplished with PR."
The Egg Board, formed in 1976, spends about $11 million annually on advertising.
It also spends more than $1.5 million a year on PR-related activities.
"We've used PR to change attitudes,
Raffel explains, "and that was the base for the advertising.
While Egg Board ads show enticing photos of egg dishes, "the PR is giving people the permission to go ahead and do it (eat eggs)."
When the Egg Board was formed, eggs were getting a bad rap because of then-new concerns about cholesterol. Egg producers asked Congress for help, and the Egg Board was formed as a result, to "allow egg producers to fund and carry out proactive programs to increase markets for eggs," according to the organization's mission statement.
Raffel came to his post with experience in both PR and the world of commodities.
A native Chicagoan and lifelong White Sox fan, he graduated from the University of Illinois in 1955 with a degree in management. After a two-year Army stint, he thought about a career, and said, "Gee, PR sounds fun and exciting ... I should try that."
His first attempts to get into Chicago agencies failed, so he sold classified ads for a daily paper. Six months later, a local agency called, and Raffel's PR career began. After a stay at an ad agency's PR division, he became assistant director of PR at the American Meat Institute, a trade group for the meat industry - his first foray into commodities. "I learned PR there,
He next became director of PR for the National Dairy Council, and then tried the corporate world, becoming director of PR for Armour & Co., a major meat processor at the time. When Armour was bought by Greyhound, Raffel took his only professional leave from Chicago, moving to Phoenix to handle Armour's PR. He then became VP of advertising and PR for all of Greyhound, then a multi-industry holding company whose interests ranged beyond the familiar bus line.
But Raffel missed the Windy City. He also missed working for an association.
"It's a different kind of challenge,
he says. "You get a greater sense of an industry trying to pull together around common goals."
When the Egg Board opportunity arose, he jumped at the chance to get back to association work, and to his beloved Chicago White Sox.
Being an egg boaster wasn't easy. Americans were worried about cholesterol - something no one could see, but everyone was talking about. And eggs were viewed as a cholesterol culprit.
The Egg Board quickly decided that it needed to fund research on eggs and health. The studies found that there's less cholesterol in the average egg than once thought, and that eggs have a higher quality of protein than many other sources. Raffel publicized those findings and others to healthcare groups. "We need that credibility from health professionals,
In the past two years, Raffel has been stressing positive health benefits that research has turned up. Eggs are a good source of lutein, for example, something that may help fight the vision problem macular degeneration.
Raffel has worked with New York PR shop Aronow & Pollack since the late 1980s on health and nutrition PR.
On the consumer and media fronts, a man known as the Omelet King visits with food editors in New York to tout new egg dishes. "We get enormous amounts of publicity in the women's service magazines because of him," says Raffel. Other consumer-directed PR includes camera-ready stories on egg dishes for newspapers, and a wide range of recipe brochures.
Last year, 27 magazines with a combined circulation of 244 million did 103 features mentioning eggs, spurred by Egg Board PR efforts.
Raffel tries to imbue a sense of fun in the board's consumer-directed PR, noting correctly that food has to connect with consumers on a visceral, fun level. Board handouts are filled with egg puns, like its "Dinner Time Eggspress
recipe handout, or the "Eggcyclopedia
it prints for consumers (an unabridged version was made for food editors).
Raffel has definitely gotten the media's attention. Stories talking about eggs are on the uptick, says Linda Smithson, a managing partner of Foodwatch, a newsletter that monitors food publications. "Food editors are concluding that eggs have a positive place in today's diet,
says Smithson. "We attribute that to the Egg Board being out there, educating editors."
Gail Bellamy, managing editor/food editor with Restaurant Hospitality magazine, says, "I think they're very thorough. They provide lots of ideas, are responsive with material, and it's always appropriate and on time.
Bellamy sits on one of the Board's advisory panels - a device Raffel uses to reach a range of constituencies.
At a stage in life when others might think about retiring, Raffel says he has no plans to put down his eggsecutive role at the board.
"I don't have anything I'd rather do,
he says. "Age is a number. I feel good. I'm still able to manage the energy level I need.
Maybe it has something to do with all those eggs he eats.