Product PR: Milk board spices up efforts to boost consumption in CA

"People will only drink so much white milk out of a glass," laments Jeff Manning, head of the California Milk Processors Board, whose job is to sell more milk in the state. "Once they're at that saturation point, they don't want another glass."

"People will only drink so much white milk out of a glass," laments Jeff Manning, head of the California Milk Processors Board, whose job is to sell more milk in the state. "Once they're at that saturation point, they don't want another glass."

So true, but what's a milk salesman to do? For Manning, the answer is to find creative ways - not just that tall, cold glass - of getting milk into consumers' hands. Last winter, Manning and his longtime PR agency, Los Angeles-based RLPR, came up with an effort revolving around Mexican hot chocolate, a spicy, exotic brew popular in Latin American countries, that had Californians craving mas leche.

Strategy

"One of the things we try to do, broadly speaking, is give people ways to drink milk that taste different than white milk and are more exciting," says Manning.

With that mandate, RLPR is constantly scouring "the planet, looking for real ways people enjoy milk," says Molly Ireland, RLPR SVP and account lead.

RLPR specializes in Hispanic PR, so it's no surprise that the staff thought of Mexican hot chocolate as a great beverage that already has a popular following among Latinos.

"It's a great drink," says Manning. "It's got great history. Why should it only be in the Spanish market?"

But while he is quick in his enthusiasm for new milk beverages, he is also quick to note that the strategy behind the campaign is to make milk secondary.

"Milk is just an ingredient," he says. "I don't want [consumers] to think it's a glass of milk. I want them to think it's the equivalent of a latt?."

Tactics

"We pretty much focus on trend stories," explains Ireland. With that in mind, the RLPR team did extensive research to document that the beverage was growing in popularity in California, both at Spanish caf?s and in the mainstream market. They leveraged the fact that both Starbucks and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf had similar beverages in the works, as well.

The team then created a VNR because Manning wanted to focus on TV placements.

"We went into a Latin cafe and got the most beautiful footage," says Ireland. The team also wanted to make the story local, to better interest small- market stations, so it recruited caf? owners in various markets to appear on television for how-to demonstrations on making Mexican hot chocolate.

"They're not so polished," says Ireland of these spokespeople, "but the idea is the authenticity. These people really do have a relationship with [the beverage]." Another added benefit of this approach, she adds, is that "it's not so expensive."

A bilingual b-roll package and ANRs supplemented the in-studio appearances.

The team also pitched the food and beverage press, as well as magazines and dailies.

Results

"We got a lot of TV and print coverage," says Manning. "The stories were right where we wanted them to be. They didn't talk about milk at all." Ireland says the push landed between 50 and 60 TV hits, as well as many print placements.

Reflecting the broadening popularity of the drink, caf? owners who conducted in-studio demos reported a jump in requests for Mexican hot chocolate of up to 30% in each market. And the agency reports that it is still receiving calls from caf? owners who added the beverage to their menus and want to partner with the milk board.

All of this adds up to more consumption of milk in the state.

Future

"We will continue to work with the idea of Mexican hot chocolate," says Manning, adding that the next step is to get more caf?s to serve the drink "because restaurants are the way we try new products."

Ireland adds that the effort may be revived when the cold months return. In the meantime, RLPR is still out scouring the world for milk-based treats.

PR team: California Milk Processors Board and RLPR (Los Angeles)

Campaign: Mexican Hot Chocolate

Time frame: November 2004 to January 2005

Budget: $75,000

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