Weber wins $5 million Presidential coin account

WASHINGTON: The United States Mint has awarded an approximately a $5-million, one-year contract to Weber Shandwick to run the national communications campaign for the new Presidential $1 coins.

WASHINGTON: The United States Mint has awarded an approximately a $5-million, one-year contract to Weber Shandwick to run the national communications campaign for the new Presidential $1 coins.

As mandated by the US Congress' Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005, communications for the new presidential dollar coins - which will bear the image of US presidents from George Washington to Richard Nixon - will focus on earned media and various grassroots initiatives as opposed to advertising. The United States mint will release a new coin every quarter starting on February 15, 2007 and running through 2016. The initial one-year, $5-million contract officially began October 2, 2006, and includes four one-year options to renew, each worth up to $5 million.

Outreach will focus on several audiences: financial institutions, like banks, that need information on the release of the coins and how they will be distributed by the Federal Reserve; stores, vending machine operators, other members of the retail community; and the general public, which the United States Mint hopes will be as interested in collecting as the state quarters first released by the United States Mint a few years ago and assisted by Hill & Knowlton.

"Based on the experience of the state quarter program, there's a pretty big audience of casual collectors," said Jim Holland, Weber Shandwick SVP and leader of the communications campaign for the $1 coin campaign. "There was something like 143 million people that were collecting the quarters casually."

Following the official unveiling of the $1 coin designs at a ceremony by the United States Mint on November 19 at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, WS plans a tour of the coin design in the top 10 or so US media markets, leading up to the actual release of the first coin, with the image of George Washington, close to President's Day 2007.

Along with earned media in national TV, radio, and print outlets as well as trade publications targeted at coin collectors, financial institutions, and retailers, WS is also helping the United States Mint develop collateral materials on its Web site, so that, for instance, vending machine operators can order up signage saying "dollar coins accepted"; educators can download material for classroom lessons on politics or history that use the coins as teaching aids; and banks or retailers can order supplies of paper boards in which the public can store their collections of $1 coins.

This is the first coin dollar campaign since 1998, when the United States Mint, working with Fleishman-Hillard, released the Sacagawea dollar coin. That campaign cost at least $67 million, including $40 million on advertising. Release of the Sacagawea coins met with plenty of initial media and public attention, but as a report by the General Accountability Office found, interest lagged because a lack of public awareness about the economic benefits to the government of using coins instead of paper bills; suspicion by retailers that consumers wouldn't accept the coins; a lag between the unveiling of the coins and their actual availability; and other factors.

This time around, the United States Mint hopes that the rotation of new presidential coins should generate continued public interest, while outreach to retailers - including group presentations and some one-on-one meeting with key executives - will make retailers aware that consumer are in fact willing to use dollar coins. In addition, the new coins will begin shipping around two weeks ahead of time to financial institutions, so they will be available as soon as their official release.

"The intent is not to phase out paper dollars," Holland said. "The paper dollars and coins would be circulating together, so it's a matter of the dollar coins being convenient for specific uses. For instance, the City of New York announced that it's shifted its parking meters over to be able to take dollar coins."

Barb Iverson, president of Weber Shandwick's North American financial services practice, under which execution of this new contract falls, said 20 to 25 WS staffers will work on the campaign at any given time, led by the Chicago office with assistance from the Minneapolis, Washington, and Boston offices.

It was unknown who pitched against WS for the business. United State Mint officials in charge of communications for the new coin were not available at press time.

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