ACC touts chemistry's essential status

Council's campaign to improve chemistry's image focuses first on industry employees

Council's campaign to improve chemistry's image focuses first on industry employees

The word "chemistry" often elicits reactions from frustration to horror. Many associate it only with a dreaded high school class - or worse, some formless factory-produced threat to the environment.

This is the image the American Chemistry Council (ACC), an Arlington, VA-based trade association representing US chemical businesses, sought to change with its comprehensive "Essential2" campaign. Meant to reposition the $550 billion industry as not only imperative, but advantageous to all aspects of modern life, the effort launched in September 2005 with national cable TV spots, print ads, and a policymaker education program featuring a Capitol Hill product fair and a CEO bell-ringing at the New York Stock Exchange.

But months before the public unveiling of Essential2, another outreach program began. In spring 2005, the ACC launched the effort's initial phase, targeting employees of its member chemical companies.

"You'd think the employees would be our number one supporters," says Elizabeth Curwen, manager of communications for the ACC. But, she says, "they felt as beleaguered as the rest" of America. Curwen says she's heard stories of employees literally at a loss for words when casually asked about their jobs at neighborhood picnics or Little League games. "They assume the public has a much lower opinion of the industry than it actually does," she explains.

By tailoring a program to chemical company staffers, Curwen notes, the ACC helps "give them the larger picture." It also shows employees, she says, that their positions are as essential to modern living as the products they make.

The ACC began by appointing campaign coordinators at each of its 129 member companies, responsible for determining how best to spread the Essential2 message within each organization. Coordinators were armed with information and communications tools, such as supportive e-mail messages and newsletter articles on topics ranging from chemistry's role in preventing house fires to keeping NASCAR drivers safe. Also included was a Web-based "employee ambassador" kit featuring tips on how to discuss the benefits of chemistry, write educational letters to the editor, contact government officials, and generate school and community-group speaking opportunities.

ACC members, who include such corporations as Dow Corning, Bayer, and DuPont, have "very different business models and issues that affect them," Curwen says. "But the campaign transcends that."

"It's been one of the most popular employee programs in my 10 years here," says Lynn Solorio, manager of stakeholder communications with Peru, IL-based Carus Chemical Co. The only company of its kind in the US, Carus manufactures potassium permanganate, a chemical used in water treatment and air purification.

"I tell people we'd all be sitting around naked in fields with nothing to eat and no clean water to drink without chemistry," Solorio says, only half-kidding. Still, she acknowledges that some Carus staffers needed to better "understand their role and the fact that they really make an impact."

To introduce the effort at Carus, Solorio and her 12-volunteer Essential2 support team hosted an all-staff ice-cream social, at which company VPs scooped and served sundaes while the ACC's MTV-style motivational video screened as entertainment.

That was the first of several Essential2-inspired events, Solorio says, each of which has been instrumental in raising the sense of accomplishment and pride among employees "at every level of the organization."

In addition to hosting activities, Solorio's team also incorporates the Essential2 information in quarterly employee newsletters and in-house "Grapevine" news blasts. It also has the ACC's American Chemistry magazine sent to all employees' homes.

And for the one-year anniversary of the Essential2 launch in April, Solorio has arranged for all Carus staffers to form a human E2 on the property's lawn; a roof-view photo of it will be taken and used as part of a presentation at the ACC's annual Responsible Care conference.

One of the vital aspects of the campaign is that it features real-life employees in its posters and videos, Curwen notes, people to whom other employees can really relate. One featured employee, for example, is a woman Essential2progress. She stands next to a John Deere combine, with a half-husked corncob in hand. Her company makes corn and soy-oil resins, used to build more fuel-efficient agricultural equipment.

Through tools like this, the ACC has begun to overcome misperceptions, says Jason Linde, VP and client lead at Ogilvy PR, ACC's AOR. "It's taken for granted, but chemistry is needed in all walks of life, from folks protecting us in the street with bullet-resistant vests to iPods and BlackBerries."

But it doesn't end there, says Curwen. "Chemistry affects just about everything you touch," from basketballs and flashlights to sunscreen and auto parts - and ACC members are finally realizing that. "Hopefully," she adds, "that energy is contagious."

American Chemistry Council

CEO and president:
Jack Gerard

Arlington, VA

SOCMA (Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers' Association)

Key trade publications: Chemical Week, Chemical & Engineering News, Chemical Market Reporter

PR/marketing budget:

Marketing Team:
Managing director, Stephen Gardner
Marketing and member communications director, Thom Metzger
Manager of communications, Elizabeth Curwen

Marketing service agencies:
PR: Ogilvy PR Worldwide
Advertising: Ogilvy & Mather

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