Consumers Union finds a happy medium with recent 'Colbert Report' segment

Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, is a nonprofit whose mission is to make the marketplace better and safer for consumers.

Name: Ken Weine, VP of communications, Consumers Union
Placement: The Colbert Report, June 3 and June 8, 2010
Timeline: Four months

What does your organization do? What are its media goals?

KW: Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, is a nonprofit whose mission is to make the marketplace better and safer for consumers. Our communications team places hundreds of interviews annually on a host of consumer topics ranging from cars to personal finance to advocacy issues.

What made The Colbert Report such a good target for you? How did you pitch the producers at the show?

KW: Consumer Reports is changing as we are broadening our reach to include younger audiences. Our testing labs are among our best assets and we thought having Stephen Colbert have some fun in the labs would be a perfect fit.

Cassie Eberle, an account executive with Catalyst, our agency, made the original successful pitch. Lauren Hackett, our associate director of communications, followed up with a comprehensive tour. Colbert producers immediately fell in love with the labs, and came up with great segment ideas.

The Colbert Report has a very comedic slant. How did you ensure your messages came through in that format?

KW: Consumer Reports is about science and rigor and Colbert's character is totally the opposite, so we stressed to everyone that we should be the straight man in the segment. As such, the only media training we did was to tell our featured scientists to not try and out-joke the comedian.

We did, however, provide the producers with the history of Consumers Union and the magazine, which explained our role and how we anonymously buy and evaluate thousands of products every year.

What was the hit's impact?

KW: Colbert and his team ended up shooting on site for a full day. They decided it was so good, they ran it in two segments and named it their "Who's Watching the Watchdogs" series. Internally, it was a great morale booster and a key step to reaching a younger audience. It also demonstrated that letting someone have fun with your brand doesn't have to be dangerous.

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