IC Bus effort picks up kids and parents

IC Bus is a school-bus manufacturer, and the first to offer hybrid buses. This year, longtime agency Ketchum worked with it to create a campaign to reach students and parents directly.

Client: IC Bus (Warrenville, IL)
PR agency: Ketchum (Chicago)
Campaign: America's Greenest School
Duration: January-June 2009
Budget: $250,000-$275,000

IC Bus is a school-bus manufacturer, and the first to offer hybrid buses. Communications outreach has focused on its environmental responsibility, though historically the company has only done b-to-b programs. This year, longtime agency Ketchum worked with it to create a campaign to reach students and parents directly.
“Reaching out to students and parents is logical because they have influence in some of schools' decision-making,” says Dane Roth, senior ac-count supervisor at Ketchum.
IC Bus is “as green as possible ourselves as a company,” adds Dena Leuchter, manager of integrated marketing communications at IC Bus. “This was another opportunity to demonstrate that. Kids are such proponents of the environment. When you share [environmental information] with them, they spread the word even more.”

The team created a Web site, AmericasGreenestSchool.com, to help educate children about how they can be more environmentally responsible – ideas they could take to their parents, as well as to their teachers and school officials.
In addition, a national on-line essay contest called for students (K-12) to write about ways in which their schools are environmentally responsible. The winner would receive a $5,000 scholarship and a $200,000 hybrid bus for his or her school.

The site went live in January and it was the hub for education, contest explanation, collection of essays, and voting. Educational materials covered topics such as recycling, reduced energy use, and landscaping. They also explained that riding a school bus – hybrid or standard – takes at least 36 cars off of the road, reducing both gas use and greenhouse gases.
Environmental author Terra Wellington, also a renowned wellness and lifestyle expert, served as media spokesperson to kick off the campaign. Leading mom, parent, and environmental bloggers were invited by e-mail to attend an online press conference to introduce the site. National press releases went out to education and environmental reporters announcing the program, finalists, and winner.

An additional release including green tips was distributed in April for Earth Day. A classroom flyer with program information was sent to a database of educators through DiscoveryEducation.com.
The team and Wellington narrowed contest entries to 10 finalists that were posted online. The general public voted on the winner.

Between January and the end of May, the site garnered nearly 70,000 visits; 1,893 essays (at least one from every state); and 30,000-plus unique votes. The winner, Alexander Chen, was announced at a press conference at Irvington High School in Fremont, CA, in mid-June.
“We consider this incredibly successful,” Leuchter says. “Being a non-consumer brand, we didn't expect the results we got. Honestly, we were hoping for about 100 entries and one from every state.”
More than 100 million media impressions had been calculated at press time. Outlets covering the story included USA Today, Time for Kids, and The Huffington Post.
The site is still live and links to ICBus.com, which features educational material.

Ketchum and IC Bus will continue working together. The campaign will run again next year. Roth says the company would like to recognize more students, possibly by having regional contests and maybe expanding to Canada.

PRWeek's view
It was a great idea to expand outreach beyond b-to-b audiences, and targeting children with an educational program was a particularly nice fit. Children were a good target, as they'll naturally raise awareness among other influencers and school administrators. The company had already smartly developed broad messaging about environmental responsibility, rather than just focusing on hybrid technology, and keeping it broad certainly helped increase the program's reach in this case.
This was a great inaugural b-to-c effort for IC Bus. The company certainly demonstrated its willingness and desire to be a partner with schools. It's a wise strategy to maintain and expand the effort next year, as it should continue to benefit everyone involved.

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