Media Relations Squeezes Out Coverage for Kids Product

Blue margarine is something only a kid could love. In fact, Parkay, a Conagra Foods brand, was convinced that kids would literally eat it up. Parkay was well-known for its margarine (not to mention its "talking" tubs), but in 2001, it wanted to build major pre-launch buzz around a new product, Parkay Fun Squeeze, a colored margarine product packaged in an easy-to-use squeeze container, which also featured a parent-friendly portion control lid. Conagra turned to its agency Dome Communications to help generate buzz with the media and other stakeholders as the brand approached its launch date. Because the product was part of a major trend in the food industry, Conagra wanted to get consumers talking about it early - and before other companies launched any competitive products. At first, the team's challenge was building excitement for a product that had yet to hit grocery store shelves. But, a month out from the planned launch in October 2001, all that changed. Monitoring Media With the events of Sept. 11, Dome team members knew they would have to do some careful monitoring and planning in order to fulfill on the promised October launch. Media weren't exactly jumping on margarine stories in the weeks following the tragedies. "We were monitoring the media daily," says Emily Johnson, senior account supervisor for Dome. "We worked with our news contacts [to gauge when they were ready for stories unrelated to Sept. 11]." By the time the planned mid-October launch date rolled around, the Dome team felt confident the media were ready for something fun. The campaign was tweaked slightly, however, to put a heavy emphasis on a preexisting element of the campaign. The colored-food-for-kids trend was a major one in the food industry, and the team didn't want reporters covering Fun Squeeze to feel it was just a me-too product. So the campaign underscored the importance of drawing kids to the table for mealtimes and engaging them in the meal, especially in the wake of a national tragedy. B-roll released on the launch date showed families sitting down together at the dinner table. The team also secured AP coverage of the story and distributed the news of the launch via Wireless Newsflash, a distribution service, "which goes to all the producers at national shows and radio shows," Johnson says. The launch secured 500 newspaper placements, and most carried the message of fun foods for family togetherness. It also garnered 171 television placements, with that key family message carried in the stories nine times out of 10, Johnson says. In January, the campaign included an SMT with Julie Edelman, a parenting expert, who talked about how to involve kids in mealtime preparation and get them to the table afterwards. "She talked about how colored condiments are not just fun and wacky," Johnson says. The SMT scored a remarkable 33 hits (Dome considers 25 to be an excellent response to an SMT), including "Rosie," "Letterman," and "Live with Regis and Kelly." And when the team saw its first hit on "Live," it couldn't resist squeezing a little more life out of the placement. The next morning the hosts and the staff of the show were greeted with a delivery from Dome: a big batch of bagels and a case of Fun Squeeze. The tasty treat secured yet another five-minute placement on "Live." "Kelly talked about how she has a hard time getting her kids to eat vegetables, and how this was a perfect solution. She was even playing with the cap and saying, 'Parkay,' which reinforced the overall brand. At the end of the piece, she said, 'I loved this idea yesterday, and I love it even more today,'" Johnson recalls. Needless to say, the client was thrilled with the coverage, especially after other colored condiments had gotten less-than-stellar results with the show. When Heinz launched its green ketchup, for example, then-host Kathie Lee turned up her nose (PRN, Feb. 12, 2001). Results Clips are still coming in, but the Fun Squeeze campaign has so far generated more than 320 million media impressions. The company also launched advertising, as well as an experiential tour and an essay contest for parents around the time the product hit shelves, so it's tough to determine the impact media relations had on sales. "This was about driving awareness," Johnson says, and "when you have Letterman and Regis and Kelly talking about it, you can't help but think you're creating some buzz." Campaign Stats Timeframe: October 2001-January 2002 Budget: Dome would not release budget numbers. Publicity without a Product One of the major challenges of the campaign was that Dome was working to secure press coverage of a product that had not yet hit the shelves. To be sure it didn't irk consumers by touting a product moms could not yet find, the team made sure that the b-roll included explicit messages about the availability of the product and the January date for the nationwide sales roll-out. The tactic worked very well, because with all the family footage included in the b-roll, "we were surprised by how much straight footage [from the b-roll] ran on TV programs," Johnson says. (Johnson, 312/467-0760)

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