THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
W.K. KELLOGG FOUNDATION LOOKS FOR SNAP, CRACKLE AND POP IN PROMOTIONAL EFFORTS
Den Gardner, Contributing Editor
Mention the word "Kellogg" to almost anyone and they will almost instantly think of the snap, crackle and pop of Rice Krispies and Tony the Tiger's pronouncement of how "Grreat!" Frosted Flakes are. But what few people know is that the founder of this cereal giant, Mr. W.K. Kellogg, established an independent, private foundation in 1930 to "help people help themselves," and that this foundation has been spending millions annually to do just that.
In its food area, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) of Battle Creek, Mich., provides grants to meet the needs for a safe and nutritious diet and ensure that food production systems are environmentally sensitive, economically viable, sustainable over the long term and socially responsible. And those grants tie directly into public relations and promotions.
TELLING THE TALE
During the past few years some personnel additions and philosophical moves were made regarding public relations and efforts to promote the foundation's work. Since 1998 those efforts have resulted in significant changes to make agricultural media aware of how the foundation is working to foster rural development.
Ali Webb, communications manager of the Foundation says when WKKF makes grants of $221 million, and is one of the top 10 foundations in the country, "it has to get more strategic and intentional about how to communicate to a larger audience what our grantees do." That means using communications to take what one organization has learned and transferring it to other groups so they "can learn the same things and do their work even better." The Foundation grants can range from $5,000 to millions of dollars.
Now, however, a paradigm shift has occurred. Grantees now "do good" and the Foundation - through marketing communications agencies like Hickman + Associates, Carmel, Ind. - find ways for the grantees to publicize that work through agricultural and consumer media.
"If we do well enough, we just might create some agricultural systems changes through our efforts at spreading the word about what our grantees are doing," Webb says. "We don't promote the Foundation, per se, but the work of the grantees. For those of us in public relations, this is a dream job. I've got the best job in America."
Some early efforts with Hickman + Associates included attending annual meetings of both the American Agricultural Editor's Association (AAEA) and National Association of Farm Broadcasters (NAFB). At both meetings, representatives of the Foundation and its grantees pursued interview opportunities to promote their work.
Some grantees in recent years include Foundation E.A.R.T.H., The Nature Conservancy, the Keystone Center, and Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) through its Field to Family Project (FFP). The FFP is designed to build awareness of where food comes from so consumers can make educated choices about what they eat.
Gary Huber, project director for PFI, says the organization wants to help "add value to the farmer's share of the food dollar, capitalize on consumer trends, and keep food dollars within Iowa to support local economies." The 600-member Iowa group gets assistance from the Foundation through direct grants (by funding a project in the early '90s from which the FFP ultimately grew), ongoing professional leadership development and technical assistance in media relations through Hickman + Associates.
The FFP is working on a project whereby Des Moines, Iowa, convention-goers are given an opportunity to request meals produced solely by Iowa farmers. "We have a network set up where we can respond to a clientís desires for the kind of food they want served," Huber says. "We have a direct connection between the buyer of the food (the hotel serving the needs of those attending a convention) and the farmers, who actually deliver the products."
Hickman + Associates helps with media relations. For this project Huber ended up on a morning talk show for a local NBC affiliate, had an article appear in Soybean Digest magazine, conducted an interview with the NAFB news service, plus a meeting with the Des Moines Register editorial board which resulted in two article opportunities. One article featured the all-Iowa meals offering at conferences, the other a personality profile on a hog farmer who had joined Huber at the editorial board meeting.
Huber concludes, "Hickman + Associates helped us pitch story ideas, coached us on how to get the media interested in us and helped us to remember how important media relations work can be to our success."
The Foundation's account with Hickman + Associates is led by Account Executive Robyn Heine. "We make the grants and Hickman + Associates try to harvest that grant through media relations," Webb says. "Robyn is one of the best public relations persons I've ever worked with. She and her staff set the bar high, but they often get to it."
Heine says the agency "leverages lessons learned from grantees and exposes them to larger audiences to impact agriculture and rural development. Our hope is that people find out about these projects and find ways to impact their areas."
The Foundation is the agency's biggest agricultural account, with upwards of eight people touching the business in the creative, strategic and implementation of communications plans. Heine says the agency interviews about 10 grantees per month to investigate and analyze public relations opportunities.
Media results to date for the Foundation (actually for the grantees of the Foundation) have been impressive. In addition to the aforementioned work done through the Field to Family Project, media successes include:
* Trade journal hits such as Successful Farming, Beef Today, Progressive Farmer, Soybean Digest and Iowa Soybean Review;
* Consumer articles in the Kansas City Star and Arkansas Democrat Gazette;
* Twenty-two radio stories featuring grantees on the National Farm Broadcast Series, along with several guest appearances on national talk radio programs;
* Television segments featuring grantees pitched nationally to farm and non-farm television stations and networks. (Individual stations and farm television networks, such as the 170-station Ag Day, used the segments.)
There is no formal measurement strategy in place. But, as both Heine and Webb point out, non-profits don't have the dollars to get the repetition needed to determine the effectiveness of media programs. "This sectorís not that sophisticated yet," says Webb. "We believe we're making great progress."
Heine says there's an altruistic attitude that makes this account very rewarding. She says this is different work from the more product-oriented campaigns she's worked on prior to coming to Hickman + Associates. "When you dedicate dollars to rural development, it's really exciting to see people prosper and thrive as we try to give them some tools to help keep farmers on the land and spur economic development."
Webb adds that the Foundation wants "public relations professionals who are big thinkers and can find new ways to do the same old things. Our product is social change." And Kellogg, with Hickman + Associates, is changing the way the Foundation is doing business. AM
Den Gardner owns Gardner & Gardner Communications, New Prague, Minn.