THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
PHARMACIA DAIRY MEDIA EVENT FEELS LIKE A NICE VISIT TO GRANDMA'S HOUSE
by Den Gardner, Contributing Editor
"As we were leaving the meeting and heading for the airport, they handed us a goodie bag with apples and things like that for our trip home. I’m thinking to myself, ‘Wow. This is just like leaving grandma’s house after a nice visit.’ We were just treated very well."
Those words, by Tom Quaife, editor of Dairy Herd Management magazine, pretty well sums up the experience felt by editors from the U.S., Canada and Europe who participated in a three-day Global Dairy Editors Exchange held in Kalamazoo, Mich., by Pharmacia Animal Health (PAH) in early June.
For those of you who don’t know PAH (the ninth largest animal health company in the world), it is part of Pharmacia Corporation, the pharmaceutical company created about one-and-a-half years ago when Monsanto Company and Pharmacia & Upjohn joined hands. A guy can’t keep these mergers, acquisitions and consolidations straight anymore without a scorecard.
Anyway, word has it that PAH had been keeping a pretty low profile since its inception. That changed, however, and not so coincidently, after a public relations audit and because of a new CEO (George Gunn) who appreciates the value of what PR can do to enhance the reputation of a company.
Gunn, whose background before coming to PAH included over-the-counter pharmaceutical marketing, is a fan of public relations. "With his consumer background, he saw public relations as an important avenue to leverage brand equity," says Doug Ricke, bovine marketing director for PAH."
That was good news as well to Joe Burkett, associate director, public affairs, for PAH. Burkett worked with three agencies - Morgan & Myers in the U.S., AdCulture Group in Ontario and Garnett Keeler Public Relations Ltd., in Surrey, UK - to create the editor exchange, which brought 28 editors from several corners of the world to learn about the animal health company. The meeting was a combination of major presentations and hands-on breakout sessions.
"When we did the PR audit, the results showed we were known as a good quality company with high integrity, but relatively quiet when dealing with media," Burkett says. "The objective was not only to change that image and perception, but convince editors of our long-term commitment. In that sense, this editor exchange was a huge effort to begin to turn around that image."
The original plan was to do an event only for European editors. "We wanted to introduce editors to our company and show our position in the dairy industry worldwide," Burkett says. "We were pretty much known in Europe as a swine company and we wanted to educate editors there on our products and the importance we place on the dairy market.
"All of a sudden the idea became a little bigger and better and we felt it important to add U.S. and Canadian editors to the mix. The ability to put a face with a name and build relationships with certain editors is really a priceless thing. This is how you generate long-term relationships. After a couple days of the meeting, you could just see the magic of putting like minds in the same room. The interaction was interesting to observe."
That’s the way Corey Geiger, associate editor of Hoard’s Dairyman, and an attendee, saw it. "The meeting was held right at the time when foot and mouth disease was a hot topic," he says. "It was a good experience to interact with international editors and to get to know how they felt and meet the Pharmacia employees."
Quaife says he can count on two fingers the number of times he’s had over nine years to interact with international editors in his field. "How many times do you get to sit down at lunch or dinner and sit directly across from an editor from England or The Netherlands or Italy?" he asks. "It was a unique experience."
Karen Potratz, senior counselor for Morgan & Myers, Jefferson, Wis., leads the dairy part of the PAH business at the agency. Her agency and the Garnett group, individually as part of their marketing communications plans, came up with the concept for an editors’ event. The ideas came together and the end result was the international gathering in Michigan. "Great minds think alike," she says.
Potratz says that in addition to networking and relationship building, PAH was also interested in introducing Excenel RTU Sterile Suspension to the European editors. It had been available in the U.S. since 1999, but was approved only last year in the European Union (EU). Updated environmental safety information was "new" news to U.S. editors and approval of the product is expected soon in Canada.
"We couldn’t have done or had this experience without the support of Joe’s (Burkett) staff," Potratz says. "They handled all the logistical details regarding transportation, food and lodging. There was food literally every time you turned around. When one European editor got up after our western barbeque to say a few words of thanks, he said you couldn’t move more than three feet away from food at any time. It was almost comical, but what it really showed was the hospitality of Pharmacia."
The hospitality and efforts by the company did not go unnoticed by the editors. "When you go to a trade show, you walk up to a booth, introduce yourself and create a black and white image," says Geiger. "When you hold an event like Pharmacia did, it puts everybody at ease. You get to know their employees and learn more about them personally. The next time I call them I will know something about them, ask about their family and things like that."
Quaife echoes that remark. "Just getting that personal rapport with people at a company is priceless," he says. "When we’re working on stories now, it will just be easier to call and talk to them."
To Potratz, that’s music to her ears. "This business isn’t just about selling products," she says. "Just like Pharmacia has to look at themselves as partners with their customers, we have to look at public relations as building relationships and partnerships with editors."
Burkett realizes one dairy exchange event does not result in a great PR program. "You can’t develop relationships overnight," he says. "But it is an important beginning."
Ricke says relationships with U.S. editors were a little farther down the road than with European editors. "We felt we had a fairly good baseline of rapport with U.S. editors and we were interested in enhancing that relationship," he says. "We wanted to take that base in the U.S. and cross pollinate with the Europeans. We have rather shallow roots in the European theatre."
KEEPING THE MOMENTUM
Overall, the meeting exceeded the company’s expectations, says Burkett. "It might sound self-serving, but I think we hit a home run with this event." Adds Ricke, "For the first time at bat to position ourselves as a global dairy leader, I think we scored an A on the first test." Yogi Berra couldn’t have mixed his metaphors better.
Is there more to come as Burkett and Ricke try to build on the momentum created with the Michigan exchange? "We’ve already taken some actions to increase the flow of outreach on a regular basis," says Burkett. "And our results from the exchange here had some immediate results."
There’s some talk of a follow-up event somewhere down the road. Additionally, the company also wants outreach to extend to places such as Mexico, South America and the Asia/Pacific region. The international flavor of the editor exchange hit home in a big way to all involved about the value of the gathering.
"By the second night, listening to all the conversations and English accents from around the world, you could just tell it was going really well," Potratz concludes. "We had a little fear the editors from their own countries would hang together and not mingle well. But, that wasn’t the case at all. We got what we hoped for and we hope the editors got what they came for."
If Quaife and Geiger are any indication, the answer to that is a resounding yes. "They dotted every ‘I’ and crossed every ‘T,’ from the presentations to the social events in the evening," Geiger adds. "It was just done real well." AM
Den Gardner owns Gardner & Gardner Communications, New Prague, Minn.