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THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
You might remember a United Airlines television spot about 10 to 15 years ago when a rather upset company executive calmly brought his sales staff into his office and handed each of them airline tickets. He explained to them that it was time to do some face-to-face meetings with the company's customers. Enough of these "business by telephone" tactics!

Imagine this guy's consternation today. Heck, I can have an instant e-mail conversation with somebody for five to 10 minutes and take care of what I consider to be inconsequential business with a customer. I don't visit on the phone or go see people nearly as much as I used to. This guy from the commercial would go nuts in today's fast-paced communications world.

Voicemail, e-mail and other non-forms of face-to-face or even voice-to-voice meetings have taken over the world of communications. Some of the very important personal business relationships that are so crucial to all of us in what we do have fallen by the wayside because techno-geeks at companies all over the world convinced many executives that these types of communications are the way to do business today. How can we be fast, faster and fastest otherwise? All of this is in the name of better efficiency. Yeah, right!

Besides, then we wouldn't have to talk to people anymore and waste precious time finding out about the weather in Kansas City, how the Twins are doing this year, what the kids in college are costing us, and all those other items that make our personal business relationships better as we eventually get to the reason of the business call. And I'll admit that I'm as guilty as the next guy sometimes!

KICKING THE TIRES AND MORE

Case IH, Racine, Wis., (with support from its agency Morgan&Myers in Milwaukee) recently won a first place award at the Best of NAMA in Kansas City for the category: Events - More than One Day. OK, so that's nice. It's just another plaque to hang on the wall. I reviewed the agenda for the meeting and, well let's be honest here, yawned a couple times. It was pretty typical for a media event - look at some equipment, ride and drive, have a nice dinner with company executives, go to sleep (maybe have a pop in the bar before it closes), learn about some more new equipment in the morning, then ride and drive again, and head for home. But folks, that's not the point here!

The point is that companies need to stay engaged with their customers. And you can't do it by phone, e-mail and voicemail all the time. If you're Case IH, and you're Claudia Garber, manager of communications and brand promotions, you've got to actually shake hands with the media, maybe even hug one or two of them (oops, maybe that's not appropriate anymore today), sit down over a pop at the bar and learn about what's going on in the industry. You can't do that with online teleconferences, Web-casting, and other techno-gizmos being promoted today as the way to do business. Well, let's let Garber explain it.

"More today than ever, in this age of technology, we need to give the media a chance to kick the tires," Garber says. "Face-to-face communications are more important than ever because we use this method less and less. Being in a room with people gives editors access to engineers and marketing people. Some of our senior people get to talk about strategy. And we get to hear from editors about what they are seeing and hearing from our customers."

NOT ROCKET SCIENCE, BUT...

A cowboy hat, chips and salsa were the in-room gifts provided for media attendees at Case IH's Big Red Roundup event.
The event itself was well-constructed. The theme was the "Big Red Roundup" and Case IH introduced its MXU Series Maxxum tractors, its AFX8010 Series combine, 1200 Series ASM split-row planters, ADX Series air carts and more. The theme concept was something new for Case IH for a media event like this, says Ellen LaRose, counselor for Morgan&Myers.

"There was nothing earth-shattering in this introduction," LaRose says. "The AFX combine was really big news, but we had been hinting about this to the media for some time. But the idea of having the theme 'Big Red Roundup' helped us cover a lot of products and tied it all together. This showed the media how strong the Case IH brand was. And we saw that in the coverage later by the media."

LaRose says some may consider some of the event elements corny - like an invitation with a wound-up piece of rope (like a lasso), a cowboy hat, chips and salsa for media when they reached their hotel rooms, and the like. "Some thought we might be a little over the top, but the media had fun with it. We've had themes before, but we never tried as hard to make the theme tie throughout like we did with this event. It was well worth the effort."

Case IH and Morgan&Myers worked hard to tie the "Roundup" theme throughout all elements of the event, including the invitation.
Garber echoes LaRose's remarks. "This event wasn't rocket science," she says. "It was really solid, good marketing communications. So often all of us are guilty of executing an idea, then stepping back later and thinking 'What was I trying to accomplish here?' Looking back, this was an event where the media got what they wanted from us (new product information, a chance to ride and drive the machinery, and an opportunity to visit with top executives of the company) and we got what we wanted from them - good coverage."

The merger with New Holland four years ago still has some media shaking their heads about the connection between the companies. "We've had a tremendous task to let people know the corporate strategy since the merger and to convey it in a credible manner to the media," Garber says. "The brands are here to stay. One way to show that is to invest in new products. What we're saying is we're stronger than ever and will continue to bring equipment to the marketplace."

Anecdotal comments from media back that up. Some follow-up survey remarks included: "Really, the best new product event I've been to in some time... We had excellent access to the decision-makers in a setting that moved along well..." And this: "Your press kits are outstanding, and I appreciate that price lists were available for all products."

MEASURING SUCCESS ONE IMPRESSION AT A TIME

With major print and broadcast media in attendance (21 in all), and 2.27 million impressions from all the coverage, Garber says the event was a success and an award winner for the company and its agency for two reasons. "The event was relevant and it was well executed," Garber says. "We had a strategy, our goals in place and we measured our effectiveness. That's what wins awards."

LaRose says the media challenges for coverage today are different from five years ago, and companies need to continue to adapt to those changes. "The amount of space for any one magazine has shrunk," she says. "That's driven of course by fewer advertisers. There's consolidation everywhere. Where we used to see two-page spreads from major events, those are fewer and far between. We're pleased today to get one page. So you have to be very conscious of getting an angle for a publication that fits them. And the presentations have to be tighter. If you overwhelm them with information, that's not going to work."

Garber concludes that this change means it's more important than ever to be relevant and make the editors' jobs easier. "We have to figure out what to present that people will want to read," she says. "That's why it's so helpful to meet face-to-face. Then in conversations in the bar or at the breakfast table, you can bring added value to the media and you can find out what they're thinking about in the marketplace.

"We're pleased with the amount of coverage we get. We all want more of course, but we're gratified with our results. The media tries very hard to be fair. That's all you can ask." AM

Den Gardner owns Gardner & Gardner Communications, New Prague, Minn.


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