RELATIONSHIP OF CHANCE
AN AWARD-WINNING RELATIONSHIP BEGINS IN THE PAGES OF AGRI MARKETING
In late summer of 2002, the senior management team of Champaign, Ill.-based Farm Credit Services of Illinois was searching for an experienced marketing communications firm to help re-energize the Farm Credit brand. After 85 years in business, the multibillion-dollar financial institution, which serves 60 counties throughout Illinois, faced increased competition from national banking conglomerates, community banks and other lending institutions. As a result, Farm Credit found itself losing market share among its customer base of farmers, agribusinesses and landowners.
"I knew it was imperative that we take some major steps to reclaim our leadership position in the marketplace and to increase awareness for our legacy of proven success," says Ron Frenn, Farm Credit CEO. "I also wanted to convey a consistent message to our customers, our prospects and our employees."
In response, the Farm Credit senior management team issued a request for proposal to six of the largest and most well-respected ad agencies in the Midwest. "We held two formal interviews with each agency, and a third interview with our two finalists," explains Frenn. "The first interview was to meet the creative teams from each agency and to explain our objectives. During the second interview, the agencies made formal presentations outlining their strategies for helping us achieve our goals. We then visited the headquarter offices of the two finalists for a third interview and to view their facilities."
However, after going through the agency interviews and pitches, the Farm Credit team felt "underwhelmed" by the ideas that had been presented by the two finalists.
By chance, Frenn happened to flip through the pages of the Sept. 2002 issue of Agri Marketing magazine. On pages 36 and 37 he read about how in 2002, Memphis, Tenn.-based advertising agency Chandler Ehrlich developed an audacious branding campaign for ProSource One, a national distributor and marketer of chemical products, seed and hard goods for the golf, turf and ornamental industries.
Frenn learned that Chandler Ehrlich had developed an integrated marketing program for ProSource One built around the slogan "Welcome to a Greener World." The agency then developed advertising, direct marketing, a Web site and trade show promotions that utilized everyday images enhanced with the color green to add shock value — for example, a Dalmatian with green spots and fried eggs with green yolks. The campaign eventually won two Best of NAMA national awards in the Turf and Ornamental Advertising Campaign and the Turf and Ornamental Print Ad categories.
After reading the article, Frenn knew that he had finally found the kind of marketing partner needed to help re-energize the Farm Credit brand. "I was struck immediately by Chandler Ehrlich's creativity," says Frenn. "But I was equally impressed by its ability to clearly define and position ProSource One's brand promise."
He immediately contacted Chandler Ehrlich to set up a meeting.
The day after receiving the call from Frenn, Michael Littman, Chandler Ehrlich's chief marketing officer, began a three-day trip throughout Farm Credit's 60-county territory, where he interviewed farmers, landowners, Farm Credit employees and competitors. He videotaped the entire journey and produced a travel log detailing his findings.
"The only way to fully understand a company's brand and its position within the marketplace is to experience it firsthand," explains Littman. "When it comes to brand development, there are no formulas, and that is why it is critical that we interact as much as possible with all of the audiences that impact the brand and are affected by it."
As a result of Littman's travels, Chandler Ehrlich learned that the primary thing that differentiates Farm Credit from its competition is the fact that the company truly understands the needs of area farmers, because the majority of Farm Credit employees actually grew up on farms. In fact, many of the company's employees still farm today.
With that knowledge in hand, the agency developed an integrated marketing proposal built around the tagline "We Understand." Farm Credit approved of the direction and hired Chandler Ehrlich as its new agency of record.
"The most important things to our company and to our customers are family values, life on the farm, customer service, relationships and dreams," explains Frenn. "'We Understand' perfectly captures those elements and provides a foundation on which we can communicate to all of our audiences."
In order to re-energize the brand as quickly as possible, Chandler Ehrlich produced a humorous print campaign that ran in Successful Farming, Progressive Farmer and other leading horizontal trade publications. (One of the ads, "The Smoking Woman," won a 2004 Best of NAMA Award.) The ads were supported by a non-traditional television campaign that featured a "super" farm dog that represented the company's "We Understand" commitment.
"In addition to launching the 'We Understand' theme to our external audiences, we also turned the phrase into an internal rallying cry for Farm Credit employees," says Frenn. "The company has established a variety of monthly and annual awards programs that honor the employees who best demonstrate the 'We Understand' philosophy."
Having gained considerable attention for Farm Credit with the initial print and TV campaigns that ran in the spring of 2003, Chandler Ehrlich was asked to develop a new, more heart-warming television campaign to run in the fourth quarter of 2003 and throughout 2004. That campaign also won a 2004 Best of NAMA award.
But while Farm Credit and Chandler Ehrlich are proud of the awards and accolades that they have received, both companies are most proud of the measurable results that the campaigns have produced.
Explains Frenn: "Since launching the campaign, we have enjoyed consecutive record years of new business development. We've also seen an increase in the percentage of very satisfied customers on our annual customer satisfaction survey. Likewise, we've seen an increase in the number of people in our market who choose FCS first on our annual 'Top of Mind Awareness' survey. We've also added a number of employees to assist us in the servicing of our new business and to increase our market presence."
"I wish we could take all of the credit for Farm Credit's success," says Jerry Ehrlich, Chandler Ehrlich president. "But the truth is, they are the ideal client. They are committed to multi-tiered communications programs. They clearly articulate their goals and objectives and work closely with us to develop the best high-impact campaigns possible. They are not afraid to be bold, and they will take risks as long as the risks are strategically sound." AM