THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
BARKING UP THE RIGHT TREE
by Den Gardner, Contributing Editor
It's a dog-eat-dog world out there today in public relations and promotions. As companies continue to try to maximize their promotional dollars, finding partnerships with existing groups to create third-party credibility has high value. Merial, Duluth, Ga., appears to have found just that in a program it did this summer with Animal Planet.
Merial makes FRONTLINE and HEARTGARD Plus brands for pets. The idea of hooking up with Discovery Networks' 2003 Animal Planet Expo (which was in 14 cities from April through August) was hatched when Ketchum, marketing agency for Merial, read about the 2002 Expo and contacted Discovery Networks about sponsorship opportunities.
Ketchum took the idea to Merial, and the company decided this was an opportunity to get two of its most popular products in front of a half-million consumers or more from Atlanta to St. Louis to Los Angeles and other points in between.
The Expo gives Merial an entree to pet lovers throughout the United States and educates pet owners about proper pet health through veterinarian spokespeople, presentations, displays and handouts. Some might call it a doggone good idea.
"We have tried stand-alone pet events by ourselves before," says Elizabeth Fox, associate product manager for FRONTLINE. "But we just weren't sure we were getting enough bang for our buck. It's a struggle to handle pet events individually as a company.
"With this connection, we can borrow brand equity from Animal Planet. It's just easier to tack onto something already being successfully done rather than creating your own event. It's hard sometimes to get people to go to events like this. It's more effort than we have time and resources for. The staff of Animal Planet can help our efforts in a big way," Fox says.
The six-figure sponsorship Merial pays gets the company a kennel full of benefits:
"This is the first year we've had a presenting sponsor," says Bob Storin, director of event marketing in the affiliate sales and marketing department at Discovery. "We wanted to increase the reach of the Expo tour and increase the size of the market. From early on we could see Merial wanted to get behind the Expo."
One of the important issues for Merial in choosing the Expo as its partner was that the Animal Planet folks "do most of the promotional work," Fox says. "It's extensive in every market."
THOROUGH PUBLIC RELATIONS
Discovery Networks' U.S. publicity assistant Amelia Zimmern says specific press materials are developed for each market. "Prior to the kick-off of the tour, we worked with Merial to incorporate their product language into our press materials," Zimmern says. "We also customize the materials for each market throughout the tour."
Zimmern says media kits are sent to local papers, magazines, community Web sites, local television stations and radio. Goodman Media and NewsGeneration are hired to pitch media outlets in each particular city.
"On average, we'll get four to five radio interviews and coverage from one to two television stations at the Expo," Zimmern says. "Print coverage is also very good. We're frequently in the local calendars before the event, and many times we get articles and photos after the event."
Jen Acer, senior account executive for Ketchum, says the Expos ran smoothly all summer. "There are always one or two Merial sales representatives at each Expo," she says. "There's also one emergency vet there to talk about summer health animal issues and ways to keep pets safe."
"The emergency vets are an integral part of the media process. They participate in advance interviews and are available to talk with media onsite at the events," Zimmern says.
Involvement by Merial sales reps is important in the overall promotion. "The reps are able to get a good feeling for what consumers think and need with regard to pet health care," Fox says. "Plus, the reps give out coupons for a free dose of FRONTLINE if consumers go to a vet. We've specially coded the coupons and will track how many are redeemed."
NAME RECOGNITION IMPORTANT
Animal Planet is well recognized and provides great brand recognition among pet owners, vets and other stakeholders, Fox says. "It's not like partnering with an organization no one has heard of. When consumers think of flea and tick control and heartworm prevention, we want them to think about FRONTLINE and HEARTGARD Plus. The Expo is a good fit."
It's too early to talk about 2004, but Discovery's Storin is hopeful that Merial will return for another year. "There aren't too many touring events of this size out there," he says. "This is one of the largest mobile marketing tours you will ever see on the road in terms of its scope and size. And these are pet owners who come to these events. Everywhere you look, people are walking around with their pets."
Anecdotally, Storin believes the event is raining cats and dogs for Merial, like a welcome shower on a sun-parched lawn. "The one-on-one interaction with a targeted group of consumers is worth a lot," he says. Fox says Merial will likely make a decision this fall about its participation next year. "It's a big enough event, and pet owners are certainly aware of Animal Planet," she says. "It's a turnkey program. We'll definitely consider it for next year." AM
Den Gardner owns Gardner & Gardner Communications, New Prague, Minn.