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Did you hear the one about the new biotech seed company, its new product and its new way of doing business? It's likely you did, because company representatives took the time and effort at the appropriate moment to get out and spread the word among editors and publishers.

In May 1998, after having spent several years in research and development mode, ExSeed Genetics was ready to go to the marketplace with its first product, called NutriDense, a corn with elevated levels of oil, protein and essential amino acids. But the marketplace didn't know about the company, let alone the product, so it could have been one tough sell.

"One of our biggest problems was that we were a young company and needed to establish a presence," says Kim Kuebler, director of marketing with ExSeed Genetics, which was founded in 1994 and has headquarters in Owensboro, Ky. "Our aspect of the industry is relatively new - that is, biotechnology and engineering of genes to improve traits."

Kuebler brought the situation to ExSeed Genetics' agency, Charleston|Orwig, Hartland, Wis., and discussed options with agency president Lyle Orwig, account supervisor Beth Andersen and other staffers.

"ExSeed Genetics was looking to us for ideas on how to start being recognized as a player in the industry," Andersen says. "They had technological expertise and capability to get identity-preserved grains out faster than before. But it didnít do any good if no one knew about them."

NutriDense, although not a genetically modified corn, is a new product in a new industry and ExSeed Genetics offers a new way to sell it, according to Kuebler.

ExSeed Genetics begins its work by asking a potential end user what characteristics are desired in a grain. Next, ExSeed Genetics researchers create the desired set of genetic traits in inbred seed. Seed company partners then distribute those traits in their branded hybrids. Once the right grain hybrid is developed, ExSeed Genetics works with production partners to produce the grain according to the end user's exact specifications and then delivers the identify-preserved grain when and where it's needed and within a much quicker time frame than would come with the traditional breeding process.

Charleston|Orwig suggested that ExSeed Genetics representatives make desk-side visits to the ag media to introduce the company.

"Their suggestion for us was to get on the road," Kuebler says.


Kuebler worked with Charleston|Orwig to prepare a PowerPoint presentation on ExSeed Genetics and a media kit containing news releases and background information. Together they selected cities where target editors or publishing companies were located and laid out the sequence of the tour. Then they held a couple of dry runs.

"We walked them through the type of questions to expect," Andersen says. "We didn't want them to be so focused on what they wanted to say about a new company that they didn't get their message out along with information that would be helpful to editors' audiences."

The intent was not to immediately start getting press pickup as result of the meetings, but to establish relationships so when editors were writing seed- and biotech-related stories, they would consider picking up the phone and calling ExSeed Genetics personnel.

The media tour kicked off in June 1998 and the face-to-face meetings continued through August. Kuebler participated in all the visits along with one or two others from ExSeed Genetics. Either Andersen or Orwig accompanied the ExSeed Genetics personnel on each leg of the tour.

In total, ExSeed Genetics and Charleston|Orwig met with about 60 media representatives during those three months.

"We spent sometimes two hours or more at each stop," Andersen says.

The first stop on the media tour was the meeting and trade show of the American Seed Trade Association, where ExSeed Genetics met with editors from several seed trade publications. During the course of the tour, they met with ag business publications, crop production magazines and livestock magazines.


Since the tour, sales of NutriDense have been brisk.

"Our sales have increased about sixfold in NutriDense," Kuebler says. "I wouldn't attribute all of that to the media tour, but it certainly helped."

Andersen says the face-to-face interaction was a definite advantage in terms of helping editors remember who ExSeed was.

"When editors started doing roundup-type articles, then ExSeed started getting lots of calls," she says.

Kuebler appreciated the value of existing relationships Charleston|Orwig had with print media.

'I can't emphasize enough the help that the agency gave us with their connections," Kuebler says. "I could have gotten on the phone with these magazines and made these phone calls, but because we're such a new company, we didn't have those connections. Charleston|Orwig did that work up front and established the value of ExSeed." AM


Debby Hartke is an agricultural writer based in Kirkwood, Mo.

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