Telling the right story by changing the subject
The Marble Institute of America found itself fighting allegations that granite countertops cause cancer. Reporters fueled this fake controversy by ignoring scientific evidence of granite’s safety to publicize unsupported claims from critics hoping to profit from consumer fear.
Realizing that efforts to promote our scientific data would resurrect the baseless allegations, we reframed the discussion to focus on a story more interesting to homeowners: the fact that granite counters enhance a home’s value. A third-party survey of homeowners showed 75 percent of those planning kitchen remodels wanted granite. The study also found that nearly 90 percent of homeowners believe granite is safe. Changing the story allowed us to reassure consumers.
To tell this story, we distributed a mat release picked up by nearly 2,900 newspapers – more than half in the nation’s top 50 markets. A typical mat release is used by 100 to 400 papers. The story’s pickup surprised the syndicator. “The number of placements a release has achieved is a great measure of its success,” said one syndicate executive. “The results of your release have been absolutely extraordinary.”
Meanwhile, granite countertop sales have rebounded with the housing market.
The right story to restore reputation
When Bayer bought Miles Laboratories in Elkhart, Ind., in 1979 the German pharmaceutical company’s CEO promised to be part of the community forever. But within 30 years, Bayer had moved most manufacturing out of the city and announced plans to demolish the million-square-foot manufacturing landmark that had employed generations of Elkhart residents. The community hated Bayer.
Because the company planned to maintain a smaller manufacturing operation in the area, it needed to improve community relations. Bayer’s story had been about layoffs and plant closings. We refocused to make it a story of economic development for Elkhart. At our recommendation, Bayer offered to sell the facility for $1 to an organization that committed to creating jobs in the city.
Feed the Children took over the former Miles space and created more than 300 jobs – the largest job creation success Elkhart had seen in decades. The Bayer employee union softened its rhetoric. Elected officials applauded the company’s generosity. Local media recognized Bayer’s commitment to the community.
And the company saved millions of dollars in demolition costs – which went to the bottom line.
The right story to build loyalty
When Health Canada questioned the safety of baby bottles made with bisphenol A (BPA), several retailers removed Playtex’s hard-plastic bottles from their shelves. Sales plummeted. The company, a leading baby bottle manufacturer, feared for its reputation.
Though regulators worldwide had long researched and approved the use of BPA, media coverage focused on allegations by a few anti-BPA activists who cited a handful of unconfirmed reports. To manage the panic, we reframed the story away from the safety issue to focus on the needless confusion and concern the media reports were causing.
To alleviate parental unease, Playtex announced it would voluntarily withdraw bottles containing BPA from the market, unveiled a timetable to reformulate the BPA out of its products and offered to replace bottles in consumers’ homes with BPA-free product. Playtex was one of the first bottle makers to act. Within days, consumers had requested tens of thousands of coupons for replacement bottles.
The decision by many large retailers to stop selling bottles made with BPA caused Playtex sales to dip until reformulated product became available. But the following year, sales exceeded expectations – in part because Playtex had acted on behalf of consumers.