Announcing the Sequencing of the Cocoa Genome
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Announcing the Sequencing of the Cocoa Genome

Mars sought to communicate the completion of the mapping and that the genome information would be released into the public domain for researchers and breeders to use.

Holmes Report

 

In 2008, Mars embarked on a five-year research initiative with IBM and the USDA-ARS to map the cocoa genome with the goal of opening its findings to the entire scientific world. In 2010, Mars and partners completed the preliminary sequencing of the cacao genome – three years ahead of schedule – achieving a major scientific milestone. What Mars needed to do next – with the help of Edelman – was quickly mobilize to communicate the completion of the mapping and that the genome information would be released into the public domain for all researchers and breeders to use. Mars and Edelman organized a communications team comprised of media relations specialists and senior strategist to launch a global public announcement with concentrated media, stakeholder, digital and employee communications outreach in six regions – the U.S., Europe, Africa, South America, Asia, and Australia – in less than two weeks.
 
We identified the following objectives to build the framework for our media relations outreach:
  • Engage with key top-tier and digital, science, sustainability, business and food media to share the news
  • Develop and deepen relationships with key science, academic, development and policy stakeholders
  • Raise awareness among Mars’ associates about this landmark accomplishment
  • Position Mars’ executives and lead scientists on the project, Howard Shapiro and Juan Carlos Motamayor, as thought leaders in cocoa sustainability and science to underscore Mars’ leadership
 
Strategy
 


 

To help inform the development of the media strategy and shape key messages, Mars and Edelman conducted the following research:
o    Audit of media coverage and analysis from initial announcement in 2008 to understand how the story was perceived and identify areas of opportunity for stronger message pull-through
o    Reviewed recent articles, white papers and policy papers to understand the current landscape around cocoa sustainability and genome mapping
o    Researched reporters in science, business and sustainability sectors around the world to understand the best publications and reporters to target for exclusive embargoes and general outreach. Knowing that top reporters would demand their own unique angle on the story, dozens of story themes and angles were created and tailored specifically to meet anticipated needs
o    Conducted in-depth research within the science, food, sustainability and development space to identify the top 250 key policy, academic and NGO stakeholders most engaged in this issue
 
We then devised the following strategies for the cocoa genome media announcement:
1)     Develop key media materials to ensure consistent delivery of messages internally and externally to ensure relevancy for stakeholders around the world
2)     Secure embargoes exclusives and conduct interviews with top tier global media prior to the “official” announcement
3)     Reach out to key stakeholders and influencers to gain validation and alignment prior to the launch
4)     Conduct outreach to additional international, print, online and broadcast media following the announcement to increase communications
5)     Package announcement success so Mars associates could internalize and champion the news
 
Pitch/Implementation
 


 

Laying the Groundwork - It was crucial to lay the groundwork prior to engaging our targeted journalists by developing key media assets. To ensure that all spokespeople delivered consistent messages during interviews, Edelman developed a robust internal Q&A/key message document and an external press kit for the public announcement, including a press release, media fact sheet, spokesperson bios and approved photos/captions.
 
Our Approach - Mars and Edelman developed an embargoed media approach that allowed our team to pre-brief major print, online, wire, industry trade, blog and broadcast outlets around the globe prior to the “official” announcement and research release on September 15th. Mars scientists participated in several top-tier interviews the day before the launch to ensure a broad range of feature articles (and not just wire pick-up) on the day of the announcement. 
 
Execution and Implementation
 


 

Media Outreach – Marsand Edelman appealed to the interests of individual reporters from a variety of angles – science, agriculture, business innovation, development, technology and corporate social responsibility – to secure a full calendar of pre- and day-of-announcement interviews. Edelman strategically arranged for the Mars scientists to be in the same room with media relations experts in the days before and after launch, to guarantee seamless coordination of media interviews and maximize the number of interviews. Additionally, Edelman engaged Strauss Radio to book a U.S. radio media tour with Mars scientists, resulting in 15 interviews in top markets throughout the country.
 
On the digital front, Edelman’s strategic digital media outreach efforts engaged science and sustainability bloggers and resulted in top-tier coverage in online outlets. Additionally, the digital team made several updates to the cocoasustainability.com website in preparation for launch, including the development of a new banner, uploading press materials, creating and posting a blog entry from Juan Carlos Motamayor, adding two new videos from the footage shot in D.C., and embedding sharable functions within the site to make the content inherently more social. 
 
International Efforts – As coordination of international efforts can be challenging, Edelman enhanced the global roll-out of the announcement through engaging media specialists in UK, France and Brazil. This allowed the targeting of global and in-country media, ranging from the BBC to media engagement in the Ivory Coast. The announcement was also disseminated in Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Trinidad and Tobago. Liaising between Mars global communications and Mars staff in local markets, including Holland, France, Germany and Brazil, we coordinated the translation of press materials and conducted media outreach as needed, securing top tier coverage in key markets.
 
Stakeholder Engagement – Edelman counseled Mars on conducting comprehensive stakeholder outreach and engagement to let critical audiences know about the announcement firsthand and not solely through media coverage. We reviewed and offered counsel on lists of more than 250 stakeholders and created priority outreach lists for contact before, within one week and within one month of the announcement. We also drafted stakeholder emails and talking points to help facilitate Mars’ communication. On Day One of stakeholder outreach, top contacts in academia/science, cocoa and chocolate suppliers, customers, development groups, donors, governments, industry groups, Mars partners and NGOs were contacted by Mars. The Rainforest Action Network responded right away, congratulating the Mars team on their scientific achievement and leadership in making the information publicly available without patent.
 
Summary of Results
 


 

Media Outreach Results
Our proactive media outreach garnered impressive placements in top-tier and other major outlets from around the globe. Key results include:
 
·         Secured an estimated 7,300 total articles and media mentions around the world, accounting for more than 417 million total media impressions82 million listeners/viewers reached in radio and TV broadcasts and 2.6 million readers through blog coverage alone
·         Constant online buzz with social media mentions every 2 minutes on day of launch
·         “Tweetoid of the Day” from White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
·         Coverage was overwhelmingly positive, with nearly 95% of coverage delivering at least 2-3 key messages. Nearly all coverage referenced the benefits of cocoa farmers, thanks to this breakthrough initiative
·         Received positive feedback from more than 95 percent of stakeholders, commending Mars leadership. Howard Shapiro received an invite to speak at the World Agricultural Forum and Fortune’s Brainstorm Green and was The Atlantic’s “Face of the Day” as a result of this initiative
·         Reached Mars’ 28,000 associates through pre- and post-launch communications
 
Campaign Effects
Mars’ collaboration with IBM and USDA-ARS to unveil the preliminary sequencing of the cacao genome was a significant scientific achievement. The success of the media campaign cemented Mars’ corporate reputation as a leader in cocoa sustainability and reinforced Mars’ commitment to innovative science. Additionally, the announcement showcased how unlocking the cacao genome benefits the cacao farmers and their families through the breeding of cacao trees that are more robust, higher-yielding, and more disease and drought resistant, underscoring Mars’ efforts for advancing breeding techniques for the betterment of cacao farmers around the world.
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