Blazing the Trail for Perfect Cotton
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Blazing the Trail for Perfect Cotton

DuPont enlisted Rowland Communications Worldwide to strike a delicate balance between taking their customers' minds off their troubles with focused events, while giving growers hope for a brighter future with news and deeper understanding of an environmen

Paul Holmes

The last few decades have been rough ones for America's cotton growers.  Droughts, floods, insects and a volatile global marketplace combined to create a general malaise among those in the U.S. cotton industry.  The DuPont Crop Protection Team knew that to be successful in this highly competitive environment, they would have to do more than sell.  They would have to win the hearts and minds of the growers and retailers -- not simply by presenting a comprehensive portfolio of products and technologies, but by building relationships, understanding the challenges of the producers, and recognizing their pride in growing "perfect cotton."  Cotton producers and their consultants have a number of options when it comes to controlling insects and weeds, but their choices will depend on which ones will help them produce the best cotton in the world.  To make those choices, they need technical information, not marketing hype.  To break through the clutter and give top cotton producers and consultants the highly technical information they need to evaluate the products for their “fit,” DuPont enlisted Rowland Communications Worldwide to strike a delicate balance between taking their customers' minds off their troubles with focused events, while giving growers hope for a brighter future with news and deeper understanding of an environmentally sound and economical new product – DuPont StewardÔ -- to help them grow perfect cotton.  In doing so, Rowland helped create a situation where DuPont StewardÔ completely sold out its initial shipment upon introduction.

Cotton isn't like other crops.  "A cotton producer is part artist, part scientist and part lucky," is a widely circulated maxim, credited to a Clemson University extension agent.  Almost anything can affect yield:  drought, flood, pests, weeds and human error -- and in the past three or four years, producers have faced any or all of the above.  Add the challenges of a volatile global marketplace and it has become a demoralizing situation.

To break through the clutter and give top cotton producers and consultants the highly technical information they need to evaluate the products for their "fit,” the DuPont Crop Protection Team needed to:

  • Demonstrate the company's acute understanding of cotton production, and provide highly technical information on the complete portfolio of DuPont crop protection "solutions" -- not just products, but technologies that would meet their needs 
  • Build relationships with new customers and solidify relationships with existing ones 
  • Share the results of field trials of a new insectide, DuPont Steward™, on experimental use plots 
  • Create excitement around and acceptance for DuPont StewardÔ while adhering to very strict Section 18 registration restrictions by the EPA 
  • Provide a relaxing diversion to the difficult economic and weather troubles faced by those in the cotton industry – a highly unorthodox, but essential, marketing objective


DuPont Crop Protection – focusing on long-term business growth in a highly competitive market -- decided to put down the traditional market research that told them, for instance, what products farmers used and what kind of yields they were anticipating from their crops.  Instead, DuPont engaged Stan Gross Associates to do proprietary “inner mind” research with farmers and growers across the country.  At the same time, the company enlisted Rowland Communications Worldwide to help them do its own in-depth, qualitative research:  meeting with growers in their local communities, at industry meetings, at Field Days and through special forums.  This research revealed that, in order to gain cotton producers' loyalty and trust, DuPont would need to become a true partner in the relationship.


Using the Rowland proprietary Point of Entry CommunicationsÒ model as its guide, DuPont embarked on a new direction in its business strategy, tied directly to the idea that actively and consistently listening to someone is the best way to gain understanding.  As such, DuPont renewed its commitment to listening to, learning from, sharing with and supporting its customers in tangible ways. 

Additionally, given the conditions in the cotton market, the DuPont Crop Protection Team felt that it was important to strike a balance between providing serious technical information and taking their customers’ minds off their troubles, if only for a little while.  In analyzing the demographics and psychographics of the target audience, Rowland worked with DuPont to create the kind of environment that would enable sales and technical representatives to engage their customers in personal, memorable ways.  


Rowland recommended an integrated approach that combined technical training for the sales team to equip them best to meet the customers’ needs – which never had been done before -- combined with customer events that would give the sales force an opportunity to interact with consultants and large growers on a social and intellectual level.  These informational and entertainment occasions were planned to help the DuPont team interact with the customers directly and to "personalize" key messages.  Underpinning these initiatives was a targeted product publicity program that would get the word out about DuPont StewardÔ without jeopardizing the product’s EPA registration status.

Sales Training – Working with scientists at DuPont Stine-Haskell Research Laboratories, Rowland developed a technical training program on DuPont StewardÔ for the DuPont Crop Protection Sales Force.  With the cooperation of DuPont senior management, Rowland rolled out a series of mandatory sales training sessions, each of which began with a videotaped “welcome” message and explanation of the importance of this new way of doing business.  Each session culminated with a 100-question test on the product.  Rewards of $100 were given for perfect scores; salespersons who failed were required to repeat the training.  A comprehensive handbook – created jointly by DuPont and Rowland – was distributed to each salesperson after the training, containing marketing materials and Powerpoint presentations that can be used with customers.

Beltwide 2000 Cotton Conference -- Hosted by the National Cotton Council in San Antonio, Texas, the Beltwide annually attracts cotton producers, ginners, consultants, extension agents and those interested in influencing all of them.  Although the intention of the event is to impart valuable technical information via "white papers" and short presentations, there are many social events for attendees, and it was imperative that DuPont do something dynamic and attention-getting.

Capitalizing on the western location, Rowland Design Communications developed the motif of "Blazing the Trail for Perfect Cotton," which was used as a rallying cry throughout the season.

The centerpiece event was a "customer appreciation party" planned and managed by Rowland Communications Worldwide at a real Texas ranch in nearby Helotes, Texas, starring country/western performer Terri Clark.  More than 1,000 VIP invitees were "rounded up" by gunslingers and can-can girls in the various hotel lobbies around San Antonio, and transported by DuPont-sponsored buses to the ranch.  Once there, U.S. Marshalls on horseback greeted the guests and performed a 20-minute drill routine prior to Terri Clark's energetic 90-minute, hit-filled show.  DuPont executives were briefed by Rowland on key messages and became actively involved in greeting customers one-on-one to convey the company's thanks for the support and loyalty of each attendee.

For those customers who were not invited to the "customer appreciation" party, Rowland arranged two four-hour "hospitality suites" hosted by the DuPont Crop Protection Team.  The "hospitality suites" enabled the DuPont Cotton sales force to engage customers in a relaxed setting, impart technical information and treat them to "something special" even if they couldn't go to the VIP party.

As part of the Beltwide, DuPont Crop Protection also made seven technical presentations over two days, which were highly attended by consultants, growers and media, thanks to intensive outreach by the Rowland team.   These presentations provided the results of DuPont Steward™ field trials and were made not only by DuPont technical representatives but university researchers, adding credibility to the messages.  In the ballroom nearby, DuPont Crop Protection presented this technical information in a creative and visual way – with a display created by Rowland Design Communications, using a western theme with iron sculptures of a cowboy and a bull, placing the statistics and visuals in "Wanted" posters.

Targeted Product Publicity – The Environmental Protection Agency has very strict guidelines on how a crop protection product can – and can’tbe promoted while it is still being evaluated for registration.  Working under EPA restrictions, Rowland arranged a radio media tour for DuPont StewardÔ Product Manager Lynn Loughary only in key southern cottonbelt states dictated by the EPA.  Radio was chosen because, due to the schedule and nature of the work of cotton growers and consultants, customers are more likely to hear the messages when they are riding in their trucks, on pickers or following the weather reports.  Loughary presented news and technical information on DuPont StewardÔ during the morning and afternoon farm broadcasts.

When DuPont StewardÔ received “emergency” Section 18 registration status, the EPA allowed Rowland to issue individual press releases in approved states on behalf of DuPont Crop Protection.  Rowland also created a special “DuPont StewardÔ” edition of its Southern Enterprise newsletter, which was mailed to targeted customers in EPA-approved states. 


At the end of the program, the DuPont Crop Protection Team knew that they achieved success.  Every salesperson passed the training, and 15% of the team (of 72 persons) attained perfect scores.  Each Beltwide activity created widespread, in-depth customer awareness of the new Steward™ insecticide as well as the complete portfolio of DuPont products and technologies to grow “perfect cotton.”  Additionally, it enabled the DuPont Crop Protection Team to build relationships with all-important cotton consultants and major growers.  As a result, the product completely sold out its initial shipment of $12 million upon EPA Section 18 “emergency” registration.

In all, Rowland Communications Worldwide:

  • Enabled DuPont to impart a great degree of knowledge and technical support to cotton growers and consultants, demonstrating the company’s partnership as a stakeholder in the industry 
  • Helped DuPont build and support its relationships with customers in a sincere and long-lasting way, to create current and future sales opportunities 
  • Created a real "buzz" around DuPont StewardÔ insecticide within EPA restrictions, with radio exposure to more than five million listeners and targeted newsletter distribution to 10,000 key customers 
  • Proved that DuPont Crop Protection is an understanding and sympathetic partner to the cotton industry, by creating memories that will last a lifetime through its country/western entertainment event that took the grower's mind off his troubles for awhile, while simultaneously giving him business tools to be successful.
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