In August 2001, Westvaco Corporation, a $3.94 billion producer of paperboard and value-added consumer-product packaging, initiated a marketing public relations program for its largest business unit, the Packaging Resources Group (PRG), through its agency of 15 years, Nichol & Company. The agency’s first challenge was to provide international sales support for Forte, a product that became available in Q1 2001, but that had achieved only limited brand recognition and sell through. Another challenge was preparing to launch Forte in an expedient manner, while concurrently readying a much broader program to promote several other PRG products and capabilities.
In just three months following the September 19 launch of Forte, Nichol & Company’s efforts have increased Forte sales inquiries 2,500 percent, literally transforming awareness and market acceptance of the product overnight. With many long-lead publications scheduling articles for 2002, inquiries should continue trending upward. Incredibly, these results were accomplished with a $50,000 launch budget.
Forte is a paperboard used to construct small- and medium-sized cartons. Engineered to compete against mini-fluted paperboard (like corrugated cardboard, but with smaller waves or “flutes”), the substrate has two interesting stories that Nichol & Company felt had to be told.
First, as a smooth, solid-fiber substrate, Forte is able to reproduce high-end package graphics without the wavy appearance of graphics printed on mini-fluted board. This is extremely important to manufacturers of products sold in self-service retail environments, where attractive packaging is a primary driver of sales.
Second, Forte offers significant business benefits to the company’s primary target audience: folding carton operators (FCOs) who purchase packaging substrates like Forte and “convert” them into actual cartons by printing, die-cutting, folding and gluing the paperboard. The benefits range from cost savings to a real ability to enter new markets.
Nichol & Company was given access to comprehensive, primary research conducted by Westvaco prior to its launch of Forte. This research identified several trends that were used in shaping messages about Forte, among them:
· Mass merchandisers’ share of the U.S. retail market has risen to 62 percent from 41 percent in the late 80s, driving demand for packaging with higher-quality printing and more sophisticated decorative techniques that can help generate sales in self-service retail environments.
· Faced with declining sales, mass merchandisers are squeezing their product suppliers for cost concessions. This, in turn, is forcing consumer-product companies to cut expenses, and product packaging is frequently targeted as a source of cost reductions. Cost concessions, however, can not come at the expense of package aesthetics.
· Traditional FCOs typically do not have the equipment to run higher caliper (thicker) corrugated paperboard, which is needed to produce cartons that meet the graphic, structural and cost characteristics that today’s consumer product manufacturers require in their packaging. FCOs are losing business as a result.
· FCOs are able to run Forte on their existing equipment. The product’s combination of strength, aesthetics and cost-efficiencies would allow them to start competing effectively for high-end corrugated packaging business.
Increase market acceptance and sales of Forte.
· Establish and maintain brand awareness of Forte.
· Position Forte as a high-value alternative to mini-fluted board and explain the product’s advantages.
· Communicate the aesthetic advantages that packaging created using Forte offers consumer product companies.
· Demonstrate the business advantages that FCOs can realize by producing their customers’ cartons on Forte.
· Drive traffic to www.fortepaper.com, a website created specifically to help market the brand.
· Packaging designers
· Corporate packaging professionals in target markets, such as liquor, food and electronic media (e.g., software)
To breathe life into its strategy, Nichol & Company enlisted the enthusiastic participation of Sheboygan Paper Box Co., one of the first (and only) FCOs using Forte. This was key to the program’s success: Not only was Sheboygan eager to attest to the business benefits of using Forte, its work for customer U.S. Filter, manufacturer of the Culligan brand, provided evidence of Forte’s enhanced aesthetics and cost efficiencies. Further, Sheboygan’s involvement would help to facilitate placement in a number of key publications widely read by the target audiences.
· Various press materials were developed, including:
· A launch press release, several versions of which were prepared to convey the particular marketing messages developed for each target audience and application. Various foreign language translations were also created.
· A PRG fact sheet.
· Sample cartons (boxes constructed using Forte to illustrate key end-use applications).
· Photographs of the sample cartons.
· A value analysis that demonstrated how much money FCOs could expect to save on a typical carton run.
· A “press room” for archiving press materials on www.westvaco.com.
A case history that described Sheboygan’s use of Forte was also prepared, based on interviews with PRG, Sheboygan Paper Box and U.S. Filter executives. This was offered as an exclusive to Packaging Digest, considered to be the most important target publication (and subsequently published in its November issue).
Nichol & Company launched Forte with a virtual presentation webcast on September 19, 2001. (While serious consideration was given to postponing the launch, time pressures and a desire to resume “business as usual” as quickly as possible drove the decision to continue as planned.) Editors were able to listen to the presentation via conference call, or view a PowerPoint presentation synchronized with the audio at www.westvaco.com. Twenty representatives (approximately 20 percent of the target list) from print and on-line trade publications “attended” the webcast/conference call; several more, most international, accessed an archive of the webcast on www.westvaco.com at various times after September 19, as did a few curious Westvaco competitors.
Immediately following the webcast, editors were able to download press materials at the Westvaco website. Because Nichol & Company felt it was important for editors to see and feel the new paperboard, press kits with sample cartons were also mailed to each media outlet on the target list. Extensive media pitching ensued.
To date, the webcast, press mailing and subsequent media pitching have generated 22 placements in print, on-line and international trade publications, including the two most important print publications: Packaging Digest (circ: 109,500) and Packaging World (circ: 90,113). Total media impressions to date stand at 2,426,690. Converting, the third-most important publication (circ: 44,746), has confirmed it will publish two separate articles on Forte in its January issue. They are just two of 23 placements Nichol & Company anticipates will appear between December 2001and March 2002, which should push the total number of placements to 45 and media impressions to 4,563,890.
More important has been the impact of Nichol & Company’s program on Forte awareness and sales. In just three months since the webcast, the number of “customer leads from external sources” in the PRG database has jumped 2,500 percent. Anecdotally, PRG salespeople report an increase in Forte awareness among those customers with whom they meet (“leads from internal sources”), which has helped to “pre-sell” them on the new paperboard.
Finally, the exposure Sheboygan Paper Box has received as a result of its participation in the program not only has enhanced its relationship with Westvaco, it has had a positive effect on the company’s awareness and sales, as well. Whether this stems from our program – or the terrific results Sheboygan achieves using Forte – we may never know.