Mercury Mountaineer Drive for Literacy
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Mercury Mountaineer Drive for Literacy

Mercury (a division of Ford Motor Co.) was set to launch its 2002 Mercury Mountaineer and entered into a cause-related marketing arrangement to promote the launch with First Book, a national non-profit organization that gives new books to children from lo

Paul Holmes

Mercury (a division of Ford Motor Co.) was set to launch its 2002 Mercury Mountaineer and entered into a cause-related marketing arrangement to promote the launch with First Book, a national non-profit organization that gives new books to children from low-income families.  The strategy was to link a key survival skill in the urban environment – literacy – with the newest SUV – The Mercury Mountaineer – built specifically for the urban environment.  First Book had already received a donation of one million books from Random House for a summer campaign.  Mercury was donating $1 million to the organization to help distribute the million books and set up 40 new First Book advisory boards in cities nationwide.

Implementation through media relations, on-site event support and community/partner outreach took 35 Burson professionals in nine offices coordinating successfully with a myriad of partners all to the client’s great satisfaction.  Lincoln Mercury’s Director of Public Affairs commented, “great results,” while the Events Manager exclaimed, “You guys are turning out more TV stations than these towns thought they have!!! I wonder what you could do on a breaking news story!!! Awesome.”

Challenges/Opportunities

The opportunity was to leverage Mercury’s role by having Mercury Mountaineers deliver books to needy children in all 50 states and be promoted through a national kick-off event and 22 local-market events in key urban cities. 

Research

Mercury and Ford Motor Company have two long-standing philanthropic pillars – the environment and education.  The agency recommended that Mercury and First Book commission a study on American’s attitudes towards and knowledge about literacy issues in the U.S. to serve as a foundation for the Mercury Mountaineer Drive for Litearcy. 

A four-question Wirthlin Worldwide telephone study was conducted with 1,000 adult Americans.  Results showed that while a large percentage of Americans believe that it is important for children to be exposed to books and reading at an early age, a smaller yet significant number believed that a lack of basic reading skills among children is a significant problem in the United States.  This information showcased that reading is important and an issue of concern among Americans.

In addition, a majority of Americans agreed that children’s reading ability tends to decline over the summer when they are not in school.  This helped to shape messages and media materials about the importance of reading.  The press releases and matte column included tips for parents to help their kids maintain reading skills once school was out for summer.

Three key audiences were identified:
· Working women/mothers in urban areas; college educated, predominately in managerial, professional or technical professions
· Mercury dealers in key markets – includes more than 1,500 dealerships
· Broadcast and print media nationally and specifically in markets where the 22 events would take place: Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Nashville, Charlotte, Orlando, Miami, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Los Angeles

Planning

The campaign took approximately 4½ months to plan and execute and involved more than 35 Burson-Marsteller professionals in nine offices (Los Angeles, Irvine, San Diego, Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Pittsburgh and Dallas) working in conjunction with Mercury, First Book, Random House Children’s Book and an event logistics company. 

The primary objective was to create goodwill for the Mercury Mountaineer brand among working women/mothers in urban areas by generating positive, branded coverage for Mercury and its role in fighting illiteracy.  More specifically: to garner at least one television and one print story in each of the 22 markets where local events were to take place.

Burson-Marsteller provided strategic counsel in shaping the kick-off announcement and local market events to secure the type of coverage expected by the client. The Wirthlin survey results were used to develop press materials and key messages. To support media relations efforts, the agency developed a detailed media strategy, key messages, media materials (press kit folders, fact sheet, press release), a video news release, radio news release and matte column.

To help add credibility and an incentive for media to cover the local market events, the agency secured “celebrity guests” including Mayors, sports figures, television personalities, sports team mascots and education advocates.  Burson also secured Mayoral proclamations in each city designating the event date as Mercury Mountaineer Drive for Literacy Day. The effort included writing a suggested proclamation, conducting aggressive follow-up and securing approval, as well as drafting and securing approval on press release quotes for the Mayors to be included in press materials.

Strategic Approach

The strategy (to achieve the objective outlined as positive media coverage and support for the Mountaineer product launch) was fourfold:
· Create compelling events through celebrity, Mayoral, sports figure, team mascot and television personality participation
· Make it easy for media to cover the story by providing desirable photo opportunities and b-roll materials, and by making them readily available if they could not attend the event
· Cast the net wide and pitch a variety of media: automotive, education and features at both a national and local level across all media: print, broadcast and online
· Divide the campaign into two stages: 1) a national event to generate credibility and create media materials (b-roll, matte column and press release) to showcase the magnitude of the donation and that books would be delivered to all 50 states and 2) local-market events in key cities to generate additional coverage and provide more opportunities for the new Mercury Mountaineers to be seen

Execution/Tactics – The campaign included a national kick-off event and 22 local-market events

NATIONAL KICK-OFF

To announce the kick-off of the Mercury Mountaineer Drive for Literacy, the Burson team created and executed an event at the Lincoln Mercury Headquarters with comedienne, entertainer and literacy advocate, Whoopi Goldberg and children from local Head Start programs. The event was designed to capture images (Mercury Mountaineers filled with books decorated with state name decals showing where the books will be going; Whoopi Goldberg reading with children; Whoopi Goldberg and First Book President Kyle Zimmer accepting a $1 million check from Lincoln Mercury President Mark Hutchins) for the national media materials and provide an exciting send-off to the campaign for employees, First Book, book recipients and other special guests.  “We are all these children have, and I think it is absolutely great that Mercury put a million dollars into them,” said Goldberg.

22 LOCAL-MARKET EVENTS

The program continued with 22 local market events over a two-month period.  We secured guests for the local market events to drive media attendance including Mayors, athletes, local TV anchors and meteorologists, sports team mascots and local education advocates.  The guests served as celebrity readers, reading Random House children’s books from the back of Mercury Mountaineers to small groups of children from local Head Start programs.  This provided an excellent backdrop for photographs.  Local TV anchors and meteorologists brought their stations crews to cover the events.  Additional media outreach included the distribution of customized media materials, media pitching, interview coordination for pre-event and on-site interviews and event photography distributed to local media who could not attend.

The agency supported the events on-site with 2-3 professionals at each event to manage media, draft speaker remarks, determine show flows based on attendees and last-minute changes, oversee event flow, and coordinate with Mercury, the event logistics company, First Book, children from local Head Start programs and other guests. 
Email communications were distributed to dealerships and to public affairs liaisons in regional markets to generate excitement and support for the campaign.  Local dealers were encouraged to participate and did so by offering donations to First Book with vehicle purchases and making large monetary contributions.

Results

 The campaign was successful at reaching the intended objective of positive, branded coverage linking Mercury Mountaineer with literacy, a highly important cause to the target audience.  More specifically, we generated: 
· More than 400 news stories (including 82 television stories in 33 markets and 54 event photographs)
· More than 25 million impressions
· Nearly 1,200 column inches of print space; more than 4½ hours of broadcast coverage

Media hits included:  USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Tennessean, Orlando Sentinel, Miami Herald, The Detroit News, WLJA-TV (Washington, DC), WKBD-TV (Detroit), Good Day Minnesota, Good Morning Washington, WKRN-TV (Nashville), WXIA-TV (Atlanta), KRIV-TV (Houston), KING-TV (Seattle), among others.

Among the branded media coverage geared toward the target audience included:
· “With two new Mercury Mountaineers as the backdrop, the children, mostly 4- and 5-year-olds, gathered around local TV personalities as they read from ‘Vroomaloomzoom.’” (Jeffrey Hipp, staff writer, San Antonio Express News)
· “During the next four months, campaign leaders will load Mercury Mountaineers with books and travel to all 50 states.” (Rachanee Therakulsathit, The Detroit News)
· “Lincoln Mercury is launching a goodwill campaign to coincide with the debut of the Mercury Mountaineer SUV.” (Brandweek)

In addition to the media outreach, Mercury secured 22 Mayoral proclamations recognizing their efforts to promote literacy through Mercury Mountaineer Drive for Literacy Day.

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