This summer, food giant ConAgra signed on baseball great Sammy Sosa to help promote two of its flagship brands, Hunt’s Snack Pack Pudding and Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Popping Corn. ConAgra wanted to generate news nationwide about the endorsement deal with Sosa and enlisted a four-person team at Dome Communications Inc (Dome) to quickly orchestrate the press conference. Timing was very sensitive surrounding this particular announcement, due to widespread national attention about a potential Sosa trade from the Chicago Cubs. In addition, Dome had only four days to pull together the press conference with a budget of $75,000. Dome knew that there would be media interest surrounding any type of Sosa announcement – however, the goal of the press conference was to generate news about the two brands, not to be overshadowed by trade rumors. To ensure that the news stayed focused on the two ConAgra brands, Dome recommended adding a cause-related component to the announcement and holding the press conference inside historic Wrigley Field.
Dome was faced with several obstacles in preparing for the press conference:
- Trade rumors running rampant that would dilute or overshadow the ConAgra announcement
- Press conference date unconfirmed until four business days prior to announcement
- Development of a compelling news angle to make announcement more than just another “endorsement deal”
- Working within Sosa’s and Wrigley Field’s procedures and guidelines
- Creating a key branded visual that the media would accept and feature in their stories
During the time leading up to the ConAgra announcement, Chicago-based media and sports media nationwide were buzzing about trade rumors surrounding Sosa. Dome originally planned to leverage the media’s interest about the trade by hinting at Sammy’s intention to play on a new team – Team ConAgra. However, as both media and public opinion over Sosa’s impending trade grew increasingly negative, Dome advised the client to brainstorm on some other synergies that would help develop the story.
Researching Sosa’s personal history, Dome discovered that in his recent autobiography he talked openly about his childhood struggle with hunger. Dome was also aware that ConAgra supported a company-wide “Feeding Children Better” program that partners with America’s Second Harvest (the nation’s largest domestic charitable hunger relief organization) and its Kid’s Cafe program. As part of his endorsement contract, Sosa had committed to supporting some of ConAgra’s charitable initiatives, and given Sosa’s own fight with childhood hunger, Dome saw an opportunity to integrate the Feeding Children Better/Kid’s Cafe message into the program.
Additionally, Dome researched the key consumer and media target markets.
Consumer: Families with young children who are frequent snackers. Both Sosa and his family fit perfectly into this audience because they enjoy the ConAgra products at home and on the road. In fact, Sosa was known to have both products shipped to him back home in the Dominican Republic, where he resides in his off-season and contacted ConAgra himself to seek out a partnership with Hunt’s and Orville Redenbacher’s.
Media: Sports editors and assignment editors for local and national television, print and radio. Secondary media included food editors in the top 200 daily newspapers.
Generate extensive broadcast media coverage in key cities nationwide to tout Sosa’s partnership with Hunt’s Snack Pack Pudding and Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Popping Corn
Secure print placements in targeted publications important to ConAgra (in Chicago and Omaha, ConAgra’s headquarters)
After finally receiving confirmation of the date of the press conference, which would coincide with the Sunday national advertising insert (August 13, 2000), Dome quickly met with Chicago Cub’s public relations and community relations personnel to talk about maximizing the Chicago Cub/Wrigley Field relationship. Dome believed the press conference needed to be “out of the norm” and negotiated with Wrigley Field to identify a premiere location for the announcement. As a result, ConAgra planned the first-ever press conference with Sosa to take place behind home plate on historic Wrigley Field. Dome also believed it was important to invite children benefiting from the Chicago-based Kid’s Cafe program to attend the press conference in Wrigley Field and have the opportunity to meet Sosa in person. Dome worked with America’s Second Harvest and the local Kid’s Cafe in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood to make that happen. In addition, Dome strategized to ensure there was a perfect visual for broadcast media attending, so it created a giant, 4-foot-tall “spoon” (branded with the Snack Pack logo) for Sosa to ceremoniously swing after making the endorsement announcement.
Dome’s strategy for creating a story that was more than just another endorsement deal but would still generate significant local and national media coverage was based on two important firsts: (1) use the ConAgra endorsement to highlight Sammy Sosa’s first major U.S. charity initiative. (In the past, Sosa had only publicly supported Dominican Republic charity initiatives.); (2) promote the fact that this was the first time such an announcement was made behind home plate at Wrigley Field. (In the past, most press conferences were held in the Cub’s media room inside the stadium.) By focusing on these key points, Dome was able to elevate media interest in an altruistic story about how Sosa was taking a giant swing against childhood hunger here in the United States.
The event was finally confirmed for Friday, August 11, after various factors prevented an announcement date from being secured. Dome was then given four business days to pull together a full blown press conference at Wrigley Field before a Cubs home game against the Cincinnati Reds.
After contacts at the Chicago Cubs and the local Kid’s Cafe were established, a site check was arranged at Wrigley Field giving Dome an idea of the dimensions of home plate as well as the size of signage and other propping needed for the conference. Dome was also briefed on Wrigley’s strict guidelines for the event. With such a short turn around time, Dome called on its most reliable vendors and within three days produced:
- A four foot high Snack Pack snackin’ spoon that Sosa used for batting practice with children attending press conference
- Two, four-foot tall print outs of the Snack Pack/Orville Redenbacher Sammy Sosa national insert
- T-shirts branded with the Snack Pack, Orville Redenbacher and ConAgra Feeding Children Better logo and “SOSA 21” on the back for the Kid’s Cafe children in attendance
- Arranged delivery of 50 cases of Hunt’s Snack Pack Pudding and Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Popping Corn, which were piled sky high on a product table during the conference
- An embroidered Snack Pack baseball jersey specially sized for Sosa (2XL)
Press materials were quickly drafted, approved by multiple parties, and finally distributed to local and national print and broadcast outlets, targeting sports, food and assignment editors. The day prior to the press conference, a “teaser” press release was sent out on PR Newswire revealing that Sosa would be making an announcement. Dome faxed hundreds of media representatives as well as contacting them personally. After the “teaser” announcement was made, a comprehensive press release was distributed via the wire the next day. In addition, Dome produced a video b-roll package of the event that was distributed nationally immediately following the press conference. To maximize the b-roll pick-up, Dome conducted mock interviews with Sosa in both English and his native language, Spanish, resulting in additional placements on Univision, Telemundo and other Spanish-speaking stations.
Additionally, a second objective included securing Sosa autographed baseballs to leverage with key ConAgra stockholders. Accompanied with a letter outlining the program, Dome, on behalf of ConAgra, sent stockholders each their own National League autographed baseball.
Representatives from all of the Chicago-based media outlets attended the press conference to get the chance to see Sosa take a “swing” at childhood hunger. While the press conference, by design, was intended to attract broadcast media coverage, print interest was very positive including an exclusive placement in the Chicago Tribune, “On Marketing, Inc.” column written by George Lazarus, which ran the day of the press conference as well as placements in other major dailies such as Omaha World Herald, Chicago Sun-Times and the Daily Herald. B-roll footage was also captured and distributed via satellite later that day. Based on the B-roll feeds (conducted twice on the day of the press conference) and the attendance of Chicago-based camera crews, television placements ran from coast to coast – resulting in more than 40 television stories. Some of the broadcast placements included KTLA (Los Angeles); WXTV (New York), WGN, WFLD, WLS, WMAQ (Chicago); WSCV (Miami); and KXLN (Houston) among others. In total the initiative garnered 10,643,378 impressions. And, most importantly, 100% of the broadcast media placements featured Sosa swinging his “giant” branded snacking spoon.