Foster Farms-Fineman PR Turkey-Pardon Campaign the Biggest in the Poultry Company's 70-year History

By Jim Bucci

When client Foster Farms was handed the honor of raising the Presidential turkeys to be pardoned by President Obama during Thanksgiving at the White House Rose Garden, Fineman PR viewed the opportunity as a chance promote a larger message and create a wealth of coverage surrounding the pardon, more than had even been generated before.

Tasked with developing a PR campaign to raise the visibility of Foster Farms’ role in raising the Presidential turkeys, Fineman launched a comprehensive four-month education program to reinforce the important role California agriculture played in national food production and raise awareness of the Presidential Pardon and Foster Farms’ commitment to raising healthy, premium, quality birds.

“We saw an opportunity to increase awareness about Foster Farms commitment to growing quality turkeys, its role in raising the presidential flock and highlight the importance of California agriculture on the national landscape,” said Michael Kellner, group supervisor and senior media strategist at Fineman PR. “We also saw the chance to improve on the previous coverage for the Presidential Pardon.”

The program began in July 2010, and included a tour of the Foster Farms turkeys from the Presidential Flock into the classrooms of nine West Coast elementary schools, providing the school children and teachers with an up-close look at the birds.

The campaign ended up becoming the biggest PR program in the 70-year history of Foster Farms, captured the attention of the national news media and the nation and surpassed all past coverage for the Presidential Pardon.

The Challenge: Deliver a PR campaign that exceeds all previous coverage for the Presidential Pardon. Last year, Butterball, who handled the turkeys for the Presidential Pardon, generated only a handful of stories regarding the pardon. Fineman and Foster Farms desired to attract more eyeballs by developing a first-of-its-kind program. They wanted to promote a larger message, one that not only included the pardon and its historic tradition dating back to 1947, but to highlight the role California agriculture played in national food production.

“Nothing this big had even been done before for the Presidential Pardon,” offered Kellner. “The challenge was how to pull this off, how to send out this message and make it newsworthy.”

The challenge was building a successful media relations campaign that supplemented the already successful, annual efforts of the National Turkey Federation. Fineman PR also sought to highlight the important role of agriculture in today’s society and educate the public about Foster Farms’ stringent practices in growing premium quality, safe turkeys while generating enthusiasm and regional pride for California-grown turkeys meeting the President.

“Once the National Turkey Federation saw the coverage, they were happy with it,” said Kellner. “They saw we wanted to spread the word about Foster Farms and its role in raising the birds for the pardon and at the last time educating school children and teachers about the importance of agriculture.”

The Strategy: Launch a three-pronged attack to spread the word about the Presidential Pardon, Foster Farms and the role of California agriculture. “We used a three-pronged effort,” Kellner said. “We wanted to raise awareness about the birds for the pardon, educate school kids and teachers about agriculture and the role of Foster Farms in raising the presidential flock.”

Beginning in July of 2010, the campaign started with a behind-the-scenes ranch tour, and continued with an elementary school curriculum developed in partnership with California and Washington Agriculture in the Classroom. Foster Farms toured turkeys from the Presidential Flock to several West Coast consumer events and nine elementary school assemblies and hosted a Presidential Turkey sendoff just prior to Thanksgiving at the historic Wellsford Road ranch in Modesto where the birds were raised.

Fineman also united Foster Farms with California and Washington Agriculture in the Classroom programs, creating customized elementary school curriculum and online blog posts about the growth of the presidential bird. Nearly 50 schools applied for a school assembly with brothers of the National Thanksgiving Turkey, of which nine were selected for personal visits and educational videos. From the start of the campaign to their White House sendoff, thousands of school children met the turkeys, learned about local agriculture and how Foster Farms raised those birds.

California schoolchildren were able to submit their suggestions for the official National Thanksgiving Turkey’s name through the California Agriculture in the Classroom website. More than 200 names were submitted, the winning submission from a Santa Barbara school’s second grade class, which was announced during the Presidential Pardoning Ceremony.

And the winning names for the pardoned turkeys were: Apple and Cider.

The Results: Presidential pardon campaign becomes the single biggest PR program in the 70-year history of Foster Farms, garners prestigious national media hits. The campaign earned approximately nine and a half hours of local and national broadcast coverage and more than 56 million print and online media impressions. National coverage included “CBS Evening News,” Associated Press, USA Today and regional outlets, such as the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News and Modesto Bee. More than 500 broadcast outlets throughout the country ran segments on the Presidential turkey visits.

Secrets of Success: Read on as Kellner offers more tips and explains why this campaign became the single biggest PR program in the 70-year history of Foster Farms.

  • Tell a great story to reel in your target audience. “PR professionals need to think about how they can make a story fun, engaging and worthy of following,” he offered. “Tell a great story that connects with your target audience. Create a compelling narrative around the brand. The National turkey campaign captured the public’s imagination, months before the President’s pardoning ceremony.”
  • Step into a journalist’s shoes. “With any effective [broadcast] media relations campaign, you need to keep in mind the media’s needs,” he said. “Put yourself in their shoes. The media are always on the lookout for a new story, a different angle or a fresh approach. Remember, the job is to make their job easier.”
  • Follow best media relations practices—you’ll become a trusted resource. “Never make promises to the media that you can’t keep,” he explained. “Nothing will ruin a media relationship faster than if you promise something you can’t deliver. Get them what they need in advance of their story and follow up on additional requests as soon as they make them. If you become a resource for journalists, they will eventually come to you with new story opportunities, rather than the other way around.”

Winner’s Profile: Fineman PR is a full service public relations agency specializing in Brand PR and crisis communications. The agency works in a variety of industries including food and beverage, consumer package goods, healthcare and higher education. It’s also known for its “Annual Top 10 PR Blunders List,” previously featured in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and Time Magazine.

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