Making American Hardwoods
Fashionable in Europe:
The Role of Public Relations
By William P. Bomersheim
From the standpoint of marketers, itís better to be in the fashion business
than to sell humdrum old commodities. After all, people will pay good money to
get that special look. And even when a rival sells something comparable cheaper,
your customer can be convinced it just wouldnít be the same as your product.
This, basically, is the type of marketing edge that the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) is working to confer upon one of the oldest of commodities, hardwood.
AHECís continuing efforts to upgrade U.S. woodís appeal in Europe have recently caused eyes to pop and heads to turn. So it is no accident that U.S. hardwood exports to the European Union have been increasing nearly every year for the past decade. And the Year 2000 proved no exception, with U.S. hardwood lumber exports to the European Union projected to increase nearly 10 percent over 1999, topping $550 million.
U.S. hardwoods are not cheaper than the competitionĖand they are not even less expensive than in the past. In fact, this most recent export growth has occurred in an environment where it seems like each week, the Euro hits another all-time low and traders complain about the U.S. dollar appreciating more than 20 percent.
Given these constraints, how has AHEC been able to increase sales? The answer is PRĖ thatís public relations.
Or, in the words of David Venables, Director of the European office, "AHEC is in the fashion business."
Over the past several years, AHEC has targeted architects and designers for messages about Americaís hardwoods. Oh, sure, the folks at AHEC will tell you that they are promoting the wide range of unique American species and getting information out there about the unique qualities of each species. But there are literally hundreds of thousands of architects and designers to reach.
Lacking a huge advertising budget, such an enterprise requires dedicated creativity. After determining who the decision makers are and identifying its target audience, AHEC has had to learn what its target audience reads and how to get articles into these publications.
Once youíve done that, youíve gotten your feet wet. Now you have to have a story to tell.
AHEC has learned, for example, that journalists in the architectural press like to write about projects, and not just wood. Wood by itself is boring. But let a builder read about Berlinís newly designed Reichstag building, and why and how the architect chose to use American hardwoods, and youíve got that builderís attention.
HELPFUL HINT #1
Hence, one strategy AHEC has employed is to highlight projects of interest to the target audience.
It also helps if you make it easy for journalists to write about your subject. Many public relations firms recommend sending press releases to targeted media gatekeepers. But as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and a series of digitized photos might be worth even more. So. . .
HELPFUL HINT # 2
As a result, even when AHEC hasnít approached their target publications with a story, these magazines write about American Hardwoods or include them in their articles because it is so easy to use the pictures they already have.
Not only does AHEC send press releases when there is a specific story to tell, but AHEC has also provided key members of the press with CD-ROM photo libraries full of beautiful pictures of American Hardwoods to use anytime.
HELPFUL HINT # 3
Perhaps here, more than anywhere else, AHEC has excelled. This year, for example, AHEC unveiled its "wine bottle" campaign.
Public relations professionals have long held that it helps to organize your message around a creative campaign.
|Uncorking PR in
The American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) office in Europe has
determined that everything it does must be grounded in good public
relations, and that applies to event planning.
The author is an economist with the Foreign Agricultural Serviceís Forest and Fisheries Products Division. Tel.: (202) 720-0638; Fax: (202) 720-8461; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org