]]]]]]]]      HOW A PR FIRM EXECUTED THE ALAR SCARE    [[[[[[[[[[
                                                      (3/10/1989)
    [From The Wall Street Journal, 3 October 1989, p. A22:4]

          [Kindly uploaded by Freeman 10602PANC]

   After  this  year's stir  over  use  of the  chemical  Alar on
apples, political publicist  David Fenton celebrated  the work of
his firm in a lengthy memo  to interested parties.  He wrote of a
``sea change in  public opinion'' that  has ``taken place because
of a carefully planned  media campaign, conceived and implemented
by  Fenton  Communications  with  the  Natural  Resources Defense
Council.'' Extracts are printed below:

   In the past two months, the American public's knowledge of the
dangers  of  pesticides  in  food  has  been  greatly  increased.
Overnight,  suppliers  of  organic produce  cannot  keep  up with
demand.   Traditional  supermarkets  are  opening  pesticide-free
produce sections. ...
   The campaign  was based  on NRDC's  report ``Intolerable Risk:
Pesticides in Our Children's Food.'' Participation by the actress
Meryl Streep was another essential element.
   Usually,  public interest  groups  release similar  reports by
holding a news conference, and the result is a few print stories.
Television coverage is rarely  sought or achieved.  The intensity
of exposure  created by  design for  the NRDC  pesticide story is
uncommon in the non-profit world.
   Our goal was  to create so many  repetitions of NRDC's message
that average  American consumers  (not just  the policy  elite in
Washington) could  not avoid  hearing it  -- from  many different
media outlets within  a short period  of time.  The  idea was for
the ``story''  to achieve  a life  of its  own, and  continue for
weeks and months to affect policy and consumer habits. Of course,
this had to be achieved with extremely limited resources.
   In most  regards, this goal  was met.  A  modest investment by
NRDC re-paid itself  many-fold in tremendous  media exposure (and
substantial, immediate  revenue for  future pesticide  work).  In
this  sense,  we  submit  this  campaign  as  a  model  for other
non-profit organizations.
   Media coverage included two segments on CBS 60 Minutes [26 Feb
and 14  May], the covers  of Time  [6 Mar] and  Newsweek [30 Jan]
(two stories in  each magazine), the  Phil Donahue show, multiple
appearances on Today, Good Morning  America and CBS This Morning,
several  stories  on  each  of  the  network  evening  newscasts,
MacNeil/Lehrer, multiple  stories in  the N.Y.  Times, Washington
Post, L.A. Times  and newspapers around  the country, three cover
stories  in  USA Today,  People,  four women's  magazines  with a
combined  circulation  of  17  million  (Redbook,  Family Circle,
Women's Day  and New Woman),  and thousands of  repeat stories in
local media around the nation and the world. ...
   Consumer  feedback  devices  were  built  into  the  campaign,
including self-published  book sales and  the first use  of a 900
phone number by a non-profit group. ...

                      Planning the Campaign

   In  October  of  1988  NRDC  hired  Fenton  Communications  to
undertake  the  media campaign  for  its report.  ...  The report
marked the first time  anyone -- inside government  or out -- had
calculated children's actual exposure  levels to carcinogenic and
neurotoxic  pesticides.   The  study  showed  one  of  the  worst
pesticides to  be daminozide, or  Alar, used  primarily on apples
and peanuts. ...
   [L]ast fall, Meryl Streep contacted  NRDC, asking if she could
assist  with some  environmental projects.   Ms. Streep  read the
preliminary  results  of  the  study and  agreed  to  serve  as a
spokesperson for it. ...
   It was agreed that one  week after the study's release, Streep
and  other prominent  citizens  would announce  the  formation of
NRDC's  new project,  Mothers  and Others  for  Pesticide Limits.
This group would direct citizen  action at changing the pesticide
laws,  and help  consumers  lobby for  pesticide-free  produce at
their grocery stores.
   The separation of  these two events  was important in ensuring
that  the  media would  have  two  stories, not  one,  about this
project.   Thereby,   more  repetition  of   NRDC's  message  was
guaranteed.
   As the report was being finalized, Fenton Communications began
contacting various media.  An agreement  was made with 60 Minutes
to  ``break''  the   story  of  the   report  in  late  February.
Interviews  were also  arranged  several months  in  advance with
major  women's  magazines  like Family  Circle,  Women's  Day and
Redbook (to appear in mid-March).  Appearance dates were set with
the Donahue  Show, ABC's Home  Show, double  appearances on NBC's
Today show and other programs.

                      Releasing the Report

   On February 26th CBS 60 Minutes broke the story to an audience
of 40  million viewers.  ... The next  morning, NRDC  held a news
conference attended  by more  than 70  journalists and  12 camera
crews.
   Concurrently, NRDC  coordinated local  news conferences  in 12
cities around the country also releasing the report. ...

                  Announcing Mothers and Others

   On March  7 Meryl Streep  held a Washington  new conference to
announce the formation of NRDC's Mothers and Others for Pesticide
Limits.  She was  joined by board  members including pediatrician
Dr. T  Berry Brazelton,  National PTA  President Manya  Unger and
Wendy Gordon Rockefeller of NRDC.
   Coverage of  Mothers and Others  that week  included USA Today
(cover); The Today Show on NBC; The Phil Donahue Show (10 million
viewers);  Women's  Day  (6  million  copies  sold);  Redbook  (4
million);  Family  Circle  (6  million);  Organic  Gardening (1.5
million);  New Woman  (1.7 million);  People Magazine;  USA TODAY
Television  (200  markets);  Entertainment  Tonight  (18  million
viewers); ABC's HOME Show (3 million viewers); Cable News Network
and numerous radio networks,  newspaper chains, broadcast chains,
wire services and other media around the nation.
   In addition, we  arranged for Meryl  Streep and Janet Hathaway
of NRDC to grant  16 interviews by satellite  with local tv major
market anchors. ...
   In the ensuing weeks, the controversy kept building.  Articles
appeared  in  food  sections of  newspapers  around  the country.
Columnists and  cartoonists took  up the  story.  MacNeil/Lehrer,
the New York Times and  Washington Post did follow-up stories, as
did  the  three  network  evening  programs  and  morning  shows.
Celebrities  from  the  casts of  L.A.  Law  and thirty-something
joined NRDC for a Los Angeles news conference.
   Soon school  systems began banning  apples (which  is not what
NRDC intended or recommended).  Three federal agencies (EPA, USDA
and FDA)  issued an unusual  joint statement  assuring the public
that apples were  safe (although to children  who consume a great
deal, these assurances are not entirely true).
   Then, by coincidence, two Chilean Grapes were found laced with
cyanide [2  March], and  a story  which had  been building anyway
went further.   Newsweek and  Time did  additional stories  -- on
both covers the same week -- about the safety of the food system,
with more coverage of the NRDC report.
   And  the industry  struck  back.  NRDC's  credibility  was, as
expected,  questioned by  industry ``front  groups'' such  as the
American Council  on Science  and Health.   A major  corporate pr
firm,  Hill and  Knowlton, was  hired for  $700,000 by  the apple
growers, which also put forward  a $2 million advertising budget.
Stories began appearing (including a Washington Post cover piece)
saying  that the  levels  of Alar  in  apples were  below federal
standards, and  charging the  media with  exaggerating the story.
This missed the whole point of  the study -- that children ingest
so many apples for their size  that the legal federal standard is
unsafe. ...
   Usually,  it takes  a significant  natural disaster  to create
this much sustained news  attention for an environmental problem.
We believe this  experience proves there are  other ways to raise
public  awareness  for the  purpose  of moving  the  Congress and
policymakers.

      [The following is not part of the original article.]

Ames, Bruce N., Gold, Lois Swirsky. ``Pesticides, Risk, and
   Applesauce'', Letters, Science 244:755-757 (19 May 1989).
Ames, Bruce  N. ``Dr. Bruce  Ames Rebuts  CBS'', Priorities, Fall
   1989, pp. 38-39.
   Reprint of letter  of 29 June  1989 sent by  Bruce Ames to Don
   Hewitt,  Executive   Producer,  60   MINUTES,  concerning  the
   distorted and  dishonest treatment of  Ames in  the 60 Minutes
   program broadcast on 14 May 1989.  Priorities is a publication
   of the American Council on  Science and Health, 1995 Broadway,
   16th Floor, New York, NY, (212) 362-7044.
Jukes, Thomas H. ``Alar and Apples'', Letters, Science 244:515
   (5 May 1989).
Randolph, Eleanor. ``Getting Noticed Is Only Half the Battle'',
   The Washington Post, 3 March 1989, p. A17:3.
   Piece on  the NRDC's  maneuvering for  maximum media exposure;
   mentions Fenton.
Whelan, Elizabeth M.  1989, ``When Full  Disclosure Is Beside the
   Point'', The Wall Street Journal, 22 August, p. A14:3.
   ``[W]hat it boils down  to is that no  source of funding would
   be acceptable to  ACSH'S critics.  What  our critics object to
   is  not our  funding  -- but  our  conclusions.  If  the money
   rained  on  us  from  heaven  above,  it  would  be considered
   polluted or  acidic. ...  When you  raise questions  about the
   safety of industrial products,  it is easy to  win a debate --
   you  don't even  have to  get  to the  science; just  say your
   opponent is funded by industry.''

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[Sysop's note: Compare this with the Washington PR creeps Porter 
& Novelli who for a consideration of $200,000 organized "Nuclear 
Winter," see AtE June 1984.]


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