Catfish, Clients, Hacks, And Flacks: A PR War Story

Posted on June 6, 2014


Some Rights Reserved by Zach Frailey

What Is Your Best Corporate Communications Agency War Story?

I worked for the Catfish Institute and it was a great account, said social communications expert and author Gini Dietrich in our interview*.

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Everybody gives me that look when I say, “It was a great account to work on.” The president was a really good friend. We had worked together previously and we had a great relationship. Still do. Our job as the PR firm that specialize in food was to get people to order catfish when dining at white tablecloth restaurants. The challenge was that Catfish is known as a bottom feeder. It dwells on the bottom of the river. It eats mostly aquatic insects, small crayfish, other invertebrates, and whatever happens to be in the river, the catfish eats it.

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Celebrity Chefs To Use Catfish

Ten years ago, instead of growing cotton and tobacco, these farmers created catfish farms. And they fed the catfish at the top of the water so that they weren’t able to go to the bottom of the tanks. They were full enough by the time they got fed that they wouldn’t have to go down and feed on the bottom. This produced a clean tasty fish. This is important since anything that you cook with catfish, it takes on that flavor. If you’re using herbs or spices, it takes on those flavors.

We created a campaign to get celebrity chefs to use catfish on their menus. Then there was a contest and it was a ton of fun. A lot of really fun stuff in New York with the food editors. We worked with Bobby Flay and Elizabeth Terry and Emeril. It was a really fun account to work on, but there was this issue with the Japanese bringing catfish into the U.S. And selling them under market value. It’s called dumping. Even worse, the Japanese were calling it U.S.-farm raised catfish. They would just place a label on it saying it had been raised in the U.S., but it actually was Japanese and shipped to the U.S.

60 Minutes Come Knocking

There was a big regulatory and lobbying effort to stop the Japanese dumping. From the consumer perspective, part of our job was to really educate people about what is meant to be farm raised in the U.S. We conducted a media tour. During this we get a call from 60 Minutes. They say that 60 Minutes would love to visit the catfish farms. Love to see what this U.S. catfish farming is about. They want to do an in-depth story.

As you know 60 minutes is usually producing some sort of investigative report. We were happy to talk about catfish and how the client raised it, as they said that was the story they wanted to do, but if they wanted to talk about the Japanese dumping, we were legally prohibited from doing that. Besides, we felt that could eclipse the story we wanted to have told.

The Big Deal Media Trainers From DC

In case that was the situation we brought in the big gun media trainers to train the executives. We flew in these big gun media trainers from DC to Mississippi. I was there to make sure we could stay on message regarding the consumer perspective. I got to sit in the meeting. Three days of media training. Three days.

We went through everything. U.S. farm raised catfish, bottom dwellers, the whole thing. Over and over and over again. If it comes up, here’s how you need to answer it…we can’t answer because we’re under legal obligation…we cannot answer any of the Japanese dumping issues right now because there’s legal issues….

I’m ready For My Close-Up, Mr. Safer.”

60 Minutes comes. They spend a couple of days. It was great. It was like the pinnacle of my career. As they are packing up and leaving, 60 Minutes getting on the elevator, the president says, literally as their stepping onto the elevator to leave, “I’m so glad you didn’t ask me about the Japanese.”

Cameras have been put away. Microphones have been put away and they were literally getting on the elevator. That’s what he said. And of course, guess what the story was about? It wasn’t about the two days that we just spent on the catfish farms and raising healthy, tasty fish. Nope. It was all about the Japanese dumping issues.

Remember, Kids. When talking to a journalist, you are NEVER off the record.

* This is an excerpt from my interview of Gini Dietrich on PR And Communications For The New Century.

 Watch My 35 Minute Interview: PR And Communications For The New Century with Gini Dietrich

Interviewed:

Gini Dietrich @ginidietrich
CEO Arment Dietrich
Author Spinsucks book and blog.
Co-author Marketing in the Round (with Geoff Livingston.)
 

About The Author
Steve Farnsworth is a Demand Generation Strategist for The @Steveology Group: A Content Marketing agency that drive sales and dominate markets for high tech B2B. You can contact Steve or connect with him on Twitter as @Steveology.