The Inside Story
PR: News Media Outreach
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Knowing what journalists think is the first step; the second is changing the way they think. Through the 1950s, the industry employed Hill & Knowlton, one of the nation's largest and most powerful public relations firms. In 1961, CMA decided even more resources and more aggressive tactics were needed.
CMA's Public Relations Advisory Committee reported with concern a series of "strong articles favoring the demand for stricter pollution control," and warned of "a possible increase of authoritative power . . . in water and air pollution control." (view entire document) More PR staff and more targeted messages were recommended "to protect against the financial burdens of meeting unrealistic demands in pollution control." In particular, the report said, the industry must reach out to women:
In 1979, the industry launched a major advertising and PR campaign called the Chemical Industry Communications Action Program, or ChemCAP. The most prominent weapon of the PR offensive was the Science Advisory Group (SAG), a team of scientists employed by CMA companies and recruited to speak as "the authoritative voice" of the chemical industry. As the ChemCAP proposal notes, "public and media believe scientists more than business people." (view entire document)
This wasn't a new strategy. In 1972, a CMA subcommittee on air quality had proposed paying scientists for their seal of approval:
The goal of the Scientific Advisory Group was to promote scientists who would vouch for the industry's concern about the "the safety of its products, workers, neighbors." (view entire document) To that end, CMA dispatched teams of scientists on media tours to targeted markets. SAG became a travelling road show and compiled a growing catalogue of news coverage, as reports from 1980, 1982 and 1987 show.
CMA also regularly provided spokespeople and interview facilities at the meetings of two target audiences: American Women in Radio and Television (AWRT) and the National Association of Farm Broadcasters. In 1982, CMA's Communications Committee proudly declared that "an estimated 15.6 million people received our message" as a result of interviews conducted at the AWRT meeting. In 1982, the Committee again reported success: (view entire document)
The SAG program also targeted newspaper editorial pages. In a six-month period in 1984, CMA arranged 78 editorial board meetings on Superfund issues. (view entire document) In only four months in 1987, CMA representatives met with 250 editorial boards. (view entire document)
CMA began broadcasting "newsfeed" via satellite in 1983. (view entire document) By 1988, long before the practice became common among other industries and interest groups, CMA was distributing by satellite a program called Newsline. CMA used its access to politicians, scientists and opinion leaders to provide content for "free and unrestricted use" to local broadcast affiliates with time to fill in their newscasts (view entire document). Newsline was promoted heavily with "satellite news advisories." (view entire document)(view entire document)(view entire document)
The industry has used a similar approach for radio, producing "The Report," "a series of ten stories on five topics, all having to do with health, safety, and the environment." (view entire document) Every two weeks, CMA would mail a new taped program to more than 3,000 radio stations, free "content" for many small stations.
Influencing news coverage wasn't enough. A 1981 ChemCAP memo, decrying the "adverse use of chemical situations" in "TV docu-dramas and other entertainment programs", recommended hiring "expert consultants" to find "a course of remedial action." (view entire document) The following year, the Communications Committee reported:
last updated: march.27.2009