While the industry was using NPE to pitch its products to customers, the American Plastics Council was taking advantage of the show to pitch plastics to a wider audience: morning television news viewers.
>From a balcony overlooking the show's South Hall, APC organized a satellite feed to morning news programs around the country June 26, touting plastic innovations like car body panels that don't need painting, biodegradable bags and digital video discs where the content degrades after 48 hours.
APC spokesman Rob Krebs appeared on camera on more than 20 television stations from Florida to California, mostly in smaller and midsize markets like Birmingham, Ala. Thursday's effort did snag an early morning appearance on CNN.
The segments were short and carefully scripted - an enthusiastic Krebs generally got about two minutes, which he used to introduce NPE, talk about the seven miles of exhibitor aisles running through Chicago's McCormick Place, and tout new plastic developments that would interest consumers.
It's the first time APC has done this at NPE, although the group does similar satellite media hookups once or twice a month.
Those events, which APC calls ``earned media,'' started several years ago and generally do not promote plastics so overtly. They may focus on a topic like water safety or blood banks or the role of plastics in protecting soldiers, and feature experts other than Krebs acting as the on-air talent, like the American Red Cross or a military journalist hired by APC's production firm.
While the NPE effort was more straightforward, the executive producer of the segment said it is challenging to translate an industry event to a consumer audience.
Pier Paolo Piccoli, co-president of APC's production company, Plus Media Inc. in New York, said the group arrived at NPE Tuesday without having any clear idea of what products it would focus on. He and Krebs said the show's organizer, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. of Washington, was very helpful.
APC had to find content that morning news stations would find interesting. Even with agreements set in advance, news producers can back out at the last minute if they don't like the content. In this case, what interests them is the technology, Piccoli said.
``The payback is the innovation - the fact that you have a car that doesn't need to get painted,'' Piccoli said. ``We have to give them something to chew on.'' APC considers the news segments part of its $20 million-per-year image advertising campaign. APC can reach millions of viewers with the news feeds, which usually echo the same message as its ad campaigns - the health and safety benefits of plastics.
The satellite media tours at times do address more political topics that the ads avoid, like recycling. APC tries to target the recycling efforts to parts of the country where environmental questions loom larger, like the Northeast, Wisconsin and Minnesota and the West Coast, Krebs said.
APC will tout its ``all bottles'' recycling program, for example, which encourages consumers to scour their homes for bottles to recycle in their curbside bins, Krebs said. But APC's efforts do not mention the money the Arlington, Va., trade association spends fighting bottle bills and recycling legislation favored by environmentalists.
APC did use the NPE effort to work in some environmental messages, such as promoting the role of plastics in the development of fuel-cell technology and how plastics can be molded with color for use in car body panels, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions from painting in the factory.
However, one product APC featured Thursday - the DVD that erases itself - has been criticized as environmentally wasteful because it is designed to be used for only two days. APC said the discs are recyclable.
Krebs said the TV effort works well for APC.
``It allows us to target our message geographically [and] it allows us to get buy-in from the anchor, which adds credibility,'' Krebs said. ``It allows us to speak live and know that the message is placed, and it does it in a much more cost-effective way.''
Krebs closed the segments by invoking the well-known line from the movie The Graduate, where Dustin's Hoffman's character is given some career advice to pursue plastics.
While the line was intended at the time to satirize falseness in society, it appears to have been comfortably adopted by the industry's image meisters.
``Rick,'' Krebs said to one TV journalist as the interview ended, ``One last word for you - plastics.''