The plastics industry's advertising campaign could merge with a new effort on behalf of the chemical industry as soon as next year.
Officials with American Chemistry Council and its American Plastics Council unit say research shows that combining the efforts could be done without damaging public opinion gains made by the decade-long plastics program.
``If it's done well, you can convey the right messages so you don't hurt plastics,'' APC President Rod Lowman said.
A top APC official also acknowledged that tight budgets at the trade groups make the idea more attractive.
ACC plans to trim about 20 percent of its $60 million budget over the next three years. APC also is trimming its advertising spending for next year and may have to make other budget cuts in early 2004. APC's ad spending is not included in the $60 million figure, which encompasses ACC's core staff and long-range research spending.
The spending issue is difficult because of the sometimes-contradictory goals of ACC companies. Companies are anxious to boost the chemical industry's dismal public image with a multimillion-dollar campaign, similar to the $19 million-a-year APC campaign that has helped plastics. Yet ACC and APC companies are equally anxious, in the midst of the economic slump, to cut their trade association spending.
When ACC unveiled its plans in the summer, it talked in broad terms about eventually bringing the ACC and APC campaigns together. But new research done since then let ACC staff present a redesigned strategy to ACC companies at an Oct. 26 board meeting in Houston.
``We brought forward to Houston a redesigned strategy where you would form one integrated campaign,'' said Kathleen Ambrose, ACC's acting vice president for communications and head of its new public outreach campaign. ``You would address and keep up the plastics ratings to the extent you can with what dollars are available, and at the same time building out the larger'' chemical industry campaign, she said.
Lowman said ACC and APC have overlapping memberships and do not want to harm the image of plastics. He also said APC ad planners have become better at targeting their spending to maintain gains.
Some plastics industry executives are concerned that the image of plastics, which scores favorably with the public in industry research, would be tarnished by closer association with chemicals, which ranks much worse.
Lowman and Ambrose said in a Nov. 3 interview that details of the integration have yet to be worked out, but ACC hopes to take it up again at a board meeting in January. Lowman said that as APC moves forward with spending cuts in its own ad program for next year, it wants to make sure ``that it doesn't preclude moving forward later in the year with a single campaign.''
The resignation of three large members in recent months has forced APC to reduce ad spending for next year, Lowman said. Lyondell Chemical Co., Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. LP and Huntsman Corp. left because they felt ACC was not effectively representing the industry and because they were concerned that the merger of ACC and APC did not produce enough savings.
APC launched its latest round of advertisements in June. Ambrose said the group still will use the plastics ads for its mass-media effort, since they are designed to run through 2005 and have worked very well. Lowman said the ads may have different words or text put in when the campaigns integrate.
``A couple of years from now, we'd hope to go out with more chemistry-centric messages in addition, but they would always be a very small portion because they are not the be-all end-all,'' Ambrose said. ``Plastics messages would probably still take up the bulk.''
The nascent chemicals campaign would be very different from the plastics effort.
The bulk of the plastics program is mass media aimed at the consumer, mostly in its television ads. ACC, however, envisions targeting its efforts first at employees, the communities around chemical plants and opinion leaders.
The ACC campaign would rely heavily on the Internet, and promote specific messages about the industry, such as its safety record or that it is the largest exporter in the United States. It would be broader than strictly an image campaign, according to Ambrose.
While ACC contemplates bringing the image campaigns together, there have been some signs that the broader merger of ACC and APC has not gone according to plan. In its resignation letter, Lyondell said ACC had ``lost its focus on plastics programs.'' A Huntsman spokesman, Don Olson, said he thinks the group lost focus on plastics.
``It just seems like the whole organization of APC and everything was just swallowed,'' Olson said. ``Maybe we just naively assumed that everything that did happen with plastics would continue to happen with plastics.''
Lowman disagreed. He said APC has maintained its focus, with its image campaign at record-high favorability and the group doing strong work in automotive and construction markets.
He said APC last year shifted responsibility for monitoring health-related public issues for plastics in nondurable applications, such as packaging, over to ACC's health team, as its members wanted. Still, the non-durables work has gone well, Lowman said.
APC has cut overall spending from $41.9 million a year in 2001 to $36.8 million this year. And the merger has produced more than the $5 million in savings originally estimated, Lowman said.
``I think we've checked the boxes that [member companies] wanted us to do,'' he said. ``We can show that those dollar costs to the industry have gone down, and the merger was directly responsible for the vast majority of the reduction.''