A shrinking membership base and a tight economy have forced the American Plastics Council to slash advertising spending by almost 50 percent this year, to $10 million, as it prepares to integrate its ads into a larger campaign to boost the faltering image of the chemical industry.
Starting next year, the 12-year-old APC campaign will be folded into a new effort being launched by the American Chemistry Council, APC's parent group.
The cuts come after six of APC's 23 member firms left the group last year, and as ACC trims its budget and frees up cash for its own image effort.
ACC spokeswoman Kathleen Ambrose said the joint plastics and chemicals campaign is looking to spend about $20 million a year, which is about what the plastics campaign has spent on its own in each of the past few years.
She said details of the integration, including how much will be spent on plastics, have not been determined - but reflecting the tight economy, it will be considerably less than the $30 million to $40 million ACC officials were talking about last summer.
APC President Rod Lowman said national plastics television advertising will halt in September.
``It means the end of an APC-sponsored campaign, but there will be a plastic component to the broader ACC campaign,'' he said.
APC has spent more than $250 million since 1992, aiming to keep the public opinion of plastic at or above that of competing materials. Sentiment is measured in twice-yearly polls. Industry officials said they believe the campaign subtly inoculates industry from public and legislative pressure by making the benefits of plastic more prominent. That's what the chemical industry hopes to imitate.
The decision to cut spending is not without risk. When APC made a much less-drastic cut in ad spending to $17 million a year in the mid-1990s, favorability ratings dropped and APC quickly boosted funding.
Lowman, however, believes things are different now.
Currently, approval ratings for plastics are at an all-time high, and Lowman said he believes positive public opinion is deeply entrenched. Plus, he said, there has not been a surge in negative media coverage of the industry, in contrast to earlier periods.
``We think through 2004 the favorability should stay pretty good,'' Lowman said.
Ambrose said ACC will take the summer to develop specific plans. ACC and APC share many member companies and do not want to see the plastics image suffer, she said, adding that the joint campaign could continue to use the same plastics ads.
Chemical industry officials are anxious to repeat APC's success in boosting their industry's poor public image. Currently, ACC research says the public ranks the chemical industry just above nuclear power and managed health care.
Advertising is not the only area of APC's budget facing cuts. The group's overall budget this year will be $20 million, down from $36.8 million last year, Lowman said.
``It's been a little bit from everywhere. There's not one big program that's changed,'' he said.
He declined to detail the cuts, but said the group is slowing spending in areas like building and construction programs. The staff will remain at 15, he said. APC essentially contracts with ACC for other services, like state lobbying, where it remains involved but is seeing fewer threats for plastics.
``The overall level of that activity has changed because plastics are not under attack,'' Lowman said.