Stung by product bans, legislative scrutiny and campaigns by activist groups that question the safety and health of plastic products, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. plans to launch a multiyear, Internet-based campaign early next year touting the benefits and sustainability of plastics and providing information to rebut what its officials view as misinformation.
The major thrust of the multifaceted campaign will be based on new media, using the Internet and vehicles like YouTube, Facebook and blogs to reach the 20- to 30-year-olds known as the Millennial Generation, and plastics industry employees.
The Internet strategy, as outlined in a request for proposals, includes launching and maintaining a blog on the sustainability and benefits of plastics, monitoring other blogs and actively participating in consumer-oriented discussion boards and blogs, producing and posting videos highlighting plastics' benefits on SPI's own Web site and on YouTube, creating a ``benefits of plastics'' page on Facebook or MySpace geared to the Millennial Generation, and establishing pages on Wikipedia on the sustainability or benefits of plastics.
The campaign also will include:
* The plastics benefits Web site, as well as fact sheets.
* Education of third-party allies and independent experts.
* Spokesperson training to use the master message track and talking points SPI plans to develop.
* Funding of third-party research on the energy efficiency and carbon footprint of common household plastic products vs. competing materials.
* A communication tool kit for the industry's 1.1 million employees.
``We are the right organization to lead'' this campaign, but ``we don't want to do it alone,'' SPI President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Carteaux said June 12 by phone. ``I absolutely want to work with the entire industry. This should not just be an SPI effort. This is an industry issue, not an SPI issue.''
The campaign, which SPI calls an industry promotion campaign, would be the first large-scale, image-building effort for the industry since the former American Plastics Council's 10-year, $250 million ``Plastics Make It Possible'' program. The goal of that program, which ended in 2005, was to increase the public favorability of plastics by 5 percentage points a year. APC was predecessor to the Arlington, Va.-based American Chemistry Council's plastics division.
There is a possibility that ACC's plastics division could partner with SPI on the new proposed campaign, Carteaux said.
``We have had very, very preliminary discussions'' with them, Carteaux said.
Steve Russell, managing director of ACC's plastics division, declined to comment on whether it would join SPI in the campaign. In a June 4 interview at ACC's annual meeting in Palm Desert, Calif., Russell said he was ``excited about several opportunities to work together with SPI.'' He specifically cited efforts in the communications area. ``Clearly, we are stronger together,'' he said.
ACC has its own $2.5 million campaign in California, focused on recycling and public education. It also has placed 529 recycling bins on 15 state beaches.
What Washington-based SPI's campaign will cost is unclear. Some global public relations firms have estimated the annual cost of such a campaign at $3 million to $5 million.
But Carteaux questioned that sum. ``We are not sure what the dollars are going to be yet,'' he said. ``There is no way to gauge it. We do not have a good enough gauge of the new media. We are going into this open-minded. We just know that one year is not going to get where we need to be.''
Carteaux said SPI's proposed media campaign ``can have the same impact'' as APC's campaign had - ``at a whole lot less cost.''
``This will not be any less effective,'' he said.
SPI would finance the campaign with internal funds, industry funds and possible contributions from partners and other associations.
Not everyone in SPI holds the same view as to the value of the proposed campaign.
``Spending $3 million to $5 million in that arena has no long-term benefit,'' said one longtime SPI member. Another source close to SPI said: ``This is a bottomless pit of money that will become, again, the industry's most divisive issue.''
But Carteaux said the timing is right and the campaign has the support of all three major industry councils within SPI. The initiative began with the Material Suppliers Council last fall, received board approval in March and is being led by the Communications & Marketing Advisory Committee, which helped develop an RFP that was sent to global public firms June 2.
SPI said it would have the proposals in hand July 10, choose three finalists by the end of that month and select a finalist in August. It would present its proposal to the executive board for budget approval in September.
``It's time we step up to the plate,'' said Al Damico of Daiken America Inc., who is CMAC chairman for SPI. ``I am delighted to lead the initiative to educate the public about plastics' many contributions to a sustainable world, thereby making them the materials of choice for a modern, more energy-efficient society.''
``There has been a void in the industry from a communications perspective on how we benefit from plastics,'' Carteaux said. `We need to let people know how we are part of the solution and not part of the problem.''
SPI Chairman Jim Buonomo agreed. ``The plastics industry is under attack today from all fronts, and the Millennial Generation is saturated with anti-plastics messages and represent our industry's future vitality,'' he said in an email.
``It's time that we shore up the negative publicity and educate the younger generation about how plastics contribute to modern life as well as to a more sustainable future,'' said Buonomo, who is chief financial officer and chief strategy officer at Nypro Inc. in Clinton, Mass.
According to the RFP, the campaign has four objectives:
*To position plastics as a material of choice.
* To gain balance in media coverage and in discussions among opinion leaders about the societal benefits of plastics.
* To promote the plastics industry's contributions to a sustainable world.
* To dispel myths and discredit junk-science claims regarding alternative materials, such as paper vs. plastics.
SPI also plans to enlist celebrity spokespersons to tout the benefits of plastics; identify and recruit third parties to endorse industry efforts and partners; leverage existing initiatives with allied partners; and educate third-party allies and independent experts to speak out in the media and at public forums to ``debunk myths and stress the importance of basing regulations on the best science available.''