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June 3, 2011

HowMuchFish.com-Berman and Company PR Campaign Educates Consumers on the Benefits of Seafood Consumption

By: Jim Bucci

For decades, scientific experts have told us that the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in fish make it an amazing health food. Recent evidence has also emerged that these health benefits far outweigh any risks associated with consuming the trace amounts of mercury that have always been in seafood. Unfortnately, much of that advice has been drowned out by a handful of activists who've exploited understandable concerns about contamination in order to control a national debate about food safety.

As a result, Americans now eat far less seafood than the USDA's dietary guidelines recommend. Now, hardly any of us are getting an adequate supply of omega-3s. But, there hasn't been a single U.S. mercury poisoning case in the medical literature related to store-bought seafood. So, why all the worry?

In August of 2010, the Berman and Company-managed Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) commissioned the Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) to survey American women about seafood. A full 50% of respondents believed that "even though fish is full of important nutrients, mercury and other contaminants make it risky to eat," while 41% said that they "wish there was a simple Internet website to help me sort out the risks and benefits of eating more fish."

To educate Americans about the nutritional benefits and the risks of seafood consumption, CCF launched www.HowMuchFish.com. The website would host the only seafood calculator on the Internet, resolving the conflicting information about the health benefits and risks of eating fish.

"HowMuchFish.com is an excellent example of using the Internet to promote an issue advocacy message," states Sarah Longwell, director of communications at Berman and Company. "The fun, interactive seafood calculator lets consumers make healthy decisions by providing balanced and well-researched sources of information. HowMuchFish.com goes far beyond calculating the hypothetical risks of mercury, becoming a one-stop-shop for moms on the go, providing nutritional breakdowns of each species and links for easy-to-make seafood recipes."

The Challenge: Quell the concerns about mercury in seafood with balanced information on the risks and benefits of consumption: Over the years, environmental activists have sparked unnecessary fears regarding the dangers of mercury in America's seafood. Most Americans now eat far less seafood than the USDA dietary guidelines recommends, depriving themselves of necessary nutrients like omega-3s.

"The information at HowMuchFish.com is somewhat counter to what many mothers and moms-to-be have been told when it comes to the safety of seafood," explains Longwell.

In order to turn HowMuchFish.com in a success, the site provided a balanced take on the risks and benefits of seafood and allowed the consumer make an informed choice.

The Strategy: Launch HowMuchFish.com, home of the only seafood calculator on the Internet: To turn back the flow of fear-based information about seafood consumption, the Berman and Company managed Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) developed the website HowMuchFish.com, which would house the only online calculator to compute both the health risks and benefits of seafood consumption. The seafood calcular resolved the conflicting information about the health benefits and risks of eating fish.

Before promoting HowMuchFish.com, PR efforts identified and zeroed-in on the correct target audience, which proved to be an important campaign key. "This helped us aim our media promotion and advertising at publications and sites to mothers, or soon-to-be mothers, looking to feed themselves and their families nutritious meals," says Longwell.

In addition, the seafood calculator gave users a beneficial tool that was easy-to-use and filled with nutrition and health tips. The calculator also allowed users to directly interact with the campaign's message of promoting seafood's health benefits.

"We promoted the comprehensive seafood calculator through traditional and social media," says Longwell. "We sent a targeted press release and a multimedia mailing to women's health editors, pregnancy and new mother magazines, whose key demographics are health-conscious women 20-50 years old."

The easy-to-use calculator included the 24 most popular seafood species, representing 98% of the commercial seafood Americans eat. By using the website, seafood consumers could learn just how much their risk-benefit equation tilted in the direction of better health.

"To capture an online audience, we created a Facebook page with daily updates of seafood recipes and nutrition tips," continues Longwell. "We targeted our Facebook advertisements to the same group of 20-50 year old women, who are often the primary grocery store shopper in their household."

The Results: "HowMuchFish.com" campaign lands top-tier coverage in Woman's Day and important trade pubs: The campaign was featured in Woman's Day with a piece written by its health editor, while coverage in important trade presses included Seafood Source, Fish Information and Services, AquaFeed.com, Food CEO, Perishable News and Alaska Journal of Commerce. Additional coverage included Newport News Daily Press, CBS Cincinnait and NBC Minot, North Dakota.

The HowMuchFish.com website received 238,281 page views, while its Facebook page grew to 15,120 fans with 14,849 of those fans being women—the campaign's target audience. The Facebook page also generated over 1,500 comments and "likes." HowMuchFish.com was featured in a scientific session at the 2010 International Seafood and Health Conference in Melbourne, Australia.

Secrets of Success: Read on as Longwell offers more tips and explains why this campaign won Silver in "Best Use of the Internet—Business" at the 2011 Bulldog Awards for Excellance in Media Relations and Publicity.

  • Identify your target audience first, before taking any other steps. "The first important step in any campaign is to correctly identify your audience," she says. "By doing so, your overall message and campaign can be executed efficiently and effectively."
  • Develop a digital tool, which allows for interactive interaction with consumers. "Creating a digital tool, such as our online calculator, allows you to present your message in an entertaining and interactive manner," she explains. "Also, intertwining your message with eye-catching visuals allows users to better understand and interpret the information the website is giving them."
  • Don't veer away from countering widely-held notions. "Don't be afraid to challenge common assumptions," she urges. "For years, activists have maligned seafood, scaring many consumers to drastically reduce their consumption of the brain food. HowMuchFish.com successfully disputed these over-the-top claims by presenting fair and balanced information."

Winner's Profile: A research, communications, advertising and government affairs firm, Berman and Company is based in Washington, D.C. and includes professionals in the media, design, research and government relations fields.

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