Case Study: Louisiana Seafood Newsroom – A Crisis of Perception for The Louisiana Seafood Board

by / Newsroom Ink on 02/13/2011

Alligator, crawfish, shrimp and oysters are just a few of the industries that comprise Louisiana seafood; a $2.4 billion industry employing more than 27,000 in the bayou state.

When the first news flash crossed the wires of a BP oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, Ewell Smith, director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, knew his industry had a potential problem. When the Deepwater Horizon rig sunk into the gulf waters, Smith realized he had a full-blown crisis on his hands.

Smith and his Seafood Board were no strangers to a crisis. Having faced two hurricanes, that almost completely destroyed the Louisiana seafood industry, Smith started managing the crisis, even before the remnants of the Deepwater Horizon reached the gulf floor.

“Hurricanes Katrina and Rita almost destroyed our industry,” explained Smith. “With Katrina a majority of our fishing fleet was lost or damaged, and Rita completely wiped out ice-houses essential for the fishing industry.”

The 2005 decimation of the Louisiana seafood industry and the five-year struggle to recover its previous stature in the seafood industry; led Smith to immediately put the board’s crisis plan into effect.

“While the Deepwater Horizon was sinking into the gulf, I was on the phone to our board, fisherman, processors, legislators and chefs explaining the potential problems and getting everyone on-board with messaging,” Smith said.

As the world’s media started to gather in New Orleans, the Seafood Board realized it needed a new tool to have a more active voice in getting its story heard. The rapid dissemination of information, as well as the media’s focus on the capping of the spilling oil, led to the creation of LouisianaSeafoodNews.com.

“We realized that the initial attention being given to BP and the capping of the well was hampering our ability to get our story told. We needed to have the public informed about seafood safety, as well as the potential dangers the spill could have on the Louisiana fishing industry,” said Smith. “After receiving funds from BP to aid the industry, we were inundated with calls by PR firms and other agencies offering their services. One call stood out above the rest, the initiation of an online newsroom.”

Objectives:

  • Deliver a continuous flow of human-interest stories to catch the interest of mainstream media.
  • Generate significant awareness of suffering within the seafood industry to get a sizable financial settlement from BP and other responsible parties.
  • Underscore a favorable brand image and trust in Louisiana seafood
  • Position Louisiana politically as one of America’s most important resources for fresh seafood.

According to Smith, “the newsroom gave us a voice at a time we needed to be heard. It got us noticed by CNN, Fox, ABC, the BBC and others.” The newsroom also became intertwined into the Seafood Board’s effort to combat negative consumer and industry perception of Louisiana seafood.

The Seafood Board started weekly conference calls with key stakeholder groups that included all members of the seafood Louisiana seafood industry; and state and national regulatory commissions that included NOAA, EPA and the FDA. The online newsroom regularly reported stories on all agencies involved in the crisis and the events they jointly held throughout Louisiana.

With the creation of the online newsroom, the Louisiana Seafood Board had a tool that aided in forging relationships with The White House, internationally known chefs and even the oil industry itself.

Results:

  • Heightened media attention. Major news organizations — including CNN, BBC, CBS News, NBC News and PBS News Hour — have used story content from the site that was guided in editorial tone and direction, often referencing information on the newsroom.
  • Major television news organizations have downloaded and used broadcast-quality HD news video produced for the newsroom.
  • More than 3,000 people worldwide visit the newsroom each day. The news site regularly ranks in the top 70,000 most popular websites in the United States, as measured by Alexa.com.
  • The Louisiana Seafood Board received a $30-million dollar settlement from BP, which cited awareness generated by the newsroom.

Perception continues to be a key concern for the Seafood Board. Smith and the board realize the importance in establishing relationships with key influencers both inside and outside of Louisiana. They also fully understand the key obstacle Louisiana seafood faces over the upcoming years is the safety perception of Louisiana seafood.

“LouisianaSeafoodNews.com will be an integral part of our communications program in the upcoming years,” said Smith after the program. “After Katrina it took us more than two years to build our brand back to the stature it once had, this is going to be a much tougher job. The important thing is that the people of Louisiana know how to overcome a crisis, we will get through this one also!”

 


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