Classic story about the challenges and frustrations of the publicity business in the April 28, 1997, edition of The Wall Street Journal.
Seems the James S. McDonnell Foundation, one of the nation’s leading philanthropic organizations, found it could not compete with M&Ms for press attention. The foundation mailed more than 500 press kits announcing a new program in which it wants to award research grants of $1 million each to young scientists working in fields such as astrophysics, genetics and cognition. Veterans of the publicity wars know the bottom line on that effort. Only the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (in the foundation’s hometown), the Associated Press and a local radio station picked up the story.
Later in the same week, the M&M/Mars Co. announced a new contest in which it would award $1 million prizes to anyone who found gray “imposter” candies in bags of M&Ms.
You guessed it. At least 200 television news programs reported on the contest, and the company told The Wall Street Journal it had not had time to total all of the print coverage it had received.
“Why does everyone know about the M&M?” asked Susan Fitzpatrick, program officer at the McDonnell Foundation. “But when it comes to some of the most important problems facing mankind, no one’s interested.”
Marshall Loeb, then editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, noted the news media has always been more interested in covering publicity stunts than worthy causes.
Allison Ward, president of a public relations firm in Miami, said the McDonnell Foundation remained her most challenging account because “selling research is a very difficult task.”