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PR: Measuring Public Opinion

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As early as 1951-52, the Manufacturing Chemists Association, predecessor of CMA, and ACC commissioned the Public Opinion Research Corp. to track public attitudes. (view entire document) As the pseudo-science of polling grew more sophisticated, so did CMA's public opinion efforts.

By 1979, CMA had outlined a research plan fit for Madison Avenue that included focus groups to test the appeal of all proposed public relations and advertising messages and ongoing polling of both the general public and specialized target audiences including government, "political actives," "communicators," educators, and regions with major chemical operations. (view entire document) For these efforts CMA proposed spending more than $6 million a year (adjusted for inflation). (view entire document)

A 1988 polling and focus group proposal by CMA's "Public Perception Committee" illustrates the depth of the industry's research effort. Up to 3,000 Americans in six cities would be interviewed for a full hour to find out what they knew and thought about chemicals and chemical risks. (view entire document)

By 1990, CMA's specialized targeting had expanded to 10 key audiences: (view entire document)

  • Chemical industry employees
  • Local activists
  • Federal officials
  • National public interest groups
  • Educators and students
  • Plant communities
  • Local and state officials
  • News media
  • Shareholders and analysts
  • General public

At a 1991 CMA directors meeting, advertising and PR consultants explained in detail the development, rollout and followup of a new ad campaign, offering specific message objectives, demographic targets, and saturation goals. (view entire document)

CMA not only tracked public opinion to determine what issues Americans were concerned about, but also the spin that should be employed when talking about those issues - whether it accurately represented the industry's actions or not. Before CMA unveiled its "Responsible Care" campaign in 1990, in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of Earth Day, every aspect of the program was test-marketed. The campaign emphasized a "commitment to improve performance" because CMA knew from polling and focus groups that such a message would be "the strongest message the industry can deliver." (view entire document)

Since the 1970s, CMA has also used polling to measure the opinions of journalists and news media executives. A 1980 report noted with alarm that "media leaders rated the chemical industry as the least truthful" of the six industries tested. (view entire document) CMA researched the reading habits of "media opinion leaders," finding that the most effective way to communicate the industry message would be through Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Washington Post,and The Wall Street Journal. (view entire document)

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last updated: march.27.2009

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