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Guest Column: MLMC 2023 marketing plan tackles negative news

Marianne LaCroix is the executive director of the MLMC.

In November, the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative (MLMC) Board of Directors met to discuss priorities and plans for 2023. Because legal disputes and suspension of sustainability certifications have heightened media scrutiny of the fishery, the group agreed that the Collaborative needs to focus on brand protection activities in the coming year. It also acknowledged that the marketing plan will have to be very targeted and efficient since 20% of the MLMC’s budget is being redirected to support the Maine Lobstering Union and Maine Lobstermen’s Association’s (MLA) legal fights.

The MLMC’s primary focus will be on protecting the Maine lobster brand by both countering negative information and amplifying positive stories. It’s not possible to eliminate all negative or unflattering media coverage, but we can help counter these inevitable negative impressions by using targeted digital marketing to ensure that our positive content appears alongside negative coverage. Our content can take the form of a video, digital ad or editorial that pops up before or next to negative coverage. This gives the targeted viewers an opportunity to see the Maine lobster fishery’s perspective on the issues at the same time they might be seeing more one-sided coverage.

We will also amplify positive editorial coverage through paid distribution so that it reaches more customers and consumers. These tactics will make sure that more people see positive coverage and that negative coverage is balanced by positive messages.

The MLMC will create more proactive public relations opportunities, hyper-targeted to reach large numbers of consumers through both national publications and publications in leading lobster consumption markets. We want to make sure that those most likely to buy Maine lobster remain confident in the fishery’s sustainability.

Earlier this year, we created the ‘Sustainability at Work’ video series (https://lobsterfrommaine.com/sustainability-at-work) to highlight right whale protections, general resource management, fishermen collaborating on scientific research, the importance of lobstering communities and other positive attributes of the fishery. In 2023, we will continue to push the videos out to consumers through digital advertising campaigns and paid social media amplification.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) suspended the Maine lobster fishery’s certification because of the court ruling that declared NMFS’ final rule and Biological Opinion invalid. In response, MLMC implemented proactive and reactive public relations outreach and armed the industry with a fact sheet about the issue. We also organized a December informational webinar for industry members and their customers.

While customers who require MSC certification as part of their procurement plan are likely to drop Maine lobster, we will continue to educate customers and consumers of its sustainability, particularly related to right whale protections.

In addition to these specific brand protection tactics, the MLMC will continue to share positive stories about Maine lobster and counter attacks throughout the year with ongoing public relations outreach, social media posts, media training for industry members, media planning for negative scenarios, and message coordination with different industry groups.

While right whale issues will form most of our marketing focus for 2023, the MLMC is also planning activities to promote product innovation and general awareness. We will bring a group of developers for consumer-packaged goods to Maine for a ‘Lobster Insiders’ tour. We will also continue to promote National Lobster Day and Maine Lobster Week at the end of September to increase awareness for the fall season. We will participate in Seafood Expo North America and will continue to work with Food Export Northeast and the Maine International Trade Center to promote Maine lobster in global markets. Finally, we will look for opportunities to cross-promote Maine lobster with organizations and brands that are aligned with our goals.

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