AK Steel campaign brings home the point about new coatings

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AK Steel launched an integrated campaign last year to promote a new antimicrobial steel product by its AK Coatings subsidiary.

The campaign, developed by HSR Business to Business Inc., Cincinnati, included business and trade advertising, direct mail, Web sites, PR and events, and even a concept home that demonstrated the use of the product.

AK Coatings, a subsidiary of AK Steel, obtained exclusive rights to use and market AgIon Technologies Inc.’s antimicrobial compounds for stainless and carbon steel applications.

“Antimicrobial products have been in high demand for, say, the last five years, but putting a microbe-killing compound on steel is a really unique application,” said Alan McCoy, VP-public affairs for Middleton, Ohio-based AK Steel.

The marketing campaign required complex integration to reach a wide variety of segments with different types of messaging. AK Coatings turned to HSR, which has been its agency of record since 1994.

“The challenge of the launch was to target a complex matrix of industries and audiences, and it required a large number of creative executions,” said HSR CEO Rick Segal. “We needed to reach industrial specifiers [such as architects and product designers] as well as C-level executives and original equipment manufacturers.”

In addition, the campaign had to convey two different messages, Segal said.

“There was a market-driven message, which demonstrated the growth potential and competitive advantage, and there was also a technical message so they could understand how the new technology worked,” he said.

The campaign began with trade advertising and direct mail pieces showing industry-specific applications of AK Coating’s antimicrobial steel.

The next stage involved showing OEMs business opportunities for the product.

Meanwhile, the specifier audience was presented with pertinent technical information about how the steel stamps out microbes. Finally, a high-level national campaign in broad business publications reached senior executives.

The creative executions won numerous awards, including the Business Marketing Association’s 2003 ProComm Best of Division Award in the Total Marketing Communications Program Over $200,000 category.

A sample of the messaging is both witty and to the point, playing off the image of a bottle of liquid soap sitting on a kitchen counter: “The latest advance in antimicrobial products isn’t on the counter. It is the counter.”

Another key component of the campaign was the development of a stand-alone Web site at that provided detailed information about AgIon and the benefits of antimicrobial steel. The site drew 40,000 visitors last year.

Trade shows and conferences also played an important role, Segal said. “We wanted to drive thought leadership around this technology, so in addition to participating in major industry events we created a variety of technical conferences of our own in partnership with the likes of Design News, Industry Week, Food Engineering,” he said. “It was an excellent opportunity to bring together manufacturer executives and scientists with others who were researching and studying these technologies.”

The integrated program generated more than 4,300 leads, HSR said.The most effective part of the campaign may have been a very unusual public and media relations strategy.

AK Steel and partners such as Carrier Corp. and Lindab built a concept home in Santa Barbara, Calif., that features AgIon antimicrobial steel throughout. It became a magnet of attention for the media, and the home was featured on NBC’s “Today Show” and CNBC as well as in The New York Times, Popular Science and Popular Mechanics. (Information is available at, another marketing-oriented site that HSR helped to create.)

“The concept house has been a real focal point, and the unique design uses the antimicrobial and other steel products in an array of applications, ranging from ductwork to a steel roof and steel wine cellar,” AK Steel’s McCoy said.

With the concept house and other media pitches, HSR estimates it placed nearly 130 articles in 2002, totaling $743,700 in ad equivalency dollars and some 8.8 million total impressions in equivalent online advertising.

Those numbers have increased in 2003, as the campaign has reached its second phase. “We’ve found that the low-hanging fruit—the ones most ready to embrace the product—are in the HVAC and food equipment industries,” Segal said. “So our efforts have been trained there, as well as continuing to build general overall awareness of the product and its benefits.”

AK steel Campaign: AK Coatings’ AgIon antimicrobial steel Goal: Create awareness of new product and its benefits to six key industries: heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC); construction; food processing; food equipment; appliances; and medical equipment Duration of campaign: 2002 through present Integrated elements: : Business and trade advertising, direct mail, Web sites, PR and events Results: More than 4,300 leads generated, nearly 130 editorial placements from media relations Budget: Undisclosed Agency: HSR Business to Business Inc., Cincinnati

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