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David Meerman Scott Talks “Marketing the Moon” with iAcquire

In July 1969 when Apollo 11 took off to the moon, 94 percent of American televisions were tuned in to the coverage, and an estimated 530 million people heard Neil Armstrong’s voice describe the event as he took “…one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Buzz Aldrin Salutes U.S. Flag

Though the  first of its kind, the moon launch would never have gotten the attention it did without the well-orchestrated marketing and PR plan behind it to create the voracious interest of readers and audiences around the globe.

In “Marketing the Moon,” famed author, keynote speaker and content marketing guru David Meerman Scott and equally talented co-author Rich Jurek tell the tale of what they consider the most successful marketing and public relations campaigns in history: the Apollo program. The book describes sophisticated efforts by NASA to market space travel through press releases, printed materials, bylined articles, press kits, and produced radio and television interviews. Essentially, NASA marketers harnessed the power of “brand journalism” nearly 40 years ago. To quote the book: “NASA Public Affairs Office operated more like a newsroom to rapidly disseminate information to the world press.”

“Marketing the Moon” shows that when Neil Armstrong took that giant leap to the moon, it was an advancement for science and engineering, but also for marketing and public relations.

We had the chance to sit down with David Meerman Scott to discuss his book and give you takeaways for your own brand content. Here’s what he had to say.

Why do you believe Apollo is the most important case study in marketing in history?

Imagine convincing the American public to spend billions of 1960s dollars, as much as 4 percent of the national budget in some years, to send 12 people to the surface of the moon. It was a crazy thing to do and marketing got us there.

Apollo was arguably the first major real-time marketing event broadcasted live around the globe. It presented a focused, global target market of millions for a sustained, predictable and enthusiastic audience—with eager and talented marketing and PR pros anxious to connect with them. Most real-time global events in the past happened out of either tragedy or spontaneously—such as the Kennedy assassination or the Challenger explosion. Or, when planned, are of short duration, like say a coronation or election of a head-of-state. With Apollo, it was like Super Bowl Sunday over a sustained period of a decade after Kennedy set America on the course to land a man on the moon and return him home safely. Many of the tactics employed today were invented, out of necessity, during Apollo.

One aspect of the open program was live TV from the moon, something that nearly didn’t happen. In researching “Marketing the Moon,” we uncovered exclusive documentation that dramatically captures the conflict as NASA PR officers try to institute an “open program” with very few press restrictions, and some of the most senior astronauts, who wanted to control and edit their public image. The Paul Haney/Alan Shepard letter on page 24 of the book, which is owned by Rich, is a prime document in NASA history and shown for the first time in the book.

Mission Control Celebrates

What this teaches us today is that you’ve got to be open and honest with the public. And you’ve got to operate in real-time. The idea of controlling information within companies and operating slowly, letting things dribble out at your own pace doesn’t work so well in a 24×7 instant communications environment.

Cooperation between constituents (companies, departments, contractors) was noted in the book to be extremely streamlined. Can you explain why it was streamlined (what characteristics)? How can marketers today leverage this case study to become more streamlined in their own jobs?

NASA didn’t put a man on the moon alone; it was a team effort by NASA, industry and the media. That partnership between NASA and industry was amazing. We as marketers can learn from the idea that you can put together a partnership with another organization and achieve something bigger than yourself.

Do you think companies should function as newsrooms vs. proactive pitching? You mentioned the NASA team acted as a news team. Where should a business start if they want to use this inbound model?

The NASA Public Affairs Office’s growing ranks of journalists understood what constituted a good story and what details appealed to the press. Thus, NASA created materials that addressed reporters’ needs in press releases, bylined articles, background materials, and in sponsored media symposiums, television newsreels, and fully produced radio broadcasts complete with interviews and sound effects.

In a lengthy 1959 policy memo, Walter T. Bonney, the head of NASA’s nascent Public Information Office (PIO), laid out a vision for NASA’s content marketing approach to PR. “In practice, PIO staff work as reporters within the agency, seeking out newsworthy information from NASA technical personnel and processing it into a form useful to the press. The press uses this product of the PIO—the releases, the pictures—much as it uses the product of the wire services, with this important difference: It rewrites the product of the PIO and in the doing, makes the product its own.”

To support his vision of a NASA public affairs group operating not as pitchmen but as reporters, Bonney, a former journalist, actively sought and recruited staff with print and broadcast media experience. Among those Bonney enlisted during the early days of the agency were Paul Haney and Jack King, who would soon play key roles during the Apollo program. “The core contingent of NASA Public Affairs people—just about all of us—were ex-newsmen,” King told us in a lengthy interview. “We were good writers, and we knew the news business. That made a major difference in the whole operation.”

How did the Apollo team create sustained interest in the program post mission? Any takeaways for modern-day marketers that you could recommend to elongate your campaign and create sustained public interest?

The biggest mistake in Apollo marketing was that it was not sustained. That’s why we haven’t landed humans on Mars.

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important in the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

President Kennedy led the nation on a classic quest. He defined an adventure and his powerful story was a motivation to act. The three key elements of a quest are part of his challenge:  the hero (this nation); the goal (the moon and back safely); and the hardships along the way (“none will be so difficult or expensive….”).

Kennedy Pledges Moon Landing

By invoking a quest, Kennedy motivated us to be interested and that the goal would be worth achieving. And most of America was behind it.

Eight years later, we achieved the goal and people celebrated widely. Some 400,000 people and many billions of dollars were involved in the journey to get the two astronauts there.

But then we were done. The goal was achieved. The other Apollo missions didn’t matter to the goal. Apollo 13 was another great story but for the potential failure averted.

Marketing around a huge goal can work. But you need a plan for when the goal is achieved. That’s what NASA lacked.

Do you think the term “Content is King” has been coined and popularized but has always been around? From the examples you give in the book, it’s clear that this is an example of a content brand.

I HATE that stupid term. But yes, it was content that 45 years ago sold the Apollo program. The NASA marketers created elaborate press kits, as did companies that had contributed to the space program. Each one wanted to tell their particular story of what they did to make some little part or widget that an astronaut used, and why that’s important.

More About David Meerman Scott: Scott is an internationally acclaimed strategist whose books and blog are must-reads for professionals seeking to generate attention in ways that grow their business. He is author or co-author of 10 books—three are international bestsellers. “The New Rules of Marketing & PR,” now in its 4th edition, has been translated into 26 languages and is used as a text in hundreds of universities and business schools worldwide. Scott also authored “Real-Time Marketing & PR,” a Wall Street Journal bestseller, “Newsjacking, World Wide Rave,” and the forthcoming “The New Rules of Sales and Service” (fall, 2014). He co-authored “Marketing the Moon” and “Marketing Lessons from The Grateful Dead.”

Images courtesy of NASA

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