Launched by the U.S. Mint in 1999, the 50 State Quarters Program is a 10-year initiative (1999-2008) honoring each state in the order it ratified the Constitution and joined the Union.  About every 10 weeks, a new state quarter design is released (five per year).  The state design is displayed on the reverse (tails) of the quarter, while the familiar portrait of George Washington appears on the obverse (heads) of the quarter.  Each state is involved in the design of its quarter with the governor determining the selection process.  The U.S. Mint reviews all potential design concepts to ensure that they are appropriate.  Hill and Knowlton was hired to bring greater awareness and branding to the U.S. Mint 50 State Quarters Program.  Hill and Knowlton is in charge of developing and managing the integrated marketing communication campaign for the entire program, including special events.


How do you make ordinary Americans look for quarters among their change?  How do you make local and national media cover a U.S. Mint program?  This presented a fantastic opportunity and challenge when Hill and Knowlton developed the communications strategies for 2000.  The Virginia quarter launch was our first grand opportunity to get three key messages across to a wider audience: 1) five quarters are released a year; 2) each quarter is minted for 10 weeks only; 3) U.S. Mint products are collectibles that make great gifts.  The launch not only helped us overcome the challenges mentioned, but it was an event that forced people to notice their change and it engaged the media in diffusing our core messages.


Prior to Hill and Knowlton’s involvement in the 50 State Quarters Program, research done by Peter Hart Research showed that 51 percent of the American public knew that Quarters are being produced in the order that the states joined the Union.  50 percent recognized that only a limited number of each new quarter design is being produced and 33 percent understood that each quarter is minted for ten weeks only.  Hill and Knowlton used the results of the survey as a benchmark to plan, develop and implement its October 16, 2000 event launch.

Hill and Knowlton used the research findings when developing message points, press materials and branding props.  Hill and Knowlton also worked with Peter Hart Research to do a survey on the creative part of the advertising campaign, post-advertising campaign and spokesperson search.  The results guided us in our planning and execution of all future special events and media outreach.


The planning process was done over a two months period.  During this time, Hill and Knowlton held a series of brainstorming sessions to come up with a branding and marketing strategy that would maximize the media coverage and provide an outlet to diffuse our core messages to a national audience.  Hill and Knowlton’s objective was to make the Virginia quarter launch a truly integrated marketing communications strategy.  We managed the release of our advertising campaign and promotion and distribution of the 50 State Quarters teacher lesson plans to coincide with the Virginia quarter launch.  We planned for the beginning of the comprehensive advertising campaign to start on October 2, 2000.  Promotion for the lesson plans occurred primarily during the months of July, August and September.  While distribution of the plans ran throughout the month of October—to date, more than 150,000 lesson plans have been distributed nationwide.  The official launch and aggressive media outreach campaign for the Virginia quarter was on October 16, 2000.  Finally, Hill and Knowlton launched a guerrilla marketing component the day after the event, on October 17th.  Hill and Knowlton secured representatives outside the TODAY Show featuring oversized Virginia quarters.

Hill and Knowlton forever changed the way the U.S. Mint celebrated the release of a new state quarter.  Hill and Knowlton proposed that each launch should be in an area that would provide a ‘historical perspective’ to complement the design of the quarter.  The Virginia quarter launch took place, not in the Governor’s mansion or state capitol like in all previous launches, but in the historic Jamestown Settlement.  The site featured life-size replicas of the three ships, which appear on the reverse of the Virginia quarter (Susan Constance, Godspeed and Discovery).

We worked closely with the Jamestown Foundation to develop an event that would stir the spectators’ senses.  The final ceremony consisted of cannons firing to announce the beginning and culmination of the event; the rollout of a sail from one of the ships’ tallest mast, the unveiling of an oversized map of the United States—a replica of the U.S. Mint Official 50 State Quarters Map—and the Governor of Virginia placing an oversized Virginia quarter on the map.  Hill and Knowlton suggested the creation of an oversized map, branded by the U.S. Mint, to be unveiled at the event.  This map launched a tradition in which the governor ceremoniously places an oversized quarter onto the map officially announcing the release of the new quarter design.


Hill and Knowlton public relations and marketing objectives:

  • Diffuse the core message points to a larger audience: 1) five quarters are released per year; 2) each quarter is only minted for 10 weeks only; 3) high quality coins and products are available from the U.S. Mint and 4) U.S. Mint products are collectibles that make great gifts.
  • Brand and drive each new quarter launch with the U.S. Mint.
  • Provide a platform and momentum for the advertising campaign and direct marketing strategies.
  • Promote the 50 State Quarters Program Web site and 800 number.
  • Publicize the U.S. Mint commitment to education through the 50 State Quarters Program.
  • Reach our target audience: women, with high school education or less, between the ages of 18 to 29, representative of Middle America (like to read People, watch “Touched by an Angel” and shop at Wal-Mart), like collecting things, like to shop from catalogues and are parents of young children.

The launch of the new quarter provided a platform for the release of the advertising campaign and distribution of more than 150,000 FREE 50 State Quarters teacher lesson plans.  Hill and Knowlton, with partner direct marketing and advertising agencies, coordinated the simultaneous release of ads and lesson plans to coincide with the Virginia launch.  The comprehensive advertising campaign was scheduled to run for three months (October-December).  Direct marketing to elementary school teachers by promoting free lesson plans based on the popular 50 State Quarters Program happened also over a period of three months (August-October). Hill and Knowlton organized an aggressive media outreach campaign to promote the Virginia launch, which resulted in extensive local and national coverage during the month of October.

We worked with our advertising media buy partner to place a 50 State Quarters ad before and after the TODAY Show appearance on October 17th, thus maximizing the overall effectiveness of the guerrilla marketing component.  This approach would strengthen our guerrilla marketing component by providing a foundation and connection for the viewers who saw the TODAY Show segment.


Hill and Knowlton implemented a variety of events that flanked the official Virginia quarter launch ceremony.  The following events provided the pizzazz and branding that past events lacked:

Firing cannons – we coordinated with the Jamestown Foundation to have one of the ships to fire its cannons to announce the beginning of the event.

Unfurling of U.S. Mint and Virginia quarter sail – during the opening event, we coordinated with the Jamestown Foundation to have another ship unfurl a sail featuring the 50 State Quarters Program logo and the Virginia quarter design.

Unveiling of the oversized map – Hill and Knowlton proposed the creation of an oversized map to be part of all state launches.  The map, a replica of the Official U.S. Mint Collector’s Map, would position the U.S. Mint as the entity by which customers can purchase the only “official” products.

Placing an oversized quarter – Hill and Knowlton launched a tradition for all future launches.  We worked with the governor’s office to engage him in placing an oversized quarter onto the map.  This was later repeated during the launch of the New York quarter and will be done during the up coming North Carolina launch.


Hill and Knowlton coordinated a media campaign that resulted in extensive local and national coverage.  This outstanding coverage carried our core messages, provided the launching pad for the advertising campaign, brought awareness to the U.S. Mint, publicized its commitment to education and reached our target audience by the fact that the event was picked up by 135 news papers including: an AP Wire photo, USA Today, The Washington Post, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Columbus Dispatch, Fayetteville Observer, Houston Chronicle, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Sacramento Bee, Syracuse Herald-American, Staten Island Sunday Advance, Sunday Republican, Sunday Tribune Review, Union Leader, Tennessean, Washington Times, Wisconsin State Journal.

In addition, the Virginia quarter also received extensive broadcast coverage major cities, including: Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Nashville, New Orleans, Phoenix, Portland (ME), Sacramento, Saint Petersburg (FL) and San Diego.

Hill and Knowlton’s print media strategy reached an audience of 23.3 million readers.  Our previous launch, New Hampshire quarter, reached an audience of 18.9 million.
Finally, Hill and Knowlton orchestrated a TODAY Show Virginia quarter guerrilla marketing component that worked to perfection.  Katie Couric mentioned the Virginia quarter design twice inside the TODAY Show studios before going outside, with Matt Lauer, to greet and interview the quarter “ambassadors.”  Katie reacted enthusiastically to her state’s design and received actual Virginia quarters.  We also took that opportunity to mention the upcoming release of the New York quarter design slated for January 2001.