“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” The words of Theodore Roosevelt resonated strongly with Pumpkin Masters, a small seasonal company, in the wake of the September 11 tragedy. Based in Denver, with just 25 employees, what Pumpkin Masters had was Halloween. They approached MGA Communications on October 4, 2001 with a compelling goal – to use the marketing budget this Halloween not to sell pumpkin carving kits, but to do something to bring the country together.
The “Lanterns of Liberty” program was conceived as a movement to enable Americans to enjoy a traditional American holiday, Halloween, while bolstering the American Spirit. People were encouraged to participate by decorating a patriotic pumpkin this year.
From start to finish, the Pumpkin Masters patriotic campaign would have to be fulfilled in less than one month. More important however, was finding the right message. By October 2001 the nation was already growing cynical, with false September 11 charities and a small minority of opportunistic companies exploiting the national feeling to promote products and services. Pumpkin Masters wanted to support patriotism, not product sales – but recognized the very real possibility that the media and the public could misconstrue both the message and the motive.
Given the restrictive timeframe from program inception to execution, MGA had a limited choice of research options. For quick turn-around, MGA used the Internet as the first line of research. MGA tracked negative coverage about opportunistic companies and analyzed it for common elements to avoid. Past Halloween coverage was also collected and analyzed for themes that resonated well with Lanterns of Liberty. Finally, as a test-drive for the messaging and positioning developed around Lanterns of Liberty, MGA conducted a media audit. Lifestyle editors were chosen for their connection to the “pulse” of their communities and a nationwide sample included editors from: Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas and Portland, New York state and Pennsylvania.
Strategic Approach
For the 2001 Lanterns of Liberty program, MGA and Pumpkin Masters sought to accomplish one objective:

         To show Americans how their personal Halloween celebrations could contribute to the nation’s unity, strength and patriotism in 2001.

         To successfully meet this objective, the following strategies were employed:

         Develop an overarching theme to tie all our media relations and marketing efforts together under one banner

         Support the top-down media relations strategy (national outlets and wire services) with a bottom-up or “grass roots” viral (email) marketing program in order to reach and educate as many people as possible

         Leverage Pumpkin Masters existing media relationships and develop new ones

         Develop a separate Lanterns of Liberty Web site to provide the necessary distance between the patriotic movement and Pumpkin Masters products

         Leverage the visual nature of pumpkin carving to generate television broadcast opportunities
Campaign Execution
After an accelerated strategy and planning phase, including message platform development and testing, MGA created a Lanterns of Liberty media kit. The kit and supporting materials included: fun facts, patriotic carving and decorating tips, news release, free patriotic carving patterns, color photos of carved patriotic pumpkins (President Bush, statue of liberty, liberty bell, firemen raising the flag, eagle, etc…). A b-roll was also developed showing families carving and finished Lanterns of Liberty.
Two weeks prior to Halloween, MGA distributed the news release over a national wire, with the color photo and began pitching all media. Budget restraints limited the number of b-roll tapes available, so MGA secured broadcast station interest in the story prior to shipping out any b-rolls. Where appropriate, MGA also offered to ship professionally carved pumpkins for display on the set (Monday Night Football, Regis & Kelly, NASCAR/ESPN etc…). This often led to Lanterns of Liberty/Pumpkin Masters mention on air by the hosts.
With over 130 television hits, 31 radio interviews and 30 print and online articles, Lanterns of Liberty reached millions of people with its patriotic message. All of the coverage was positive, with just one columnist at the Boston Herald raising any question of Pumpkin Masters motives – despite that, he still reported the patterns were “cool,” and that readers should check out the Lanterns of Liberty site. Highlights include:

         Gay Burke, president and CEO of Pumpkin Masters appeared on Good Morning America with the Lanterns of Liberty pumpkins (see supporting material for VHS copy)

         Lanterns of Liberty pumpkins appeared on Regis & Kelly, the CBS Early Show, Monday Night Football and Fox News (national cable)

         Lanterns of Liberty pumpkins, with a spokesperson, appeared on every television news station in Denver (see supporting material for VHS sample of coverage)

         Lanterns of Liberty b-roll was used and news items appeared on television stations in 11 of the top 15 DMAs in the country: Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, DC

         Lanterns of Liberty was named Web site of day on USAToday.com

         Free Lanterns of Liberty “Stars and Stripes” pattern ran in the Denver Post, along with some of our suggested alternative patriotic decorating tips (see supporting material)

         LanternsOfLiberty.com free patriotic patterns received 900,000 visits during October 2001
Public response, mostly in the form of email, demonstrated that the Lanterns of Liberty message was received and incorporated into personal Halloween celebrations (see supporting material for email excerpts)