ROSEMONT, IL, May 21—Dark horse Weber Shandwick Worldwide has won out over a handful of other top-tier agencies—including Burson-Marsteller, Edelman Public Relations Worldwide, Fleishman-Hillard and Porter Novelli—to pick up an issues management program believed to be worth around $2 million from Dairy Management, a trade association that uses industry check-off dollars to build demand for U.S. dairy products. California consultant Jerry Swerling handled the search.

Initial reports had indicated that the campaign would focus on the concerns raised by the spread of foot-and-mouth and mad cow disease in Europe, but Dairy Management executive vice president of public and industry relations Jean Regalie says the remit will be considerably broader than that, taking a long term view of “the way people look at food.”

There is likely to be some short term focus on the European diseases, however, if only because a recent study by Porter Novelli suggested that some Americans have already changed their eating habits because of concerns about food safety, and many more are prepared to if either foot and mouth or mad cow disease reaches these shores.

“We will be focusing on the critical role of dairy in the American diet and all the issues facing the dairy industry,” says Regalie. “We have always had a proactive media campaign, but we have been doing things the same old way and we thought it was time to take a new look at things, particularly in light of the changing way people are looking at food.”

Weber Shandwick Worldwide was considered a long shot because of its relative lack of relevant experience. Burson-Marsteller has worked on food safety programs for the beef industry, dealing with mad cow disease and other issues. Edelman, meanwhile, recently established a specialist practice focused on mad cow disease. But Regalie says WSW brought an impressive “interdisciplinary team” to the table, and Weber Shandwick’s Sara Gavin points out that the firm has a strong consumer marketing and agriculture practice in Minneapolis, where the account will be based.

Weber Shandwick’s Washington, D.C., operations, will also be involved in the program.

BSMG Worldwide and Golin/Harris International, which work on existing programs for Dairy Management, are unaffected by the new assignment.