The coast is undeniably vanishing, but now there's a sea change in how it's viewed on a national level. Fifteen years ago, the pleas of state officials and conservationists went largely unheard in Washington. "People had trouble believing it was really serious," says Mark Davis, director of Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. "When you would talk to legislators they would say, 'If it's really as bad as you think it is, someone would be doing something about it.'"
Former Louisiana Sen. John Breaux's 1990 Breaux Act turned out to be a mixed blessing. The bill brings approximately $50 million a year to Louisiana for coastal restoration, but it was quickly apparent that it was merely a grain of sand toward the estimated $14 billon price tag to stop coastal erosion. Davis remembers a particularly telling 1996 attempt for additional funding. "Mid-way through the last Edwards term, sitting down with a senior scientist in Washington, we were told forget it ' Santa Claus came once to Louisiana, meaning the Breaux Act," he says. "It wasn't a national problem."
A decade later, despite the shaky status of new coastal funds at press time, there's fresh evidence that Louisiana's coastline is being identified as a national treasure much like the Everglades or Chesapeake Bay. Adam Sharp, press secretary for Sen. Mary Landrieu, credits cooperation between the congressional delegation, the governor's office, state and local leaders, and a multitude of Louisiana organizations for changing national perceptions of the problem. In particular, he pinpoints the newest member of the team, Marmillion + Company, an advertising agency hired by former Gov. Mike Foster in 2002 to craft a message and tell the story of coastal land loss.
Marmillion's clientele ranges from The American Film Institute to the Florida Department of Transportation, and the firm also handled the election campaigns of Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden, Landrieu and Breaux, who brought the firm to the attention of Foster. The state paid $45,000 for Marmillion's preliminary strategic plan.
"When we first came in," says owner Val Marmillion, "we worked with a focus group in Philadelphia. We found out from the group that no one wants a problem like this in their back yard, and that the federal government should fund some of this." Marmillion asked the group several questions:
Which state would you view as most critical to producing and transporting America's energy supply of oil and natural gas?
Which state hosts the largest habitat in America for migratory waterfowl/game birds?
Which state produces and transports the highest volume of seafood in America?
Which state is facing the greatest loss of landmass due to coastal erosion?
Through which state flows the largest concentration of pipelines feeding the nation's energy supply?
"The focus group never guessed Louisiana as the source for these things," says Marmillion. Even more troubling, Marmillion discovered that Louisiana residents were equally unaware of their state's assets.
The company developed five strategic communication objectives to be implemented over the course of three years: public education, media relations, brand and identity, building a class of cooperative organizations, and funding and development.
Coming up with an identifiable marketing brand for Louisiana's coast was his first objective. "These wetlands are like no other," says Marmillion. "Bounded by the Pearl and Sabine rivers, this huge piece of wetland is created by the flow of the Mississippi from the heartland of the country. If you overlay the migratory bird flyway with the geological span of the wetland, we are one of the major access points in America. By erasing the political boundaries, this becomes a broader, American geographical issue." Hence the name: America's Wetland.
Marmillion's strategic plan called for private donations from corporate sponsors who wanted to be identified with coastal restoration. McIlhenny Co. and Whitney Bank were the earliest sponsors, but Shell Oil's major grant of $3 million covered operations for the first three years. Shell Social Investment Manager Mary Margaret Hamilton cites Shell's operations in the Gulf of Mexico as a major factor in the company's participation. "We're vulnerable," she says. "When we don't have the wetlands as a barrier our infrastructure is at risk. The payoff is a viable coastline." Since then, additional oil and gas companies such as British Gas, ChevronTexaco, and ConocoPhillips have signed on as sponsors.
Marmillion broadened the sponsorship base to include companies as varied as the New Orleans Saints, Acadian Ambulance, Cox Communications and the newest sponsor, Gulf Coast Coca-Cola. Melanie Clark, vice-president of marketing for Gulf Coast Coca-Cola, says the franchise got involved because of the importance of the local issue. "This is where we live, this is our coastline, our back yard," she says. "Coke is a way they could get this message right into homes in Louisiana and surrounding states. We put the message in just under 4 million 12-packs that sold in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and part of Texas."
Coca-Cola included information and coupons about how individuals could help save the wetlands inside each 12-pack. Sending contributions to the campaign rewarded donors with a Save America's Wetland bracelet.
Since late May, when Coke introduced the coupons, America's Wetland has received more than 1,200 donations ranging from $2 to $250. "There wasn't an incremental cost for us to include it in our packaging," Clark adds. "It's important to support initiatives. That in itself is a payoff for us."
Marmillion projects the three-year funding goal of $7 million will be reached by the end of 2005. During 2003 and 2004 professional fees paid to Marmillion accounted for approximately about $2.1 million ' 30 percent of the total contributions to America's Wetland.
Not everybody on the team has been happy with the campaign. In mid-June, New Orleans native Walt Williams pulled his Saturday Night Live claymation cartoon character Mr. Bill out of the America's Wetland campaign. Williams' splashy public service TV spots were placed in Shell-sponsored kiosks ' where the Shell logo is prominently displayed ' in tourist destinations around the state. Williams complained that his contract, which called for no commercial connection with Mr. Bill, was being violated. "I was contributing to the campaign for free, but I was more and more being associated with Shell," he says. "People started asking me if I worked for Shell. My reputation in the environmental community is important. My personal opinion is that the oil companies are responsible for the [coastal erosion] problem, and Mr. Bill was being turned into a marketing campaign for the culprits."
Mr. Bill's withdrawal made national headlines. Williams says the media focus on Mr. Bill garnered more national attention to the campaign than the marketing strategy of America's Wetland. "Mr. Bill is a valuable commodity," he says. "Mr. Bill got all the national press."
Shell representatives declined to comment on Williams' withdrawal from the partnership, but Marmillion takes a philosophical view of the split. "In terms of Mr. Bill, we have worked with Walter before," he says. "We know he doesn't want his product to be associated with any commercial enterprise. I respect Walt's attitude."
Marmillion says that no partner in the campaign is getting all of its demands met. "We have to keep our focus on saving the wetlands," he says. "What was done in the past was mostly done with environmental permits. Beyond that, we don't need to look back. We need to stop fighting a ton of individual battles and work together."
The success of the campaign can be measured by its national profile, says Sidney Coffee, executive assistant to the governor's office for coastal activities. "If you measure it by the national press coverage ' a 23-page spread in National Geographic, stories in the Washington Post, New York Times ' they're calling us now rather than us calling them," she says. "The Louisiana coast is national news."
Coffee credits Marmillion's ability to simplify the message into focused themes. This is a place of ecological significance. This place impacts the nation's energy and economic security. She says these two sentences distill an immensely complex issue. "It allows us to talk to the man on the street or the man in Congress. It's about energy prices, putting the nation's energy at risk."
In dollar terms, the $7 million invested by sponsors could pay off to the tune of $1.5 billion over the next three years, depending on the fate of the Water Resources Development Act and Senate Energy bills.
Marmillion has recently added a third theme that adds a sense of urgency to the need for funding. "This is an emergency situation," he says. "New Orleans has been put on the list as one of the top 10 cities in the world that is poised for some environmental occurrence. We were testing to see if we had the focus right ' did people recognize the brand? Recently, CNN's piece on global warming worldwide focused in on Louisiana when it came to the U.S. That's what I call a return."
The fight to clean up Lafayette Parish could get some added ammunition with two ordinances up for votes Tuesday by the City-Parish Council targeting litter-bugs.
By striking a deal to lessen the blow of health insurance changes on state workers, school employees and retirees, Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration lowered the volume of criticism but gave itself and local school boards a new budget headache.
With the airport tax coming up for a parishwide vote in about a week, the Broussard City Council and its mayor have come out in support of the proposal.
Protesters rallied peacefully in several Louisiana cities in the wake of the Missouri grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the fatal shooting of Michal Brown.
US cities bidding on Olympics; Guard prevents more Ferguson riots; storm threatens travel and more national and international news for Wednesday, November 26, 2014.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
The U.S. rep billed LSU for work allegedly performed on the same days Congress voted on major legislation and held important committee hearings on energy and the ACA.
Abysmally low participation by the public has prompted the council to scuttle the 2014 survey with plans to simplify it and try again next year.
The village now says the ordinance will likely be overturned and authorities will more vigorously enforce existing leash laws.
Bill Cassidy cast an early ballot Tuesday, seeking to draw renewed attention to a race that has fallen off newspaper front pages and away from people's minds as they plan holiday meals and shopping schedules.
Battered all night by Baltimore's relentless pass rush, Drew Brees could feel his protection collapsing and Terrell Suggs getting ahold of him as he urgently unloaded a pass to the right flat toward tight end Jimmy Graham.
After a convincing defeat at the polls on Nov. 4, Earl “Nickey” Picard has decided to let bygones be bygones with his former right-hand man Brian Pope, announcing his support for his former employee’s runoff bid to become Lafayette’s next city marshal.
Saturday the athletic department did everything possible to ensure the 2014 Ragin’ Cajun seniors remembered fondly their last home game. Rain and lightning never arrived but turbulence did in the form of the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
Even stranger than the Republican Party’s decision to hold a “unity rally” earlier this month for Congressman Bill Cassidy in a Baton Rouge bar, Huey’s Bar, was the fact that the establishment was named after Louisiana’s most famous Democrat.
Bar Code is not a gay bar.
After failing to pass a medical marijuana bill last year, state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, is telling supporters he will return in 2015 with legislation that focuses on different applications like oils and pills.
Voters, obviously, are not yet tuned into the 2015 ballot, despite the intriguing races it will host.
By now, the story of how longtime LSU coach Dale Brown discovered Shaquille O'Neal has been told many times: Brown happened upon a massive 13-year-old at an army base in Germany, stayed in touch with him and eventually became like a second father.
Fate simply wasn't ready to give the New Orleans Saints a break from longtime nemesis Steve Smith.
Lafayette Police have had a busy day.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration will use $130 million in patchwork financing from a tax amnesty program, insurance settlement, uninsured motorist penalties and other excess funds to close most of the state's midyear budget deficit.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said she disagrees with President Barack Obama's actions on immigration, hoping the latest controversy doesn't worsen her campaign difficulties.
Gay-rights advocates challenging Louisiana's same-sex marriage ban announced Thursday that they have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review their case before it is heard by a federal appeals court.
Thinking himself the “son of God,” the man charged with the 2013 killing of an officer of the Chitimacha Tribal Police will not stand trial following a ruling Thursday on his mental competency.
Either Saints coach Sean Payton doesn't want to tip Baltimore off as to who'll start in New Orleans' secondary on Monday night, or he really doesn't know yet.