Your company will soon be portrayed in theaters as a den of price-fixers and embezzlers. So what do you do? Make a commercial to run in theaters just before the movie begins—at least, that's what Archer Daniels Midland is considering.
The idea came up last May while director Steven Soderbergh was dining with ADM Chief Executive Officer Patricia A. Woertz and her vice-president for communications, Victoria A. Podesta, to talk about The Informant. The movie features Matt Damon as Mark E. Whitacre, a high-level ADM executive who in the early 1990s spied on colleagues for the FBI to uncover a price-fixing scheme and then turned out to be embezzling millions from the company. Pleased with the cooperation he was getting from ADM, Soderbergh was enthusiastic about the idea of a commercial that would tell viewers about the company today. "He said, 'You should let us make it for you,' " Podesta says.
Soderbergh wanted access to ADM facilities. Woertz wanted a way to counteract negative publicity from the movie, initially due out in March but now scheduled for September. The scandal had cost ADM $400 million in fines and legal settlements, and it resulted in three-year jail terms for a couple of top executives, including former vice-chairman and heir apparent Michael D. Andreas. Whitacre served nearly nine years.
After reviewing the script, Woertz let the filmmaker do some background shots of ADM plants for The Informant. But whether she green-lights a feel-good commercial is still under consideration. "We're thinking about it," Podesta says. "We want to see if we can do it with some style." It's also not clear that distributors and Warner Bros. will agree to run such a commercial. ADM executives are also looking at other ways to counter any negative fallout, such as posting upbeat videos on YouTube. Crisis management expert Michael Sitrick thinks a commercial could be a great twofer: proselytizing to movie fans while generating favorable press outside theaters.