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Harrisburg-based Pavone nets marketing contract with StarKist Co.

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Photo illustration/Kathryn Morton
Photo illustration/Kathryn Morton

Ice cream and beer is not an ideal chum combination — unless you're StarKist Co.

Last month, Harrisburg-based Pavone Marketing Group Inc. hauled in the seafood giant from Pittsburgh, expanding its trove of food and beverage clients.

That list includes Lancaster County-based Turkey Hill Dairy Inc., the nation's top producer of refrigerated iced tea, and America's oldest brewery, Schuylkill County-based D.G. Yuengling & Son Inc.

"As a marketer, being able to work with an iconic brand like StarKist and a brand icon like Charlie is the equivalent of an athlete being selected to an all-star

team and playing alongside his or her sports idol. It's a huge honor," said Michael Pavone, president and CEO of the public relations and marketing firm.

Based on its success in boosting market share of other national brands, Pavone was invited by StarKist to make a pitch for a new premium product line the company plans to introduce in the fourth quarter. The pitch was impressive enough to warrant a more long-term gig that likely will address the entire StarKist brand.

"The success of our creative approach was to try and live with the brand and StarKist products as we were thinking through how to best represent it," said John Bassounas, a Pavone partner and director of client services. "The result was that we were able to speak with the consumer's voice present."

The Dauphin County company beat out two other agencies for the work, according to Pavone. Some decisions on size and scope have yet to be finalized, the firm said.

"StarKist was looking for an agency partner that could deliver the big ideas to propel StarKist's key upcoming product initiatives and overall marketing platform forward, and the Pavone team was able to do just that," Michael Brookhart, StarKist's director of marketing, said in a statement. "We were impressed with their creative and strategic approach to our business, and appreciated the team's passion for this iconic brand. We look forward to working with Pavone, and know they will be a true partner as we continue to grow and strengthen the StarKist business."

The Pavone strategy will give StarKist more channels to promote its brand content and give Charlie the Tuna "a voice," Pavone said.

That is becoming increasingly important in an increasingly fragmented media landscape, said Amy Beamer, a partner and the firm's COO.

"You have to be more engaging and current. It's much more competitive (today)," she said.

The goal is to provide the company with a platform that can easily evolve as the product mix changes, Bassounas said. Social media sites and blogs have played a big role in campaign efforts for other Pavone clients.

"We were smart about the types of insights that we brought to StarKist and presented them in some compelling ways that really resonated with the brand," Bassounas said. "We're building on that experience we have with other national brands."

This one hits close to home, added Pavone.

"I grew up with this brand. My mom insists she still only uses StarKist, so it means something personal," he said. "It's a great opportunity and one we are all very passionate about."

New division

Pavone's growing portfolio has propelled the agency to a staff of 55 to 60, including freelancers, Beamer said.

Because it continues to go after the big clients, especially on the food and beverage side, the firm is actively recruiting top talent from across the country. It currently has eight to 10 openings, Beamer said.

"We have great clients and great brands," Pavone said. "We're still very entrepreneurial."

In fact, the partners are considering the addition of a separate Pavone entity geared solely to serving food and beverage clients. The company already has complementary firms in Varsity, a marketing group that focuses on the mature market, and Leap Research and Innovation, a division that studies consumer-driven trends and helps develop products for business clients.

"StarKist ups the profile for the next brand," Beamer said. "It's easy to walk through the door once you kick it open. We're not done yet on where we can go."

In focus

StarKist is a subsidiary of South Korea's Dongwon Industries Co. Ltd., which acquired the company from Del Monte Foods in 2008 for $359 million.

The Pittsburgh-based brand's iconic Charlie the Tuna cartoon mascot was created in 1961.

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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin County. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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