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Princess Kay at 60: Six Dairy Good Decades

News-dis­tri­b­u­tion ser­vice PR Newswire is cel­e­brat­ing its 60th anniver­sary this month, and they’ve asked sev­er­al agen­cies around the coun­try to rumi­nate on how the com­mu­ni­ca­tions indus­try has changed over the past six decades. From our per­spec­tive, it’s been an, er, udder­ly wild ride.

One of our clients, the Mid­west Dairy Asso­ci­a­tion, cel­e­brat­ed a sim­i­lar mile­stone last year as its icon­ic Princess Kay of the Milky Way pro­gram hit the big 6–0. And while com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­o­gy and the way we con­sume media have made seis­mic leaps since 1954, media and pub­lic inter­est in the inge­nious and decid­ed­ly Min­nesotan Princess Kay pro­gram has remained con­stant and – dare we say it? – legen-dairy.

In the ear­ly 1950s, the non­prof­it fund­ed by dairy farm­ers launched a pro­gram to bol­ster under­stand­ing of Minnesota’s dairy indus­try and increase con­sumer aware­ness by crown­ing one farmer’s daugh­ter “Princess Kay of the Milky Way.” The tra­di­tion quick­ly became one of the most icon­ic ele­ments of the Min­neso­ta State Fair, an impor­tant piece of the dairy industry’s mar­ket­ing effort, and a part of the nation­al culture.

So how has com­mu­ni­ca­tion sur­round­ing the Princess Kay pro­gram changed over the years? Much like Minnesota’s dairy indus­try, it has evolved, but many of the core ele­ments remain the same:

It’s a nation­al sto­ry. Eleanor Maley Thatch­er was crowned the first Princess Kay in 1954, out of 2,700 com­peti­tors at the coun­ty, region­al and state lev­els. One of her first duties was a trip to Paris to present 48 bot­tles of milk – one for each state – to the prime min­is­ter for his efforts to con­vince the French peo­ple to drink more milk and less wine. Along the way, she met with media’s crème de la crème, from Edward R. Mur­row to The Today Show, and end­ed up in news­pa­pers across the coun­try and on Movi­etone News. The asso­ci­a­tion esti­mat­ed that the trip sparked near­ly one mil­lion dol­lars’ worth of publicity.

Today, Princess Kay stays clos­er to home, but her sto­ry con­tin­ues to res­onate across Min­neso­ta and across the coun­try, thanks to cov­er­age by nation­al media out­lets like The Wall Street Jour­nalThe New York Times, Good Morn­ing Amer­i­caNewsweek and Buz­zfeed, as well as intense cov­er­age by near­ly every media out­let in the state. Last summer’s media efforts gen­er­at­ed near­ly 600 stories.

It’s a tra­di­tion, yet inno­v­a­tive. The Princess Kay pro­gram hasn’t strayed from its main rea­son-for-being – to act as an ambas­sador for the state’s dairy indus­try – but it has intro­duced new and news­wor­thy ele­ments over its his­to­ry. In the ear­ly ‘60s, orga­niz­ers debuted a dress made of 475 round-cor­nered squares cut from one-pound but­ter car­tons rep­re­sent­ing the var­i­ous cream­eries in Minnesota.

And in 1965, the pro­gram made a dra­mat­ic mooove with the arrival of the “but­ter­head.” Karen Brack­en was the first Princess Kay to have her like­ness carved out of a block of but­ter, which has gone on to become the icon­ic image of the Princess Kay pro­gram. Since then, the sculpt­ing has turned into a spec­ta­tor sport, with each year’s 12 final­ists get­ting their like­ness carved into 90-pound blocks of sol­id but­ter while they sit in a rotat­ing, 40-degree, glass-encased booth in front of thou­sands of peo­ple at the Min­neso­ta State Fair. Four years ago, the Mid­west Dairy Asso­ci­a­tion intro­duced a Face­book app, “But­ter-Fy Your­self,” which let fans upload pho­tos of them­selves to see what they’d look like carved out of but­ter, and then post the images online. Through it all, though, what hasn’t changed is that the state’s dairy indus­try choos­es a smart, pas­sion­ate young woman to rep­re­sent Minnesota’s dairy-farm­ing fam­i­lies each year. That’s the major rea­son for the program’s success.

It’s all about per­son-to-per­son con­nec­tion. In the ear­ly years of the pro­gram, Princess Kay did every­thing from co-host­ing the Inter­na­tion­al Dairy Show with Miss Uni­verse, to deliv­er­ing but­ter to Con­gress for June Dairy Month, to appear­ing at the Min­neso­ta State Fair with “Jer­ry the Talk­ing Dairy Train.”

Today, out­reach con­tin­ues to be a major part of Princess Kay’s duties. She trav­els to every cor­ner of Min­neso­ta, speak­ing at dozens of schools and events. Regard­less of whether it’s via a class­room vis­it or a con­ver­sa­tion on her Face­book page, Princess Kay con­nects with peo­ple on a one-to-one lev­el. See­ing a young woman in a tiara crouch down to a kindergartener’s lev­el and look him or her in the eyes while she active­ly lis­tens and talks about Minnesota’s dairy indus­try is the very def­i­n­i­tion of engage­ment. She’s able to build rela­tion­ships with every­one she meets, many of whom have nev­er set foot on a farm before.

Through the years, Princess Kay has made an impact on the dairy indus­try as a high-pro­file, acces­si­ble rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the peo­ple behind the prod­ucts, and that’s not going to change any­time soon.

Thanks to PR Newswire for giv­ing us the nudge to take a look back at Princess Kay’s his­to­ry. Raise a glass of milk with us, won’t you? Here’s to anoth­er 60 years!

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