Campaigns: Groundbreaking Event - Ace digs up local support for store

A groundbreaking can reap a ton of yawns. But when Chicago-based DeFrancesco/Goodfriend was given the task of making something of the July 16 groundbreaking for Ace Hardware’s newest retail support center, it became more like Mayberry RFD meets the Guinness Book of World Records.

A groundbreaking can reap a ton of yawns. But when Chicago-based DeFrancesco/Goodfriend was given the task of making something of the July 16 groundbreaking for Ace Hardware’s newest retail support center, it became more like Mayberry RFD meets the Guinness Book of World Records.

A groundbreaking can reap a ton of yawns. But when Chicago-based

DeFrancesco/Goodfriend was given the task of making something of the

July 16 groundbreaking for Ace Hardware’s newest retail support center,

it became more like Mayberry RFD meets the Guinness Book of World

Records.



Building such a center is a major endeavor for Ace, a Fortune 500 dealer

cooperative based in Oak Brook, IL. The company boasts more than 5,100

independent stores in 50 states, but only 15 support centers to serve

those retailers with hardware products. The new dollars 35-million

center, now being constructed in Loxley, AL, will supply stores in

Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida. The company wanted

a phenomenal hook on groundbreaking day to snag press attention and win

over the townspeople of Loxley.





Strategy



While brainstorming - clearly inspired by Ace’s theme for the project,

’Southern Hospitality’ - firm and client came up with the idea of

inviting the entire town of Loxley (population: 1,100) to break ground.

The company would give away Ace shovels and T-shirts to everyone who

turned up. They’d also throw a picnic.



’We thought this was a chance to show our warm feelings toward the

people in the community and get them to start seeing Ace as a member of

the community,’ explains Anne Marie Hickey, senior communications

specialist at Ace. The center will create jobs for 325 people and pump

an estimated dollars 7 million a year into Loxley’s economy.



The company also realized that, if most of the town showed, it would

have a shot at winning a Guinness record for the most participants ever

at a groundbreaking.





Tactics



In June, Ace sent a personal invitation to all Loxley residents. David

Hodnik, Ace president and CEO, also sent letters to Alabama Gov. Don

Siegelman and other state officials requesting that they attend. The

first press contact was a letter of invitation from the Ace PR manager

to 25 area daily and community newspapers; seven TV and 30 radio

stations; 30 trade publications; the two Chicago dailies and the local

Associated Press reporters.



Then, just two weeks later, DeFrancesco/Goodfriend faxed the same

reporters a one-page media alert. By that point, some 1,000 Loxley

townspeople had RSVPed, so the PR firm played up the size of the event

and the Guinness attempt. The firm followed up by telephone and faxed

another release the day of the event and the day after.





Results



Townspeople crowded the service center site on July 16. Some 800 of them

broke ground together while shouting in unison the Ace slogan: ’Ace Is

the Place!’ Then 1,000 folks broke bread (and devoured ribs, shrimp,

catfish, two whole roasted pigs, pecan pies and gallons of lemonade) at

the picnic in a local park. It was sweltering that day, and the

gathering endured a spell of rain. Nonetheless, ’they were extremely

welcoming, very friendly,’ Hickey recalls. ’They said, ’We’re so happy

to have you here. We can’t believe you invited us to this big event.’’

The townspeople rubbed shoulders with the governor, lieutenant governor,

Loxley’s mayor, Hodnik and Ace’s board chairman.



Seven TV affiliates from Mobile, AL and Pensacola, FL covered the

groundbreaking.



Some 30 print placements occurred in July, though clippings are still

being collected. Most notable were a page-one story in the daily Mobile

Register - describing the day



in colorful detail and touting the economic boost the center will bring

- and an AP piece in the Dothan (Alabama) Eagle. Big dailies The

Atlanta



Journal and The Pensacola News Journal ran short items announcing the

event on July 15.





Future



In November, Guinness Media sent a letter approving Ace’s claim to be

the largest groundbreaking ceremony ever. DeFrancesco/Goodfriend is

meeting with Ace executives this month to push for another wave of

publicity coordinated with the formal Guinness award presentation. Ace

will also seek to build excitement for the September 2000 opening of the

center.



Client: Ace Hardware Corp. (Oak Brook, IL)

PR Team: DeFrancesco/Goodfriend Public Relations (Chicago)

Campaign: Groundbreaking for Loxley, AL support center

Time Frame: March to July 16, 1999

Budget: N/A



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