Company Outreach: Winston & Strawn marks 150th year with school events

As one of the few American professional services companies that have been around since the mid-19th century, Chicago-based law firm Winston & Strawn (W&S) had a lot to crow about as it approached its 150th anniversary year in 2003.

As one of the few American professional services companies that have been around since the mid-19th century, Chicago-based law firm Winston & Strawn (W&S) had a lot to crow about as it approached its 150th anniversary year in 2003.

But the legal firm, with offices that now span the globe and a client list that includes Microsoft, wanted to do more that just use the milestone for self-promotion. "We decided it wouldn't be about giving a party for ourselves," says Barbara Session, director of business development for W&S. "Instead, we opted to give something back to the community as a way of thanking our clients."

W&S hired HLB Communications to craft a PR campaign that would highlight the law firm's commitment to four of the cities where it has offices - New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Strategy

HLB brought in research firm The History Factory, which determined that a focus on education had been an important thread throughout W&S' existence. That provided the central theme for the 12-month campaign - Opportunities Through Education.

The PR firm worked with W&S to select charitable children's educational programs in each of the cities where the campaign was to run. "We worked with four different organizations in four different markets," notes HLB senior consultant Colleen Nolan, adding that the efforts ranged from funding after-school tutoring programs to providing books for libraries to building playgrounds. "Not only were the markets very different, but people's knowledge of the firm and the media interest in what is essentially a soft-focused story differed market by market."

The altruistic nature of the program helped attract politicians and celebrities, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, to the efforts, which in turned heightened the media interest.

Tactics

One of the challenges facing HLB was the fact that the effort geographically spanned the entire country, yet had to be customized for each market. In addition to creating a national media kit that focused both on the company and its education efforts, Nolan says, "We then had four individualized media kits tailored for each market, and those were more focused on promoting the little programs we were helping."

The campaign kicked off with an "Opportunities for Education" launch event in New York that took place at a Harlem school and was done in conjunction with Mayor Bloomberg's office and the Urban League. That was followed by launch events in the other three cities, all focused not so much on W&S as on the schools that were benefiting from the program.

HLB went back to reporters several times throughout the year with monthly progress reports, providing details, such as the completion of a playground, the amount of college applications that were filled out, and the number of students benefiting from after-school tutoring. "It ended up being a nice way to get the same media back to see the progress that had been made because a lot of them were skeptical of this big corporation dropping money," says Nolan.

Results

The yearlong effort not only provided tangible benefits to the people in these communities - including $1 million in contributions and more than $12 million in pro bono legal work - but, Sessions notes, it also had the side benefit of raising the national profile of what traditionally has been perceived as a Chicago-based law firm.

The effort generated just under 6 million impressions in outlets ranging from community papers to national legal journals. Included were stories in major papers, such as the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, as well as features on local TV outlets that included WWOR in New York and KCAL in Los Angeles. "I think people realized that it was a very worthwhile program," Session says.

Future

Session says that while the PR efforts surrounding the anniversary have ended, "A lot of the work we're doing is continuing for each individual program." She and Nolan added that someone from the company's New York office was just principal for a day at the Harlem school where they've sponsored an after-school learning program.

PR team: Winston & Strawn (Chicago) and HLB Communications (Chicago)

Campaign: Winston & Strawn's Opportunities Through Education

Time frame: December 2002 to December 2003

Budget: $140,000

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