CAMPAIGNS: Best strategies and top tactics from the world of PR

Labor negotiations are never easy in the hardscrabble coal industry.


Company steals strike's thunder
Client: Freeman United (Springfield, IL)
PR Team: Cushman/Amberg Communications (Chicago)
Campaign: Winning union acceptance of new labor contract
Time Frame: February 1998 to December 1998
Budget: dollars 110,000

Labor negotiations are never easy in the hardscrabble coal industry.

When coal company Freeman United (Springfield, IL) wanted its workers to accept a redesigned pension and health benefits plan as well as more flexible hiring rules, the stage was set for a contentious dispute in early 1998. Because Freeman needed certain concessions to keep its high-sulfur Illinois mines operating, the company decided to negotiate its own contract. This was a departure from the norm of participating in a deal negotiated by the coal industry trade association.

Freeman, with 600 employees and seven mines in the state, hired Cushman/Amberg Communications (Chicago) to help get its message across to workers and other important constituents. It took a variety of PR strategies to communicate effectively through a short-lived strike, but Cushman and the coal company achieved their goals.

The PR firm aimed to:

- Convince the union, the United Mine Workers of America, that the company would go out of business without a new contract.

- Create the perception among opinion leaders in various mining communities that a new contract was the best hope for their towns' futures.

- Convince 179 UMWA members, the number needed for approval, to vote 'yes' on a new contract.

Cushman started working with Freeman in early '98. The firm's first objective was to 'sell something irresistible,' says Steve Cindrich, EVP at Cushman. 'Our message was (to maintain) 600 jobs while keeping the company competitive.'

Cushman's next objective was to get Freeman's story out. The PR firm also wanted to open a channel of communication to the union. Another goal was to give opinion leaders 'a reason to say yes,' Cindrich notes, and to deal with secondary audiences close to the situation.

The Illinois coal industry has shriveled from roughly 25,000 miners 20 years ago to only around 4,000 today. That's because most Illinois coal has a high sulfur content, making it a pollution problem. Low-sulfur coal from other states has been cutting into Illinois' markets and causing mine closings throughout its coal belt.

The PR firm worked to fill communication pipelines with the company's message throughout the negotiation period. From the beginning, Cushman had access to the chief negotiator for the company and its legal counsel.

To get the story out first, the firm identified and trained specialized spokespeople for the different constituencies, using mine foremen and management in local communities, for example.

Expert sources from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs and the National Mining Association were enlisted to outline the plight of coal mining in Illinois. 'We had to draw upon experts (who gave media interviews) to build credibility,' says Cindrich.

Freeman's president sent letters once a month to workers and their families throughout the negotiating process. The first, in March 1998 when negotiations started, was an introduction to the collective bargaining situation. The next letter discussed the changing coal industry. Subsequent ones reviewed specific company proposals. All company news releases were sent to the union directly, so workers would hear from the company first. 'We wanted to prevent them from getting hearsay' about the company's position, Cindrich explains.

When contract negotiations stalled in late summer and the union declared a sudden strike, Freeman beat it to the punch by announcing the strike to the public first. The PR firm also took the lead in informing bystanders?including customers, community leaders, plant security guards and spouses of management personnel?about the situation. Cindrich personally briefed security guards about what to expect from the media and picketers. 'We had different messages for different constituencies,' he says.

Mine foremen were asked to spread the back-to-work message, namely that approving a contract would allow everyone involved to resume their jobs.

Lastly, Cushman and Freeman agreed they had to leave the union room to win by never attacking the union and by allowing it to claim a victory in the end, namely the preservation of jobs. 'We always talked about the company and the employees as a team,' Cindrich says.

Intermittent negotiations lasted for about three months during the strike.

When the vote on the proposed contract was finally taken, 202 union members approved it and 154 were opposed. The strike ended last December with a new contract extending until 2002.

Cindrich admits there were some hard feelings during the strike. Non-union trucks coming to pick up stockpiled coal were sabotaged with spikes under the wheels that blew the tires, for example. 'People were angry,' he admits. But from the labor relations standpoint, 'the only thing that mattered was 179 people' needed to approve the contract.

Freeman, which has no internal communications staff, continues to look for ways to remain competitive in the coal business. This year, Cushman has worked to get the company's messages out to all its publics, while concentrating on building better relations with the workforce.

John Frank


LifeWise targets terminally ill
Client: LifeWise Family Financial Security, Inc. (Salt Lake City, UT)
PR Team: Cohn & Wolfe (New York)
Campaign: Image Building
Time Frame: Fall 1998 - present
Budget: Unavailable

Eight million Americans have cancer. This year, an additional two million will face that diagnosis and 500,000 will succumb to the disease.

Of these individuals, 70% report significant financial challenges resulting from their illness, yet most are unaware of the options and alternatives available to help lift the burden.

Such statistics, culled from internal and external research, spurred a move by LifeWise Family Financial Security late last fall to kick off an image-building campaign using Cohn & Wolfe. LifeWise bills itself as the only nationally regulated lending institution that offers qualified buyers who are suffering from cancer or other life-threatening diseases an opportunity to obtain loans secured by their life insurance policies.

'This is one of the most complicated marketing challenges you'd ever want to face,' observes Rick Natale, SVP, marketing, for LifeWise. 'Cohn & Wolfe contributed significantly to putting together a plan for realizing the potential of serving the needs of one of the most vulnerable groups in the country.'

The PR team was charged with helping LifeWise to attain several goals, explains C&W AE Nancy Lessuk. These included raising awareness about LifeWise's services among terminally ill persons and their families, differentiating LifeWise from companies that 'buy out' life insurance policies, educating the marketplace about the size and scope of the financial problems facing the terminally ill and the need for LifeWise's services and developing relationships with key third-party groups to secure endorsements and partnership opportunities.

Research showed serious gaps in cancer patients' and their families' awareness of financial options, she says. To address the problem, Cohn & Wolfe embarked on a program involving media relations, advocacy, and constituency relations (outreach to non-profit and for-profit groups that provide service, support, and information to the terminally ill) and the development of the LifeWise Foundation. The latter is a public charity that: awards grants to terminally ill, financially strapped patients who cannot meet eligibility requirements for state or private aid; educates families about the need for effective financial management when a member has a life-threatening disease; proffers information on other sources of financial assistance; and creates awareness among the public of the special financial needs of the terminally ill.

C&W created the Financial Resource Guide, a comprehensive 40-page handbook explaining all the financial options open to persons with limited life expectancies. 'We wanted patients to feel they were in control. Limiting them to a discussion of the LifeWise product would have been too much of a hard sell,' says Lessuk. The PR team emphasized in media relations that the guide is the only publication of its kind.

Over 800 print and broadcast media outlets were contacted about the financial plight of the terminally ill and the benefits of a LifeWise loan. Press releases focused on independent surveys, conducted by LifeWise and Wirthlin WorldWide, a leading independent polling organization, that quantitatively demonstrate the serious financial issues facing the terminally ill.

Actor and cancer survivor Robert Urich became a spokesperson and undertook a satellite media tour. Markets covered included Florida, California, and Chicago, where the incidence of cancer is higher than average, statistics show.

Additionally, Cohn & Wolfe engineered partnerships between non-profit and for-profit organizations and LifeWise. 'We proposed that these groups become vehicles for distributing key materials like the Financial Resource Guide and a general LifeWise tri-fold brochure, establishing web site linkages, arranging speaking/training engagements, and (giving LifeWise resources) newsletter coverage,' Lessuk says.

So far more than 195 million media impressions had been generated by stories on LifeWise, with several million more in the works, C&W reports.

CNNfn, Reuters, Knight Ridder newspapers, and USA Today have covered the story. Articles are pending in pharmaceutical, insurance and healthcare publications.

LifeWise has also established relationships with several key non-profit organizations serving the terminally ill. The American Cancer Society, Cancer Care, Gilda's Club, and the National Cancer Survivors Foundation, for instance, have held patient education seminars incorporating details of services available from LifeWise. The National Cancer Survivors Day and Cancer Care web sites now include links to the LifeWise Web page (

'Between the media coverage and the relationships, 4,000 copies of the guide and 5,000 tri-folds have been distributed so far,' Lessuk notes.

Cohn & Wolfe is currently working with LifeWise on establishing partnerships with for-profit organizations, such as the Association of Oncology Resources and Franklin Health.

C&W is conducting outreach on an ongoing basis to human resources/benefits consultant organizations, insurance companies, retail pharmacies, medical schools specializing in oncology, cancer centers/hospitals' case management organizations, and alternative treatment organizations.

The team's goals are the same as for non-profit groups. Efforts to publicize the LifeWise Foundation are on the drawing board.

Julie Ritzer Ross


A sweet SMT for diabetics
Client: Ross Products Div. Abbott Laboratories (Columbus, OH)
PR Team: Ruder Finn (New York)
Campaign: Ensure Glucerna Bars
Time Frame: December, 1998
Budget: dollars 15,000 for bilingual SMT

Being able to eat high-sugar foods on the run during the hectic year-end holiday season is something that most consumers take for granted.

But for the 15.7 million people with diabetes in the US, grabbing any kind of snack can be hazardous to their health. That was Ross Products' campaign focus when it launched its first nutraceutical targeted to diabetics, Ensure Glucerna Bars.

For an ethnic breakdown, there are 2.3 million African-Americans and 1.2 million Mexican Americans with diabetes. Both Mexican-Americans and African-Americans are almost twice as likely to have diabetes as non-Hispanic whites of a similar age. Almost 6% of Caucasians have diabetes compared to more than 10% of both of the minority groups.

These statistics led Ross Products execs to target both high-risk groups and the general public for Glucerna. 'It was very important to get the message out in front of both English- and Spanish-speaking Americans,' says Bill Wolfson, manager, marketing communications for Ross public affairs.

'This product was our first foray into the 'functional foods' arena,' adds Wolfson. 'Our goal was to make functional foods more consumer friendly.'

With the help of NY-based DS Simon Productions, Ross chose to do SMTs in both English and Spanish. 'In the past few years, there has been big growth in Hispanic broadcast media,' says Wolfson. He favors the SMT as an effective PR tool because 'you can control the message with a higher degree of precision. In a live situation, the producer can't edit out brand references.'

The only obstacle in producing the SMT was the language barrier, Wolfson notes. 'I was doing the training in English and our Spanish spokesperson was bilingual. But (since it was her first time), she was nervous and uncomfortable until one of our employees at the agency, who spoke Spanish, interpreted for her.' Ruth Carey, a registered dietician, was the English-speaking spokesperson, with Petra Guerra, an RN and case manager who works with diabetes patients, as the Spanish representative.

'Having a Spanish-speaking spokesperson enabled us to get some top Spanish markets to do custom interviews,' says Doug Simon, president of DS Simon. Those markets included Chicago, Washington DC, Miami, and Phoenix.

Coordinating the English/Spanish aspect of the SMT was a challenge, agrees Simon. 'We made sure to have a bilingual phone coordinator who could call both English and Spanish stations. We needed a bilingual pitching staff. And, from a production standpoint, we needed a bit more equipment, so we could have both spokespeople wired up. We had to be able to switch from one to the other in as little as 15 seconds.'

DS Simon was able to save time and dollars 5,000 on this project by combining the Spanish and English SMTs into one continuous broadcast that ran for four straight hours on December 21. English- and Spanish-speaking spokeswomen were available interchangeably for interviews.

The numbers supported the decision to do the SMTs in Spanish as well as English. 'Nielsen numbers for broadcast outlets have declined, but not for Spanish language news,' reports Simon. 'I attribute that to changing demographics in the US.'

In total, 30 interviews were conducted, 17 in English and 13 in Spanish.

The SMT recorded more than 100 airings. 'It was a very cost-effective way for us to get our message out,' says Wolfson.

'We plan to do this again with other products, and not just with new products, but with nutritionally related healthcare issues. The bang for the buck is obvious,' he adds. The company is also planning to use the Internet as an adjunct to its PR efforts. 'We will have our own site for Ross Products,' says Wolfson. The site will most likely be targeted to healthcare pros and the media, he notes. 'We would like to put videos taken from the SMTs on the Web site.'

Debra S. Hauss


AA names new sports center
Client: American Airlines and Hillwood Development (both Dallas)
PR Team: BSMG (Dallas)
Campaign: Announcing name of new complex
Time Frame: March 1999
Budget: Undisclosed

The Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars will reside in a new sports arena by late 2001. Last year, city voters narrowly approved a referendum dedicating dollars 125 million in taxes on hotel rooms and rental cars to partially fund the project.

With interest high, the principals quietly signed a contract under which American Airlines will pay at least dollars 150 million for the privilege of having its name on the arena for the next 30 years. The airline, sports teams, and local businesses also created the charitable American Airlines Foundation.

BSMG had three weeks to organize a glitzy, Dallas-style announcement event of Texas-sized proportions.

Ken Luce, GM of BSMG's Dallas office, said the first goal was to recognize American's 'significant contribution to North Texas.' Second, organizers wanted to introduce business leaders and potential season ticket holders to the facility.

The event took place in a tent at what will become the construction site.

Quiet preparations included landscaping, leveling dirt, and erecting a huge billboard at a busy downtown intersection.

Ten days before, BSMG sent out invitations in the form of personalized Stars' hockey pucks with notes revealing only a date and time. That teaser was followed seven days later by a Mavericks' basketball and information on location and logistics.

Media advisories distributed the day before touted a 'special announcement regarding the new Dallas arena.'

The fete featured lunch for 500 prepared by one of Dallas' top chefs; a low flyover by an American 777; and the unveiling of a giant billboard christening the new arena American Airlines Center. Attendees included local sports stars, celebrity athletes, and the Dallas mayor, Ron Kirk, who endorsed the arena's importance to downtown. Press received packs containing camera-ready logos, quotes about the project's economic impact, information on foundation contributions, and naming contract details, somewhat light on financial specifics.

BSMG's own post-event analysis measured more than 12 million newspaper impressions and heavy coverage by broadcast news media over a three-day period.

The Dallas and Fort Worth dailies both quoted a city councilwoman who opposed the naming contract because it does not bring the city any revenue. But most coverage was positive.

Although BSMG has no official assignments, Luce said the firm anticipates work on various announcements about architectural designs and other construction and marketing phases of the project.

Sherri Deatherage Green

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