Client: Champion Enterprises (Auburn Hills, MI); Arkansas
Manufactured Housing Association (Little Rock, AR)
PR Team: Burson-Marsteller (Detroit, MI); Cranford Johnson Robinson
Woods (Little Rock, AR)
Campaign: The Upwardly Mobile Home
Time Frame: August 2000
Budget: About dollars 70,000
House trailers and Arkansas go together in people's minds, almost like
peanut butter and jelly.
So when Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee decided to move his family into a
Champion Enterprises manufactured home while the governor's mansion was
being renovated, the homebuilder and its agency, Burson-Marsteller, saw
an opportunity to boost the industry's image - if not that of the
The challenge was to overcome zoning hurdles, as well as bad press
surrounding past allegations of the governor's inappropriate acceptance
Burson's research had already identified zoning issues and a negative
industry image as hindrances to Champion's business. So in addition to
gaining media exposure for the governor's choice of housing, Burson
hoped to position Champion as a leader in an industry that has grown far
beyond tin-can trailer homes by showcasing the desirability of modern
To achieve this, Burson targeted business, political and consumer
audiences, and billed Champion's manufactured homes as solutions to the
affordable housing crisis and attractive options for affluent, aging
The campaign focused on the attractive exterior of the governor's
temporary home and on getting reporters inside on move-in day. The
2,100-square-foot manufactured home, with three bedrooms and two living
areas, contrasted favorably with the Huckabees' outdated
1,200-square-foot apartment in the governor's mansion.
The Arkansas Manufactured Housing Association (AMHA) and its local PR
firm, Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods, concentrated on public and
community affairs issues. Little Rock zoning ordinances ban manufactured
houses, but the governor's mansion sits on state-owned land outside city
authority, explains AMHA executive director JD Harper.
Although permission wasn't necessary, the AMHA petitioned the Capital
Area Zoning Commission for approval to temporarily place the home on
governor's mansion grounds. 'Everybody had an opportunity on the front
end to learn about the project,' Harper says.
Burson organized a 'send off' media event at Champion's Ridgeville, IN,
plant. The home, hauled on three trailers, was decorated with banners
proclaiming 'Destination Little Rock: My other home's the governor's
mansion.' The PR team kept reporters informed of the house's progress
along the way, fostering local and national media coverage. Three weeks
later, Burson hosted a 'move-in' media event which featured the
Huckabees and a tour of the home.
Burson's project coordinator Eve Pidgeon and her team used humor and
information about cost savings to counter negative perceptions about
Huckabee's use of gifts.
The first couple provided many of the best campaign punch lines,
including one favorite supplied by Janet Huckabee: 'It's not hard to get
us to move in, but it will be hard to get us to move out.' She also
dubbed herself 'Queen of the Triple-wide,' although Champion and Burson
discouraged use the term 'triple-wide' because of its stereotypically
The campaign garnered more than 150 print articles and 340 broadcast
stories in 41 of the top 50 media markets. The Huckabees joked with Jay
Leno on The Tonight Show, and the story ran on several national news
Most coverage was positive; however, some Arkansans felt the governor
made their state a laughing stock. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette ran an
editorial cartoon depicting the Huckabees and their PR person as the
And while an article by David Firestone of The New York Times was mostly
positive, he says he got the impression Huckabee was more interested in
raising awareness of mansion renovation than of the value of
manufactured homes as low-cost housing alternatives.
Champion incorporated the governor's mansion publicity into other
advertising and marketing materials. The campaign accelerated the
company's launch of its new Genesis brand and boosted sales.
Burson's relationship with Champion is ongoing. And the governor's
family will live in the home for about another two years, leaving the
door open for more tornado jokes and image-building photo ops.