CAMPAIGNS: Product PR - Champion drives messages home

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

of gifts.


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

manufactured housing.

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

baby boomers.

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areas, contrasted favorably with the Huckabees' outdated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

low-rent connotation.


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

Beverly Hillbillies.

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.

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