CAMPAIGNS: Community Relations

In the fall of 1997, Lansing, MI faced every town’s nightmare - General Motors, its major employer, announced that by 2003 it might no longer operate two local plants that accounted for roughly 7,000 jobs.

In the fall of 1997, Lansing, MI faced every town’s nightmare - General Motors, its major employer, announced that by 2003 it might no longer operate two local plants that accounted for roughly 7,000 jobs.

In the fall of 1997, Lansing, MI faced every town’s nightmare -

General Motors, its major employer, announced that by 2003 it might no

longer operate two local plants that accounted for roughly 7,000

jobs.



Apparently some city council opposition to offering tax abatements to

upgrade the plants had turned off GM on the long-term viability of

remaining in Lansing, where it’s operated for roughly 100 years. While

an abatement measure had passed in 1996, the five-to-three vote left bad

blood in the council and with the automaker.





Strategy



Lansing mayor David Hollister turned to local PR firm Kolt & Serkaian

Communications. The mayor wanted the agency to craft a dynamic campaign

that would rally local support for assistance measures that would keep

GM in town while at the same time convincing GM of Lansing’s many

positive attributes. The GM-oriented portion of the campaign stressed

regional cooperation among various local governmental bodies as well as

labor and local business. The citizen-oriented part of the plan sought

to emphasize the importance of GM to the local economy.





Tactics



A ’Blue Ribbon Committee to Keep GM’ was formed, bringing together

business, labor and education leaders. The campaign slogan - ’Lansing

Works! Keep GM!’ - helped various stakeholders identify with the

program. The agency plastered the slogan on billboards between Detroit

and Lansing to show visiting GM executives that the city was serious

about keeping the automaker.



It distributed bumper stickers to union members and prepared a Lansing

Works! video as well as audio spots. Regular press conferences and news

releases kept local media up-to-date on the GM situation. A quick

response team was organized from the committee to answer media and GM

questions.



The mayor incorporated the theme in his 1998 state of the city speech,

given at GM’s Oldsmobile headquarters to garner more media play. The

local ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox affiliates all assigned reporters to cover

the story on an ongoing basis. ’The mayor’s ability to set the agenda

was critical,’ says agency president Steve Serkaian. ’The coalition

building process was very public.’ The mayor also successfully

campaigned against city council members who had opposed GM

assistance.



To rally local support, a University of Michigan study was commissioned

that demonstrated the impact GM has on the area economy. GM provides the

city of 130,000 people with dollars 4.5 million in annual tax revenues

and dollars 11.2 million in property and school taxes. A loss of 7,000

jobs at the two GM plants could have had a ripple impact of a loss of

35,000 jobs, the campaign argued.





Results



The campaign succeeded in building local support, a fact partially

confirmed by the anti-GM council members being voted out of office. GM

became impressed by the level of local cooperation. It ’helped to create

a positive framework for GM to want to do business there,’ says Renee

Rashid-Merem, a communications manager with GM’s car group. GM announced

in late January that it would build a new Cadillac plant in Lansing. The

city provided dollars 15 million in site improvements. The area is also

on a short-list of possible sites for a second new GM production

facility, Hollister notes. GM has even moved other production to

existing Lansing facilities and is considering moving its e-commerce

operation to the area.





Future



The campaign continues as the city seeks to attract more GM facilities

and operations. The campaign slogan has been changed to ’Lansing

Works!



Keeping GM!’ to reflect its early successes. The blue ribbon committee

has turned its attention to local school improvement issues, seeking to

better local vocational training. Mayor Hollister gave his 2000 state of

the city speech in neighboring East Lansing at Michigan State University

to stress the continuing need for regional cooperation to attract and

keep major employers like GM.



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