A groundbreaking can reap a ton of yawns. But when Chicago-based DeFrancesco/Goodfriend was given the task of making something of the July 16 groundbreaking for Ace Hardware’s newest retail support center, it became more like Mayberry RFD meets the Guinness Book of World Records.
A groundbreaking can reap a ton of yawns. But when Chicago-based
DeFrancesco/Goodfriend was given the task of making something of the
July 16 groundbreaking for Ace Hardware’s newest retail support center,
it became more like Mayberry RFD meets the Guinness Book of World
Building such a center is a major endeavor for Ace, a Fortune 500 dealer
cooperative based in Oak Brook, IL. The company boasts more than 5,100
independent stores in 50 states, but only 15 support centers to serve
those retailers with hardware products. The new dollars 35-million
center, now being constructed in Loxley, AL, will supply stores in
Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida. The company wanted
a phenomenal hook on groundbreaking day to snag press attention and win
over the townspeople of Loxley.
While brainstorming - clearly inspired by Ace’s theme for the project,
’Southern Hospitality’ - firm and client came up with the idea of
inviting the entire town of Loxley (population: 1,100) to break ground.
The company would give away Ace shovels and T-shirts to everyone who
turned up. They’d also throw a picnic.
’We thought this was a chance to show our warm feelings toward the
people in the community and get them to start seeing Ace as a member of
the community,’ explains Anne Marie Hickey, senior communications
specialist at Ace. The center will create jobs for 325 people and pump
an estimated dollars 7 million a year into Loxley’s economy.
The company also realized that, if most of the town showed, it would
have a shot at winning a Guinness record for the most participants ever
at a groundbreaking.
In June, Ace sent a personal invitation to all Loxley residents. David
Hodnik, Ace president and CEO, also sent letters to Alabama Gov. Don
Siegelman and other state officials requesting that they attend. The
first press contact was a letter of invitation from the Ace PR manager
to 25 area daily and community newspapers; seven TV and 30 radio
stations; 30 trade publications; the two Chicago dailies and the local
Associated Press reporters.
Then, just two weeks later, DeFrancesco/Goodfriend faxed the same
reporters a one-page media alert. By that point, some 1,000 Loxley
townspeople had RSVPed, so the PR firm played up the size of the event
and the Guinness attempt. The firm followed up by telephone and faxed
another release the day of the event and the day after.
Townspeople crowded the service center site on July 16. Some 800 of them
broke ground together while shouting in unison the Ace slogan: ’Ace Is
the Place!’ Then 1,000 folks broke bread (and devoured ribs, shrimp,
catfish, two whole roasted pigs, pecan pies and gallons of lemonade) at
the picnic in a local park. It was sweltering that day, and the
gathering endured a spell of rain. Nonetheless, ’they were extremely
welcoming, very friendly,’ Hickey recalls. ’They said, ’We’re so happy
to have you here. We can’t believe you invited us to this big event.’’
The townspeople rubbed shoulders with the governor, lieutenant governor,
Loxley’s mayor, Hodnik and Ace’s board chairman.
Seven TV affiliates from Mobile, AL and Pensacola, FL covered the
Some 30 print placements occurred in July, though clippings are still
being collected. Most notable were a page-one story in the daily Mobile
Register - describing the day
in colorful detail and touting the economic boost the center will bring
- and an AP piece in the Dothan (Alabama) Eagle. Big dailies The
Journal and The Pensacola News Journal ran short items announcing the
event on July 15.
In November, Guinness Media sent a letter approving Ace’s claim to be
the largest groundbreaking ceremony ever. DeFrancesco/Goodfriend is
meeting with Ace executives this month to push for another wave of
publicity coordinated with the formal Guinness award presentation. Ace
will also seek to build excitement for the September 2000 opening of the
Client: Ace Hardware Corp. (Oak Brook, IL)
PR Team: DeFrancesco/Goodfriend Public Relations (Chicago)
Campaign: Groundbreaking for Loxley, AL support center
Time Frame: March to July 16, 1999