In 2002, a union of federal, state, and local law enforcement was created to increase the efforts to reduce gun violence in Nebraska through a national partnership called Project Safe Neighborhoods.To inform affected communities and, hopefully, deter potential offenders, Mike Heavican, the US attorney for Nebraska, sought the help of PR firm Bailey Lauerman to launch a media-advertising campaign promising "Hard Time for Gun Crime" for individuals possessing a gun or using a firearm in conjunction with a felony crime. The offenders would then receive a mandatory sentence of five years in federal prison.
Bailey Lauerman was given the task of getting the word out to the people of Nebraska and sending a message to those who might potentially break this new law.
The PR team decided to direct its focus on Omaha, a major hot spot for gun-related crime in the state, while also targeting the rest of Nebraska.
"We needed to get Omaha convinced that reducing gun crime was a good thing for [the city]," says Doug Parrott, EVP and PR director at Bailey Lauerman. The first task was contacting the radio and TV stations, as well as local newspapers in Omaha. The campaign was kicked off with a six-week media blitz that included paid ads, PSAs, and news stories. Because a vast majority of gun-related felonies are committed by young adults, the firm decided to direct the ads toward the youth.
Bailey Lauerman's first order of business was setting up a broadcast campaign. The agency partnered with all four local TV stations and the local cable provider, Cox Communications. Fortunately, all stations involved agreed to give the agency one free PSA for every paid commercial that aired, doubling the effectiveness of the media buy.
"We were thrilled to have the media [on our side]," says Parrott. The paid commercials and PSAs were also conveniently targeted to appear during time periods and programs when youth would be watching.
"The key was convincing younger people that it's not cool to carry a gun," he adds. Bailey Lauerman also struck a deal with the three main radio networks in Omaha - Journal Broadcasting, Waitt Communications, and Clear Channel.
As the campaign got on Nebraska's airwaves, a print/billboard campaign was launched simultaneously. Area newspapers and the city's major billboard company also agreed to provide free ads and billboard placements after a purchased ad campaign was established. "It's pretty rare to have all the media involved," says Parrott.
The campaign has been an overwhelming success, thanks in part to the team effort, which was greatly strengthened by the support of Omaha's media outlets. Heavican called a press conference on June 21 to announce that gun-related assaults were down 38%. He also noted that there has been a continued reduction in gun-related felonies this year, while federal prosecution of gun-related cases has gone up 70%.
"We heard feedback that offenders, through jailhouse talk, were feeling the heat with this new push on getting tough on gun crime, and many of them were trying to plead quickly to avoid getting a stiffer sentence," says Heavican via an e-mail about the impact the new laws have had on offenders.
Nebraska continues to enforce its strict policies against gun-related crimes. In order for Bailey Lauerman to continue working on the effort, however, another grant would be needed from the government.
"The government seems satisfied," notes Parrott. "It looks promising for the state to receive another grant."
PR team: Nebraska Crime Commission and Bailey Lauerman (Omaha, NE)
Campaign: Hard Time for Gun Crime
Time frame: February 2003 to July 2004