CAMPAIGNS: Habitat builds up press awareness via Global Village

PR Team: Habitat for Humanity International (Americus, GA) Campaign: Global Village & Discovery Center opening Time Frame: December 2002 - June 2003 Budget: $15,000

PR Team: Habitat for Humanity International (Americus, GA) Campaign: Global Village & Discovery Center opening Time Frame: December 2002 - June 2003 Budget: $15,000

Habitat for Humanity is in the business of alleviating poverty by building houses around the world for those in need. The nonprofit has little in common, then, with theme parks such as Disneyland. But Habitat founder Millard Fuller is known for creative, daring ideas, and used the amusement-park model as a launch point for a tourist attraction in Georgia that would help Habitat highlight its work, and give visitors a better understanding of the living conditions it hopes to eradicate. This summer, his vision was realized when Habitat's Global Village & Discovery Center opened its doors to the public. The six-acre complex offers examples of the kinds of houses Habitat volunteers build, as well as replicas of the slums from which lucky Habitat homeowners escape. Sound like a fun vacation spot to take the kids? Convincing both the media and the public that the site was worth a visit became the challenge of Habitat's in-house PR team. Strategy Led by PR director Barbara Webber, Habitat wanted both the general and the travel-and-tourism press to cover the new venture as an interesting and powerful place to learn about both Habitat and world poverty. Knowing that it wasn't going to be an easy sell, her team decided to invite members of the press in early to gauge their response. While Webber's group had a great deal of experience with the general press, travel and tourism was a new area, so they decided to hire an expert, enlisting the help of Florida-based consultant Jenny Hess. "Together we developed press materials that described the dilapidated shacks as well as the Habitat houses that are all over the world," says Webber. "It really helps to get someone who's not in your world all the time to take a look at your project. Her look at the Global Village was much more graphic than ours. She really focused on the poverty, because for her it was a wake-up call as well." Tactics Webber's team held a "sneak peak" for the press six months before the opening. Local and regional media turned out, but travel reporters did not. However, the resulting stories gave Habitat a glimpse at how their venture was perceived, and what they had to alter to get the desired coverage. "The surprise of the campaign was that in the process of talking to reporters, what they were most interested in was the poverty section," she says. The team refocused its message to highlight that angle, and give greater emotional depth to the story. "There wasn't a real human component to it," says Webber of the original pitch. "We changed our language to be very descriptive of what people would experience when they came to the Global Village. We got away from the word 'museum' because we didn't want people to feel they were going to walk through something sterile." The breakthrough moment for the campaign, however, was a casual remark made by Fuller to a travel reporter in which he dubbed the new attraction a "slum theme park." "I wish I could say it was strategic messaging," says Webber. "It took off like wildfire in a way that touches people's hearts." Results Webber says the results from the campaign were "fabulous," creating media hits in more than 150 outlets, including the Today show, the AP, and The New York Times. Since its June opening, 5,000 people have visited the Global Village, which is located near Atlanta. Future Webber says her team is always looking for new ways to grab attention, including highlighting new phases of park construction as they are completed. She also plans on reaching out to smaller local press when visitors become Habitat volunteers. "I think there are sidebar stories about the Global Village," she says. "There is room to personalize the stories and take them to the person's hometown."

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