CAMPAIGNS: Citizens set sail on a PR push to claim Governors Island

PR Team: Governors Island Group (New York) and Ruder Finn (New York) Campaign: Governors Island: For the People Time Frame: January-June 2002 Budget: Pro bono ($40,000 for expenses)

PR Team: Governors Island Group (New York) and Ruder Finn (New York) Campaign: Governors Island: For the People Time Frame: January-June 2002 Budget: Pro bono ($40,000 for expenses)

When the US Coast Guard decided in 1997 that it didn't need Governors Island anymore, it didn't take the usual approach of turning old military bases over to the local government. Instead, Congress slapped a price tag of $300 million on the beautiful, 175-acre landmass at the entrance of New York's East River, and ordered it to be sold to the highest bidder. The state and city couldn't afford that. The Governors Island Group (GIG), made up of 40 civic organizations, needed to convince the politicians to keep the treasure of an island in public hands, rather than let it be turned into a gated community or glitzy casino. Strategy The biggest problem facing the effort was that Governors Island really didn't have a constituency. "We weren't generating a lot of traction with the public because the island is kind of invisible," says Rob Pirani, director of environmental programs with the Regional Plan Association and a founding member of the GIG. The group and Ruder Finn, the New York PR agency that signed on to help, decided the audience to go after was boaters. At the same time, they needed to reach the media, the general public, civic groups, and elected officials. Tactics Because of low funds, the team opted for one bold event to draw attention to the issue: a 1,000-boat flotilla, with a flag carried across the harbor by rowboat and planted on the disputed tract, reclaiming it for the state. A logo and website (www. were created, as well as a press kit for the June 2 event with timelines, backgrounders, schedules, and a T-shirt. The campaign rallying cry was, "Governors Island: For the People," with the key message of "rediscover, reclaim, and recreate." The PR team reached boaters by mailing materials to local marinas and securing a complimentary exhibit table at the annual New York Boat Show. It registered vessels for the flotilla at docks, and developed a newsletter to keep up boater interest. To garner support, Ruder Finn helped arrange a morning conference attended by over 50 civic groups and historic associations. In addition to phoning media, the agency organized a press conference on the steps of city hall a few weeks prior to the event. It also mounted a guerrilla PR campaign that brought a group of 30 interns and GIG members to the Today show studios. "We got Al Roker to come over and give us some quality airtime," says Ed Harnaga, a Ruder Finn VP who oversaw the effort. Perhaps the most important audience was political leaders. The group worked with elected officials on a letter-writing campaign to present its arguments. The letters were followed up with phone calls and meetings. The ultimate goal was to get President Bush and Gov. George Pataki (R-NY) to strike a deal. Results The media exposure and political outreach, which kept the island in the press for many months leading up to the June event, did the trick. President Bush announced in April that the island would be transferred to the state. Because of the early success, the flotilla event ended up being a celebration, and was covered by CBS, ABC, NY1, the New York Daily News, the New York Post, and Newsday. The political outreach resulted in congressional representatives Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler speaking at the city hall press conference. Future Governor's Island was officially handed over to the state of New York on January 31. Harnaga says that Ruder Finn will probably work with the GIG on PR programs centered on how the newly acquired land jewel will ultimately be used.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in