Effort builds coastal awareness

About 25 square miles of coastal Louisiana disappear every year as a result of human activities up and down the Mississippi River, threatening waterborne commerce, oil and gas production, commercial fishing, wildlife, and area residents.

About 25 square miles of coastal Louisiana disappear every year as a result of human activities up and down the Mississippi River, threatening waterborne commerce, oil and gas production, commercial fishing, wildlife, and area residents.

Formed about three years ago with $3 million in initial funding from Shell Oil, the America's Wetland: Campaign to Save Coastal Louisiana has sought to raise awareness in the state and nationwide about the dangers of coastal erosion. Another goal is to foster support for engineering projects, changes in agricultural practices, and other measures to reverse the damage.

Strategy

To keep state and federal lawmakers, as well as the public in general, mindful of the harm caused by the fast-eroding coastline of Louisiana, the America's Wetland campaign organized several events tied to the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Rita, which accelerated the rate of damage to the wetlands.

"The press did not give the same attention to Rita as it did to Katrina, and the areas that were severely damaged were in some rural areas that do not normally attract coverage," says Valsin Marmillion, president and founder of Marmillion & Co., which organized several events in Louisiana and Washington during the third week of September.

Tactics

More than 130 "women of the storm" - civic and business leaders from Louisiana - on September 20 met in DC with members of Congress to encourage them to visit Louisiana to view firsthand the dangers the region faces, support federal funding of protective measures, and attend the premiere of the PBS documentary Washing Away, funded by the America's Wetland campaign.

On September 23, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D-LA), the director of Gulf Coast recovery and restoration for President George W. Bush, and other officials participated in a two-mile cattle drive through one of the coastal areas damaged by Rita.

The following day, an "interfaith service" was held, and a summit of federal and state officials from Louisiana and Texas met to discuss the importance of the coastal region to the US economy, including domestic energy supply.

Results

The total effect of any public awareness campaign is difficult to quantify, notes Sidney Coffee, executive assistant to Blanco for coastal activities, but the events tied to Hurricane Rita's anniversary generated widespread national media attention, including coverage by ABC World News and USA Today.

"The campaign has also done a tremendous job of raising awareness in the state," Coffee says, including strong support for a recently passed amendment to direct all state profits from off-shore oil and gas production toward coastal protection.

Marmillion says other environmental protection campaigns have sought to garner lessons learned from the America's Wetland campaign.

Future

A new initiative called America's Energy Coast will use PSAs and other outreach to raise public awareness about the Louisiana coast's importance for America's domestic energy supply. In addition, the organization also plans various programs in all states through which the Mississippi River runs to highlight activities harmful to the health of the entire river, including its delta.

PR team: America's Wetland: Campaign to Save Coastal Louisiana (New Orleans) and Marmillion & Co. (Washington)

Campaign: Commemoration of Hurricane Rita

Duration: September 20-26, 2006

Budget: About $160,000

PRWeek 's view
Simply scheduling events to coincide with the anniversary of Hurricane Rita would not have been enough. The America's Wetland campaign created a media event with Blanco and other officials riding horses that drew reporters and TV cameras, generating attention for an initiative that requires ongoing support from state and federal lawmakers, as well as voters. Direct lobbying by business and civic leaders, and an emphasis on the hot-button issue of "energy security," also made sure that lawmakers paid attention.

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