GCP's effort saves DFAS jobs

When the Pentagon made a recommendation to close Cleveland's Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), chances for reversal seemed slim.

When the Pentagon made a recommendation to close Cleveland's Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), chances for reversal seemed slim.

The community was mostly unaware of the DFAS, and the city was unsure of the specifics of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process and unable to challenge the recommendation. Knowing that a closure would bring the loss of 1,200 jobs and endless problems for the hundreds of thousands of people paid through the office, the Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP), a regional business advocacy group, took action.

Strategy

The GCP hired Edward Howard & Co. to help mobilize support. The firm knew research would be important in laying the foundation for the effort. Because the DFAS brass were required to remain neutral during the BRAC process, the firm would have to turn to the employees' union and media analyses for information.

Once it knew more about the DFAS, the firm would have to dissect the BRAC process itself to more accurately respond to the BRAC recommendation.

"We knew... we needed to raise questions about the methodology that was employed and whether it was correct because that would affect the recommendations and decision," says Wayne Hill, president of Edward Howard & Co.

Tactics

A thorough review of the criteria and calculations used in the Pentagon's recommendation unearthed mistakes in the methodology and statistics, which the firm was able to convey in a pivotal BRAC Regional Hearing.

After analyzing the economic impact of the closure and its role in the war effort, the firm developed messages and strategy reflecting that the work being done in Cleveland was of superior quality and could not be performed elsewhere without negatively affecting military members and their families, as well as the Cleveland DFAS employees.

A broad coalition effort was developed to trumpet these messages through rallies, distributed materials, and employee involvement, humanizing the DFAS and letting the community know its help was needed.

"Because we were able to understand what they were doing and how they were doing it, we were able to make the community understand that we actually had a jewel here in downtown Cleveland, one that was pivotal in the war effort," says Hill.

Results

Not only did the commission vote to overturn the Pentagon's initial recommendation, it added a minimum of 500 new jobs to the DFAS. The decision preserved a $65 million annual payroll and $1.3 million in annual Cleveland income tax revenue, and several members of the media acknowledged that their previous skepticism was misplaced.

"Our success came from really challenging the recommendation itself and undoing that," says Carol Caruso, SVP for advocacy at the GCP.

Future

Now that the DFAS is safe, GCP is working on marketing Cleveland itself, channeling its efforts into transferring eligible workers from other DFAS locations.

"We're looking to build upon the huge success by attracting folks to come to Cleveland and fill the jobs we were able to retain and grow," says Caruso.

PR team: Greater Cleveland Partnership (Cleveland) and Edward Howard & Co. (Cleveland)
Campaign: Excellent People. Excellent Performance. Excellent Value.
Duration: May 2005-ongoing
Budget: About $150,000

PRWeek's view

Unlike many campaigns that benefit from a running start, Edward Howard & Co.'s intensive initial research of the BRAC process was vital to the success of the campaign. Rather than going to the public immediately following the closure recommendation, it took the time to collect as much data as possible to ensure that the public was well-informed about the purpose of the DFAS before asking them to rally around it. By vesting the community's interest in the base's future, the firm was able to guarantee genuine concern - and involvement - in the effort.

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