In 2009, Silva Harotonian, an Iranian citizen of Armenian descent, was sentenced to three years in an Iranian prison while doing work for the International Research & Exchanges Board's (IREX) Maternal and Child Health Education and Exchange Program.
Harotonian was charged with attempting to overthrow the Iranian government and IREX was faced with the complex challenge of bringing national attention to the matter amid protests and arrests surrounding Iran's presidential elections. IREX enlisted Edelman to execute a campaign and raise international awareness among key influencers.
Edelman used research to identify Ayatollah Seyed Ali Hoseyni Khamene'i , the supreme ruler; and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, as the two most important individuals who could impact Harotonian's situation. The campaign targeted people who could influence the individuals who were trusted by Khamene'i and Ahmadinejad.
Edelman developed an advocacy website as the core platform of the campaign. The site was updated with family interviews, information from events, viral video, and an online petition.
The campaign targeted international media and assisted public and private diplomatic efforts to make personal appeals for Harotonian's release. It also commemorated the one-year anniversary of Harotonian's detention with a press conference at the Human Rights Esplanade in Paris.
"Groundbreaking use of media to influence an impenetrable regime," said one judge.
On November 5, 2009, after three months of private negotiations and 11 months into her three-year sentence, Harotonian was paroled. In March 2010, she was allowed to leave Iran.
The advocacy website was such a powerful tool that taking it down was part of the negotiations for Harotonian's release.
"Thoughtful, skillfully implemented strategy showing keen knowledge of the political environment," said one judge.
Honorable Mention: Weber Shandwick Cambridge and Genzyme Corporation: Genzyme Transformation
After a contamination of two of Genzyme's flagship products at a manufacturing plant, investors began to voice doubts about senior management. The crisis escalated when shareholder activist Carl Icahn initiated a proxy battle against Genzyme. The company hired Weber Shandwick to develop a campaign that used video interviews with senior management to educate investors, journalists, and internal staff about its recovery strategy. Genzyme and Icahn reached an agreement that allowed CEO Henri Termeer to retain his post and two of Icahn's candidates to join the board of directors.
The Award Recognizes the most effective crisis- or issues-management work by an agency, corporate PR team, or a combination of both.
Edelman and International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX): Free Silva: Politics, Prison and the Power of PR
Ketchum and Visit Florida: Tourism Crisis Management: Gulf Oil Spill
Weber Shandwick Cambridge and Genzyme Corporation: Genzyme Transformation
Weber Shandwick Dallas and American Airlines: Hijacking Threat Response: American Airlines Tweets with Passengers Aboard Flight AA24
Weber Shandwick and New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau: Not Such Easy Going in the Big Easy
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