The International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX) hired Edelman to help free Silva Harotonian, an Iranian citizen of Armenian descent. Harotonian was sentenced to prison after traveling to Tehran for a meeting involving her work for IREX's Maternal and Child Health Education and Exchange Program.
Judges were extremely impressed with Edelman's exemplary campaign that helped get Harotonian paroled in November 2009 and out of Iran in March 2010.
"The political sensitivities of this campaign were staggering," said one judge. "Only a perfectly executed campaign could have had such a tremendous outcome."
"Impressive, measured effort exhibiting a high degree of nuance and subtlety, yet it was clearly effective," said another judge.
"Strong example of the unique power of PR to achieve a noble goal," noted a third.
The agency studied similar detainments and releases to identify parallels and applicable tactics. Neutral channels of communication and a respectful tone were critical. The team targeted people who could influence the individuals who were trusted by Ayatollah Seyed Ali Hoseyni Khamene'i and President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Human rights organizations and champions were mobilized. Harotonian's family and her former cellmate at Evin prison, journalist Roxana Saberi, communicated on her behalf. A website housed family interviews, videos, and a petition. Site tracking tools helped demonstrate global support without what the agency called "a large and potentially embarrassing media campaign against Iran."
International media were targeted, but the team was careful to respect Iran and downplay US connections. A press conference and event commemorating the one-year anniversary of Harotonian's detention was held June 25, 2009, at the Human Rights Esplanade in Paris. US, French, and Armenian officials sent appeals for release to Ahmadinejad.
"Superb use of research and targeting of allies," said one judge. "Thoughtfully planned and amazingly executed."Honorable Mention: Coyne PR and Seventh Generation: Seventh Generation's Million Baby Crawl for Chemical Reform
One judge noted that "a public affairs and issue advocacy benchmark has clearly been set" by this campaign in which virtual babies crawled on Washington, DC, to educate parents about household toxins and secure support for the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010. Millionbabycrawl.com, events, media relations, videos, online ads, and a Twitter party drove engagement. The act was introduced to Congress in April. Additional results included 26,000 crawlers, 70 million media impressions, and 3,539 tweets. At- home parties drew 15,000 people.
The Award Recognizes the most effective use of public affairs to change/enlist political and/or public opinion. Specific focus was placed on execution of research, media relations, grassroots community activity, and lobbying.
Chandler Chicco Agency and Allergan: C.H.O.I.C.E.: Choosing Health over Obesity Inspiring Change through Empowerment
Coyne Public Relations and Seventh Generation: Seventh Generation's Million Baby Crawl for Chemical Reform
Edelman and International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX): Free Silva: Politics, Prison and the Power of PR
Fleishman-Hillard and RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment): Debug the Myths
Racepoint Group and Rwanda: Influencing Public Perception in Support of "The New Rwanda"
Sponsor: Ford Motor Company, a global automotive industry leader based in Dearborn, MI, manufactures or distributes automobiles across six continents. With about 163,000 employees and about 70 plants worldwide, the company's automotive brands include Ford and Lincoln. The company provides financial services through Ford Motor Credit Company. For more information regarding Ford's products, please visit www.ford.com.