Best Practices In Public Relations, Public Affairs
Crossbow has influenced public opinion and public policy around the world for more than 30 years. We have experience in numerous industries and we have worked with corporations, NGOs and nonprofits to help build their brands, bottom lines and a better world. Below are just a few examples of our solutions to critical stakeholder issues.
We helped Colorado’s community mental health system and other stakeholders convince the Colorado Legislature to approve a statewide Medicaid capitation system, which improved access to services, improved outcomes, and saved taxpayers millions of dollars per year.
The Challenge: Opponents to the new system claimed that Medicaid capitation would force providers to deny services to existing consumers and new consumers to avoid depleting their annual budgets under such a system.
The Solution: To overcome this objection, we enlisted the support of CBS journalist Mike Wallace and Colorado’s Governor Romer to appear in a series of public service announcements that promoted a toll-free number and access to the state’s community mental health system. We launched an aggressive media relations campaign that helped educate taxpayers and stakeholders about Colorado’s community mental health system, including the needs of patients and the clinics.
The Result: The public relations campaign generated more than $1 million in media coverage and free publicity which helped convince the state legislature that access to services would not be an issue under a revised system. The legislature approved the proposed Medicaid reforms. As a result, a record number of consumers have received services and millions of dollars have been saved and spent more productively. The effort earned state and national awards for its resourceful and creative advocacy.
Members of our team helped the Hemlock Society defeat a legislative attempt in Washington, DC that aimed to outlaw physician-assisted suicide in every state. While challenging this proposed policy, we helped position the Hemlock Society as the voice of reason and a leading advocate for patient rights and death with dignity.
The Challenge: The issue of physician-assisted suicide is a controversial one. Although surveys in 1998 showed that a majority of people supported the issue in most states, visible public support and public policy for this patient right were difficult to generate at the time. The Hemlock Society and other advocates for physician-assisted suicide gained momentum when voters in Oregon approved such a right. Under the law, terminally ill patients who met numerous conditions had the option to end their life with the help of a physician. In 1998, a senator from Illinois introduced legislation that would outlaw this right in Oregon and prevent its passage in other states in the future. Passage would make it even more difficult for physicians to manage the pain of terminally ill patients and it would eliminate personal choice in this matter.
The Solution: Within days of earning the assignment, an unexpected event raised the profile of this important issue. Dr. Jack Kevorkian delivered a tape to CBS news that showed him helping a man end his life. Unlike his prior involvement in such matters, Kevorkian actually delivered the lethal drugs himself and didn’t require the patient to take control of the act. Kevorkian deliberately crossed the line to force the courts to make a ruling. Mike Wallace and the news team at 60 Minutes agreed to air the segment the following Sunday. With just four days to work with, we launched an aggressive media campaign to position the Hemlock Society as an expert resource and the voice of reason on this complex issue. We contacted the news team at 60 Minutes and offered the Hemlock Society as a resource for additional information.
The Result: In just one week, the campaign generated more 125 media placements around the world, including television, radio, newspapers, and magazines. Newsweek, Time, USA Today, Good Morning America, and many other news organizations featured interviews from the Hemlock Society. The coverage built awareness, understanding, and support for the issue of physician-assisted suicide. Shortly thereafter, the proposed legislation to outlaw physician-assisted suicide stalled in committee hearings.
A member of our team helped the National Cattlemen’s Association build one of the most powerful grassroots political networks in the United States. This political clout helped the cattle industry shape public policy in its favor on numerous issues, including public land rights, private property rights, international trade and others.
The Challenge: In 1988, U.S. cattle producers faced numerous public policy threats in Washington, DC. Meanwhile, the cattle industry was becoming fragmented between sectors and was weakened by consolidation within sectors. As a result, the National Cattlemen’s Association faced a rapidly dropping membership base, which impaired its political clout and financial base.
The Solution: Members of our team developed solid marketing plans with precise strategies aimed at renewing existing members and recruiting new members. We segmented the industry and developed customized benefits and messages for each market segment. We calculated the economic impact of past legislative wins and estimated the economic impact of proposed legislative and regulatory threats. We tested each message and continually refined the marketing campaigns. We motivated and empowered individual members and affiliate organizations across the country to help with the outreach effort.
The Result: The highly strategic outreach effort worked. Membership retention and membership recruitment improved drastically in just six months. The National Cattlemen’s Association proceeded to set all-time membership records in three consecutive years. The industry segments came together and spoke with one voice to stop the threat of industry fragmentation. The industry reclaimed its political stature and has scored numerous legislative victories amid an increasingly challenging environment around the globe.
Background: The relationship between economic development and environmental degradation became a high-profile issue in 1972, at the United Nations (UN) Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm. After contentious accusations and debates, the governing body proceeded to establish the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to promote environmental protection. In 1983, the UN established the World Commission on Environment and Development to accelerate international cooperation. The new Commission developed an alarming report for the UN General Assembly in 1987, which sparked the creation of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). UNCED scheduled the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, in 1992. International representatives, including many heads of state, convened and developed three key agreements:
- Agenda 21, which began promoting sustainable development around the world;
- The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, which defined the rights and responsibilities of nations;
- The Statement of Forest Principles, which outlined the sustainable management of forests worldwide. These non–binding principles defined the sustainable management of forests and generated the first global consensus on the issue.
The Challenge: The Anti-Tropical Timber Campaign. After the Earth Summit, several European nations considered bans on all tropical timber and related products to curb rainforest destruction. In September 1992, Austria initiated a regulation that required labels on all tropical timber imports and it imposed a stiff import tariff of 70 percent on such products. Tropical-wood exporters, including Indonesia, protested Austria’s unilateral decision to create this misguided eco-labeling law. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) took their protest to the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) and the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT). At the time, Malaysia and Indonesia were leading exporters of tropical timber. If Austria’s labeling campaign gained traction in other countries, these developing tropical nations would lose jobs and foreign capital. Without change, they were losing biodiversity. Meanwhile, some of the ASEAN Ministers claimed that developed nations covertly backed the campaign to promote temperate timber by creating trade barriers against tropical hardwoods.
The Solution: The Global Forestry Conference. The Indonesian government and forestry producers were under siege. They scrambled to correct misinformation with facts and best practices. Like most countries, Indonesia has seen the good, the bad and the ugly of natural resource development. Unfortunately, it’s success stories were suddenly overshadowed by its mistakes and the destructive acts of illegal loggers and slash-and-burn farmers. As the caretaker of the second-largest rainforest in the world, Indonesia deserved a place in the global debate. Crossbow Communications saw an opportunity for Indonesia to create a showcase for the world. Our team suggested that Indonesia host a follow-up meeting to the Earth Summit to specifically discuss the Statement of Forest Principles developed in Rio. Thanks to support from top corners of Indonesian government and global sponsors, including the U.S. Forestry Service, Texaco, the Indonesian Cultural Foundation and the Indonesian Forestry Commission, Indonesia scheduled the Global Forestry Conference in Bandung, Java, in 1993—just eight months after the Earth Summit sparked the latest controversy around tropical timber products. Crossbow’s team helped develop and promote the program. We helped recruit panelists, attendees and media representatives from around the globe.
The Result: The Bandung Initiative. The Global Forestry Conference created an international showcase for Indonesia’s success stories, while isolating critical issues for discussion and prioritization. Government officials, industry leaders, academic experts and nongovernmental groups from both rich and poor nations participated. After one week of strategic tours, presentations and one-on-one meetings, Indonesian officials and executives built hundreds of relationships with leaders and influencers from around the globe. The conference shaped new perceptions that had previously been formed in offices thousands of miles away. As a result, leaders crafted the Bandung Initiative for Global Partnership in Sustainable Forest Development. The Initiative called on world leaders, the Secretary General of the United Nations and other agencies to immediately strengthen global partnerships to advance sustainable forestry management. It asked the UN to make forestry the highest priority. It urged all nations to manage forests with the same standards and to lift bans on most tropical timber. Meanwhile, Indonesia confirmed its commitment to ITTO and sustainable forestry. The media entourage simultaneously generated hundreds of international media placements from the Forestry Conference. As hoped, news coverage was strong and very positive for Indonesia’s forestry practices and products, especially from Germany (a key influencer to Austria and Europe as a whole). The Conference positioned the Indonesian government and forest concessionaires as leaders and responsible partners in sustainable forestry. It helped emphasize the threat of illegal logging and slash-and-burn agriculture and promoted the need to combat those practices globally. Most importantly, Austria rescinded its misguided eco-labeling law and threats of a full-blown trade war ceased.
Members of our team helped Newmont Mining secure public acceptance and regulatory approval for a unique remediation plan for historic mining properties in Southwest Colorado.
The Challenge: Newmont Mining purchased several historic mining properties in Southwest Colorado in the 1980s. It also inherited liability for thousands of tons of historic mine waste near the high visibility tourist areas of Ouray, Silverton, and Telluride. The on-site waste remediation plan was approved on a trial basis, which effectively protected water quality in the San Juan Basin. The trial remediation plan secured permanent approval, which saved the company millions of dollars on waste removal and disposal.
The Solution: Newmont Mining’s team of environmental engineers pioneered a new cap composed of special vegetation, rock, and clay to cover massive mounds of mine tailings that were leaching acid into nearby groundwater, rivers and streams for decades. The caps were designed to eliminate surface water from contacting the acidic mine waste, which would effectively protect water quality in the area. Our team helped position the plan as the most environmentally responsible way to deal with historic mining waste, which also would safeguard human health. We developed a stakeholder communication plan to engage leaders and residents of impacted communities in the watershed areas. The problem and the proposed solution were explained in detail. In addition, the pros and cons of all alternative remediation options also were unveiled. The proposed plan was positioned as the most immediate and effective way to handle the challenge. It also was positioned as the least disruptive alternative to the peaceful way of life in these tourist communities. However, if future water monitoring revealed that the caps were not effective, the company committed to remove the caps and the waste.
The Result: The engineering design earned tremendous support from stakeholders. Regulatory approval followed quickly. The caps were installed, complete with monitoring wells throughout the area. Our team developed interpretive signage to help visitors to the area and understand the importance of the project and the significance of the historic mining district. Ongoing monitoring proved that the caps worked to eliminate water from contacting the mine waste, which eliminated acidic runoff into streams and rivers. State regulators approved the remediation plan permanently.
Community Mental Health
Schizophrenia is one of the most devastating mental health conditions. Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. It typically strikes people during their young adult years. Treatment is usually lifelong and often involves a combination of medications, psychotherapy and coordinated specialty care services.
In 2000, Jefferson Center For Mental Health asked us to produce a documentary about individuals and families impacted by this disorder. It’s called Voices Of Courage. The documentary aired on PBS and helped build awareness and understanding about the issue.
Ambassadors In Education
Educators across the United States are finding new ways to bridge the communication gaps that often exist among themselves, parents, and other community members. As a result, entire communities are coming together to build safe, seamless, and supportive learning environments for youth. In 2003, the MetLife Foundation and the National Civic League created the Ambassadors in Education Award program to recognize public middle and high school educators who work to strengthen their schools and their surrounding communities by building relationships among all stakeholders.
The Challenge: The two most influential forces in a child’s development are the family and the school. Children thrive academically when the family and the school agree that they are stronger together than apart. Unfortunately, many principals and teachers feel unprepared to engage families in the educational improvement process. In fact, 70 percent of teachers surveyed in a 2002 study by the MetLife Foundation felt that relationships with parents were too adversarial.
The readiness of the next generation of leaders is a critical component of a healthy community. High school dropouts and graduates unprepared for college or work can fuel an increased unemployment rate, reduced business development opportunities, higher cost associated with crime and incarceration, reduced disposable income among residents, reduced tax base for community services, and greater costs for human service agencies. Despite these negative impacts, many public schools across the United States are struggling with record enrollments that could surpass fifty-four million students by 2008. Although teachers, administrators, and policymakers are largely responsible for the quality of education, no school can single-handedly increase student achievement, reduce the dropout rate, solve the teacher shortage, or ensure that students are ready to learn. A successful educational environment integrates the efforts of families, schools, and a variety of institutions within the community. Many schools and communities understand this philosophy, but developing successful working relationships among stakeholders is often challenging.
There is a growing recognition among educators that better partnerships between community-based organizations need to be established, but as winners of the Ambassador in Education Award have learned, school-community relationships are not easy to develop and sustain. Educators can be so overwhelmed with the demands of accountability that they don’t recognize how community members can help. Meanwhile, community builders often do not understand the education system they hope to help, or the magnitude of the challenge. Such differences lead to friction that can make it difficult for community-building organizations and schools to work together. As educators know, basic issues arise from differences in organizational size, structure, and staffing between schools and community organizations. Community builders can find the school bureaucracy frustrating, while their lack of knowledge about the educational process may frustrate educators. As suggested by both research and practice, schools have the opportunity to change how communities support the educational system and process. The Ambassadors in Education Award program has highlighted many instance of educators developing productive relationships with community members and organizations.
“Aligning the school and community is a difficult task when there has been a practice of isolation by the various stakeholders,” said Albert Holland, principal of Boston’s Health Careers Academy. “Getting started is the toughest step, especially when you’re overwhelmed by the demands from the school district or state. However, having a strategic planning process is a key to involving all key stakeholders, which starts with your students, parents, staff, and partners. “Involving and listening to all the stakeholders is important, and coming up with an engagement process and plan must be inclusive, and you must take the lead,” said Holland. “It is critical to work as well as to communicate with parents and community not only as stakeholders but also as teachers. Our children not only learn at school but they learn at home and in their communities.” Gregory Vallone, the former principal at James Monroe High School in Los Angeles, fostered partnerships with schools, community organizations, and area businesses. As a result, school-to-career programs in nursing, culinary arts, robotics, animation, and film production have been created or expanded. He also developed the school’s University Preparatory Program, which brings rigorous math and science instruction, links to the business community, and connections to California State Northridge, to help students attend college. Under his direction, the school also established relationships with Whole Foods Markets and One Service Center to help the students and educators at the school develop healthier eating habits.
The Solution: In many cases, it’s up to educators to initiate, influence, and manage all of these relationships to make them supportive and productive. Schools that improve the quality of their partnership programs often report that fewer students are sent to the principal, earn detention, or receive in-school suspensions. These findings suggest that schools’ overall efforts to improve relationships with families and the community may help improve students’ behavior in school. Educators have discovered a variety of practices that can improve teacher-parent communications and increase family involvement in learning activities. It can be as simple as letting parents know how and when to contact teachers. Other practices include issuing progress reports to parents between report cards, conducting workshops on academic topics, outlining school expectations, and inviting parents to assemblies that celebrate achievement. It is important for educators to consider the culture, language, and diverse needs and strengths of families to support their children’s education. Once educators develop relationships and trust among parents, they are more likely to get parents involved in the education process. Practices that encourage parent student interaction at home are often associated with a gain in the percentage of students scoring at the satisfactory proficiency level or higher—for example, assigning homework that involves families or offering lending libraries with related materials for families and students to use at home. The Ambassadors in Education Award recognizes public middle and high school educators who work to strengthen their schools and their surrounding communities by building relationships among all stakeholders.
“We have found that families and members of the community want to be involved in the school,” said Kenneth Hunter, the principal at Prosser Career Academy in Chicago. “The challenge for the school is to develop meaningful and mutually beneficial interactions between the school, families, and the community.” Schools must establish the tone and context for productive home-school partnerships by meeting families more than halfway. Educators need to convey goals, philosophies, and policies that integrate parents’ perspectives and skills into school life. School efforts to promote family and community engagement will succeed only if educators are adequately prepared to support them. When schools successfully engage parents and guardians in the educational process, there are often positive effects on grades, courses completed, attendance, good behavior, and preparedness for class. Plus, these activities continue to reinforce the relationship between educators and families. “Parents can be our greatest allies or our worst enemies,” said Phyllis Turner, a teacher at Benjamin S. Carson Honors Preparatory School in Atlanta. “Most importantly, parents can offer insight that teachers can’t get from a college textbook. They also can offer us assistance and support that no one else can provide.”
As suggested by both research and practice, schools have the opportunity to change the way that communities support the educational system and process. The Ambassadors in Education Award program has highlighted many instance of educators developing productive relationships with community members and community organizations. Richard McClure is a former principal at Mauldin High School, Greenville, South Carolina, who conducted focus groups with parents and other stakeholders to identify problems and opportunities within the school. With the help of a steering committee, he founded Bridging the Gap, an effort that included minority parents, staff, and community members. Two Sunday meetings were held for the parents of minority students. Child care and transportation were provided to allow as many parents as possible to attend these important meetings.
McClure listened to their concerns during monthly meetings and recorded the information for use in implementing the program. His efforts improved relationships with parents and academic performance by students. “I wanted to know if the school could more effectively meet the academic needs of their children,” explained McClure. “Ultimately, my goal was to better serve minority students. I wanted to make certain that minority parents had access to adequate information upon which they could plan for the academic futures of their children. This included providing performance data, available school services, career information, how the scheduling process worked, the structure and implication of curriculum choices, and the financial requirements of postsecondary education.” The dialogue between the parents and school personnel enhanced relationships, improved confidence in the school, and created an atmosphere of openness that was lacking before, said McClure.
“Communications are fundamental to building trust, which underlies the strength of any relationship,” he said. Thomas Cason, principal of Soldan International Studies High School in St. Louis, made regular visits to the homes of some students who needed support in achieving academic, social, or personal goals. “Visiting their homes is one way for me to learn more about them and a way to get parents more involved in their child’s education,” he said. “In the majority of circumstances, I have found home visits to be very helpful and productive when the intent is to improve relationships and show parents and students that I care. One must make sure that parents and students understand that home visits by the principal are not a consequence for negative student behavior but rather a genuine effort to support the student over the long term.”
Some of these visits have taken Cason to areas of the city that are considered dangerous. He found that even in the roughest housing projects students looked out for his property and personal safety once they knew the purpose of his visit.
“They are usually surprised that I would embark on an endeavor such as this, but they usually applaud my efforts,” he said. “I have data on each student and parents are very receptive to my visit. From time to time a student may feel uncomfortable knowing that I am aware of his or her living conditions. However, this uneasiness soon subsides when we begin to focus on the relationship that we’ve already established. I would not suggest that all principals make home visits. However, I believe that making home visits has made me a better principal.”
Phyllis Turner organized workshops for parents to improve their life skills. She also established parent involvement initiatives and met monthly with representatives from the local housing authority, residents association, housing project board, and Emory University to plan those outreach strategies. In 2001, Turner was charged with writing and implementing the school’s first parental involvement plan. Teachers were required to call each student’s parents within the first two weeks of school, followed by a weekly call to parents of students who were not progressing. Parents were given the opportunity to volunteer as daily greeters, hallway and cafeteria monitors, school switchboard operators, clerical workers, and chaperones. Parents also participated in training workshops and offered input by serving on the parent involvement committee. Turner felt the effort was successful when parents took charge of the annual teacher appreciation celebration, furnishing gifts and a continental breakfast. As these award-winning examples illustrate, educators can overcome non-supportive adversarial relationships with families. Although these relationships can be challenging at first, they pay dividends to all stakeholders. Schools and homes that share perspectives, resources, goals, information, and the task of teaching give children the stability, consistency, and encouragement necessary for greater academic success. Schools and families that work together can build the developmental assets available to youth, which makes the educational process more efficient and effective.
The Benefits: To realize the benefits of community collaboration, teachers and principals need to understand all stakeholder groups in the community, including families, businesses, nonprofit organizations and human service agencies. This is where many relationships between educators and community members have failed in the past. The challenges, opportunities, and resources available to solve educational problems are unique to each community. However, when educators, parents, and community stakeholders work collaboratively. It’s often up to educators to initiate and develop productive relationships with families and other stakeholders in the educational process. Once these relationships are built, however, they can improve student behavior and academic performance. These relationships also help the school give back to the community through increased volunteerism and resource sharing. The more developmental assets available to youth, the better the educational outcomes for all. It takes gifted and dedicated educators to step forward and initiate relationships with parents and community members.
As the Ambassadors in Education Award program demonstrates, America’s public schools are blessed with some great educators and leaders. Schools and entire communities need to recognize these leaders and encourage them to continue their great work, while inspiring others to follow their examples. “The community of a school starts with parents, and then includes the immediate community, and is followed by the extended community—the agencies and institutions that play a role in the educational process of our children,” said Albert Holland. “We must come together to educate, nurture, and instill in our students a sense of community. I consider the children I educate as my own children and I want no less for them than I want for my own children.” Crossbow developed the Ambassadors In Education Award for the National Civic League and MetLife Foundation. Our team supervised the program during its first five years in 30 of the largest school districts in the United States. National Civic Review AIE Article