Everything you achieve in business – from innovation and process improvement,
to market share gains, safety goals, financial performance and more
– occurs through conversations that lead to those results.
Hilton Americas - Houston
The Hilton Corporation had been contracted by the City of Houston to operate a newly built city-owned hotel that had been the focus of scandal and jail time during its planning phase. As the opening date drew nearer, Hilton selected Ward to develop and implement an effective, traffic-driving public relations program. Ward began work in September 2003 to garner media attention before the December 4th opening. Ward developed a feature story based on an interview with Houston Convention Center Hotel Corporation Chairman and former Mayor Bob Lanier to communicate the city’s ownership and its prudent budget management that allowed the hotel to compete with convention hotels in other cities. The agency also worked as beat reporters to develop and deliver targeted real-time media pitches around construction milestones, equipment deliveries and other significant events, which turned out to be daily and sometimes hourly. A local media “hard hat” tour in October resulted in multiple media hits including the four major network affiliates. Daily media efforts continued throughout the final milestone events, including a 1,000-job fair at the George R. Brown Convention Center, equipment test dates for machines as the hotel’s state-of-the-art laundry system, a toilet test conducted by University of Houston Conrad Hilton students that we billed as a “Royal Flush” and Super Bowl preparations since the hotel was the NFL host hotel. Press kit materials were updated, pitches were drafted and an intensive three-month media follow-up began.
To promote the Dec 4th opening, Ward secured more than 18 television placements, eight print placements, nine radio placements, and six online placements between October 6 and December 31 – none of which mentioned the scandalous project origin. The agency also arranged a feature story and the cover of Meeting South. In December, 53,000 room nights were booked versus the goal of 18,000. Of the 300,000 total room nights booked by December 20th, 56 percent of them represented new business to Houston. On New Year’s Eve, the hotel booked 560 rooms, nearly 50 percent occupancy, and the restaurants sold out. The catering
manager reported the flood of inquiries for ballroom events and meetings had nearly created an operational crisis because no one had anticipated the level of demand the PR would create. The client – Hilton Corporation – invited Ward back to promote its 10th anniversary, just as a competing convention hotel is under construction nearby.
Natural Gas Operator
While drilling a well in the late night hours, a natural gas operator experienced an unexpected pressure change that resulted in a fire and well blow-out, or explosion. Ward’s crisis communications team helped the operator quickly develop and deploy a response strategy that resulted in accurate, consistent and balanced media coverage. An open channel of communication was established between the natural gas operator and local, state and federal officials facilitated by daily conference calls where challenges and solutions were discussed and facts were collected and published for media and
the local community. A blog platform allowed timely updates to inform residents of school and road closings and status of re-entry. The site demonstrated transparency and responsiveness as the needs of the community were answered, which allowed media to report the conscientious actions of the client. In addition, an on-site communications command center, staffed by an agency spokesperson, helped manage visits from media and provided timely, accurate and consistent messages about the incident. A comprehensive list of frequently-asked-questions
was generated, maintained and leveraged by the communications team and staff manning a 24-hour information hotline established to provide real-time response to community concerns.
Residents and workers impacted by the incident cooperated and supported the natural gas operator’s efforts to cap the well, and they were cleared to return home safely. Media coverage was accurate, consistent and balanced, and current and future health and safety
concerns were addressed.
When a worker injury attracted news helicopters and reporters to our manufacturing site, it was good to hear your “don’t ask questions, just answer mine and do what I say” confidence. We appreciated Ward’s follow-up during the day to explain what was happening with the media coverage and how to communicate with employees. We had the feeling of “I GOT THIS FOR YOU.” So even though you didn’t ask for it, there is my feedback on how your crisis customers feel, in my opinion. I’m busting my brain trying to come up with a “you might want to consider…” and am drawing a blank. Thank you for being there when we needed you! Owner/CEO
Oil and Gas Manufacturer
Oil & Gas Operator
An oil well in a sleepy Louisiana Parish experienced an early morning well blow-out. Ward’s crisis communications team helped the operator of the well to quickly report good news ─ that no injuries had been sustained during the incident ─ and to collaborate with local officials and community health organizations to allay fears and concerns. A series of informative town hall meetings hosted by the client company were core to a strategy that included a comprehensive set of frequently asked questions (FAQs) and timely,daily updates published to a dedicated blog site. To draft FAQs and prepare for town hall meetings, the agency conducted subject matter interviews with the client to flesh out all pertinent facts. Meeting announcements were published in the local newspaper and communicated by media alerts to ensure community participation. Company representatives were trained by the agency to engage media and residents during the meetings. By proactively reporting meeting results, which included the progress of the well and updates on how local residents would be accommodated, a feeling of mutual trust and support was established.
Message consistency and a reputation for community cooperation and alignment were achieved as a result of our incident blog site since first responders agreed to funnel all communication through our site. Proactive, honest and sincere delivery of statements and comments from the client company resulted in balanced media coverage. Stories were accurate
and consistent, and impacted families felt supported, well educated about the incident and informed about the recovery process. Most important, only one lawsuit was filed – by a recent law school graduate – which was easily settled.
Spring Branch Medical Center
HCA Spring Branch Medical Center (SBMC) needed to overcome a long-standing mental barrier that revented the hospital from pulling residents “across the railroad tracks” to the hospital and medical professionals. SBMC contracted Ward to bring affluent, insured Memorial-area residents, particularly female healthcare decision-makers, across the Katy Freeway railroad tracks in Houston to their hospital. Ward reached the target audience by executing two seminar events that would draw them to the then-HCA-owned hospital. The agency chose to tie into national concerns of childcare by having the client host a free, bilingual nanny seminar that addressed the concerns
of affluent mothers entrusting their children to the care of nannies, many of whom spoke limited English. The agency also developed Babysitter Olympics, a fun, role-playing teen event geared to foster discussion and interaction with physicians about the business of babysitting. The strategy of the event was to help influence the target audience indirectly through their children‟s experience. The event, which tied into the Barcelona Summer Olympics, incorporated games such as a "Diaper-A-Thon‟ and a life-size game board.
More than 200 childcare providers and mothers (the family‟s primary healthcare decision maker) attended the Nanny Seminar, so many that it was repeated due to high demand. Turnout for the Babysitter Olympics was double the number of teenage girls anticipated –
exceeding more than 100 participants. In a short questionnaire, more than 90 percent of the mothers of babysitter Olympians indicated they were not aware of the nearby facility and its services prior to the event invitation delivered by direct mail. As an unexpected outcome, within a week of the seminar 60 appointments were made to see physicians for various reasons by the girls, their families or related family members. And coverage of both events by local media
broadened the reach.
Stolt Offshore Inc.
Late in 2002 an offshore crude oil production platform, owned by the French company Total E&P, was being decommissioned and dismantled by Stolt Offshore Inc., about 70 miles from Louisiana. Hurricane Lili drove the salvage crew to land and when they returned three days later, the platform was nowhere to be seen. What started as a routine salvage job quickly turned into an environmentally compliant salvage job. Ward was retained to publicize Stolt’s work. After researching the project, Ward suggested the story be offered as an exclusive to Offshore Magazine, one of the leading global publications in the offshore oil and gas industry. To gain maximum coverage of Stolt’s expertise, Ward suggested rewriting and distributing a news release on the project to the wider national and international media covering the various aspects of marine salvage, offshore operations and environmental compliance. Ward successfully pitched the story idea – described as the first platform salvage using only mechanical cutting devices – to the editor of Offshore. The article was submitted under the names of three co-authors, one from each of the three companies – a real cooperative effort that gave additional credence to the technical information included in the article. Once the article was filed with Offshore, Ward recast the salvage operation story into a press release announcing the successful project.
Due to Ward’s media relations program, the story was not only covered in detail in Offshore, but also ran in several trade publications and in the Houston Chronicle. Ward garnered more than $85,000 in advertising equivalency through the media relations effort for the modest budget of $5,400. The media coverage included the primary audiences requested by Stolt Offshore – those managers and company representatives who need and purchase the best deepsea underwater assistance.
American Lung Association/Aventis Pharmaceutical Faces of Influenza
Cooney Waters Group, the public relations agency for the American Lung Association’s national educational outreach Faces of Influenza, sponsored by Sanofi-Aventis, enlisted Ward to design and execute a Houston community relations program in 2007. Ward worked with a core group of coalition members in the Houston area – including Harris County Public Health, Texas Children’s Hospital, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Memorial Hermann, and the City of Houston – to support the Faces of Influenza campaign. Through coalition partnerships, Ward identified expert spokespersons to support campaign messages at
events and through media opportunities. Given the number of mega-churches in Houston, Ward
implemented a church campaign to reach large congregations with established communication
channels. To reach Houston’s large minority population, the agency partnered with groups at the Community Health Celebration in Houston’s Third Ward. Finally, Ward coordinated a press conference and proclamation at City Hall that maximized media coverage of Faces of Influenza.
By successfully targeting opportunities to communicate the importance of an annual flu vaccination, the community relations campaign put a “face” on influenza illness for women/mothers 40+ and “at risk” groups in the Greater Houston area. Success was evaluated based on the breadth of community reach, which included partnerships with 16 community
groups, seven mega-churches, and secured media impressions, which exceeded 1.1 million in the Houston area, excluding the massive Internet pick-up the news achieved. With these results, Ward met campaign objectives for the Faces of Influenza community relations program.
Based on a referral from an offshore drilling contractor client of Ward, HAM Marine contracted the agency to develop and improve their corporate image and to attract work with drilling contractors. The agency recommended an aggressive strategy designed to identify obstacles to gaining new customers and attacking those issues. Ward first advised HAM Marine to conduct an industry survey of drilling contractors that focused on current issues and needs to ensure HAM Marine was addressing true industry concerns and demands. The survey showed that the shipyard was the absolute last-resort choice, while a competitor had a stronghold on market share. Next the agency recommended and facilitated a Corporate Advisory Board to build relationships with decision-makers and allow them to literally build the shipyard to their specifications. A highly targeted advertising and media relations campaign provided “air attack” to address primary concerns drilling contractors faced when building or refurbishing a vessel.
The Advisory Board met quarterly for two years. Through these meetings, industry decision-makers offered insight to their expectations of an ideal shipyard. Specific market needs were revealed, misconceptions were clarified, and solutions to obstacles were identified. As a result, HAM Marine implemented significant changes to its business. At the same time, results from the survey provided critical insights that Ward rolled into the media relations campaign.The perception of the shipyard in the industry began changing dramatically. Two years later,
with a shipyard full of work from numerous contractors, Ward’s benchmark survey found the client to be the number one yard. Soon the client acquired the assets of the shipyard that only months before was unbeatable. A successful IPO followed.
Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce
Increased competition for attendance at the many festivals and fairs slated in April has forced even long-standing community events to distinguish themselves newly to their long-time patrons. Such was the challenge for The Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce 22nd Annual Airport Festival when it was scheduled the week before the much larger Wings Over Houston Air Show. FMC Technologies retained Ward on behalf of the chamber to help combat the confusion and to improve the chances that media would cover the festival during the 100th anniversary of flight. Ward developed a media kit concept that would capture the theme of the event while drawing media interest through the Candy Bomber. In addition to including a wide variety of angles in the media kit, the team developed an unusual packaging concept to attract media attention upon delivery (and to house a special chocolate treat for media recipients). A colored
flier depicting both historical aircraft and the candy bomber served as the kit’s cover. The printed materials were contained within a clear plastic tube resembling an airlift drop package. The flier was also reduced to cover a Hershey’s bar, which was also included in the media kit. The kit was “dropped” to a variety of Houston media reporters.
As a result of the IAH Airport Festival media kit and Ward’s media follow-up, the festival received more coverage than it had ever received in its 21-year history, including for the first time, television coverage. Several advance placements in local media including a KHOU-TV Morning News interview with Halvorsen, a live performance by an event performer on KRIV-TV, and a photo in The Houston Chronicle. Post-event publicity was highlighted by a Houston Chronicle State section cover page feature story on Halvorsen, which included a color photo. Due to the well researched and well written media kit, which told a business-to-business story through a consumer media angle,many of our messages appeared verbatim, including product information on the Halvorsen Loader!