PR News, “2015 Agency Elite Awards: Reputation Management,” October 27, 2015

By Mark Renfree

Co-winner: DStreet—Creating Economic Opportunity in Rural America with Farm Credit

The Farm Credit System is a nationwide network of borrower-owned lending institutions. In its nearly 100 years of existence, the Farm Credit System has played a vital role in providing sound and dependable credit to rural America. In 2014, three Farm Credit Banks and five Farm Credit Associations formed a $150 million fund called Rural Business Investment Company (RBIC) to grow small businesses and create jobs in rural America. Executive leadership understood the importance of announcing this new fund in order to grow awareness of Farm Credit’s ongoing commitment to economic development in rural communities and ensure coverage of the new fund so businesses would apply for assistance.

The campaign generated more editorial coverage for Farm Credit than any other announcement in the previous five years. The National Communications Team for Farm Credit received accolades for proactively sharing the information to those system entities not intimately involved or familiar with the fund, allowing them to use the messaging and positive news coverage in their regions. Although a social media hashtag and response strategy had been prepared in the event that the banking lobby became vocal critics of the system’s good work, the crisis communications plan was not needed, which is attributed to the media strategy’s effectiveness in conveying the need, the USDA’s role in approving the effort and the widespread positive coverage of the news.

Co-winner: Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications 

Market Basket is a phenomenally successful and beloved family-owned regional grocery chain. Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications (RBSC) was hired by Arthur T. Demoulas, CEO, after the 2013 board shift, when his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, wrested control of Market Basket’s Board of Directors. “Arthur T.”—as he became widely known–hired Rasky Baerlein to devise a communications strategy designed to achieve his legal and business objectives in light of the now-hostile board he faced. For a full year, RBSC’s strategy was focused solely on that task. But in the summer of 2014, when the board ousted Arthur T. as CEO, the assignment became much more complex: helping Arthur T. to regain control of Market Basket, the company started by his grandfather and expanded by his father into one of the most successful independent supermarket companies in the United States. Within hours of the firing, an unprecedented, employee-driven protest sprang up, seeking to pressure the board to reinstate Arthur T. Most of the company’s 25,000 employees walked off the job, crippling operations. Customers joined the protest by boycotting the stores, and the daily drama captivated local and national media alike. RBSC’s challenge was to navigate the tricky terrain that featured the massive employee walkout, the customer boycott, a complex set of board maneuvers and financial negotiations–all while protecting the reputation of a CEO who was beloved by employees but whose reputation had been battered by previous legal battles, as he attempted to regain control.

The campaign was successful by every metric. RBSC successfully repositioned Arthur T. as the “good Arthur,” his rightful place in this saga. The firm took advantage of employee and customer sentiment in his favor without ever interfering or trying to orchestrate their efforts. They worked successfully with the analyst community to have them understand and tell the positive story of the company’s performance despite the fact that Market Basket is a privately held company that rarely discloses such information. And RBSC made sure Arthur T.’s side of the story was accessible and demonstrable to the press, thus ensuring the appropriate narrative.

Honorable Mentions

  • MWWPR – Making MWWPR Matter More
  • Rinck Advertising – Inaugural Emerge Film Festival

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