Public affairs campaign raises awareness on Capitol Hill and among the public.
Xenophon Strategies is the former agency of record for the Air Transport Association (ATA), which represents the nation’s leading passenger and cargo airlines. Xenophon worked with ATA and its strategic partners, The Stevens and Schriefer Group (SSG) and 720 Strategies, to lead a multi-industry campaign to lower record-high oil prices by stopping rampant speculation in the commodities futures markets. The campaign transformed the energy debate on Capitol Hill and helped reduce fuel prices for ATA’s member airlines.
"This is by far the most successful and impactful campaign we've ever waged."
Xenophon, in close collaboration with its partners and ATA, developed a comprehensive strategy designed to educate the public and influence Members of Congress regarding oil speculation. By using media relations, grassroots communications, and advertising, the campaign effectively educated both constituents, reporters, and Congressional staff on the dangers of market manipulation. This in turn altered the political landscape, which resulted in legislative success and increased attention on a previously unknown financial problem.
Given the complex nature of the commodities futures markets, the most important first step was creating messages that were clear, meaningful and emotionally relevant to both public and Congressional audiences. These messages were subsequently delivered at every opportunity and used to create a wide range of collateral material. Additionally, a toolkit was created for coalition communicators that included key messages, an issue brief, FAQs, sample opinion submissions, and background information. This toolkit prepared communicators for all media queries and provided a foundation for future collateral material.
To maximize public exposure, the campaign kicked off with simultaneous media, grassroots and advertising components. On the media relations side, the campaign conducted a press conference to introduce the SOS Now coalition. Press conference speakers included the head of ATA and other industry leaders, as well as economics experts. The event was widely covered by news media such ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Associated Press, Reuters, Dow Jones Newswires, MarketWatch, BusinessWeek, Politico and The Hill. Following the press conference, the coalition initiated a strategy to keep the oil speculation issue prominently in the news by briefing reporters, targeting editorial boards and successfully placing op-eds in a variety of publications.
Grassroots communications began with the launch of the coalition’s Web site, www.StopOilSpeculationNow.com. The site was designed to both educate and motivate the public to contact members of Congress to act on the speculation issue. The Web site included basic information about the speculation issue and provided sample emails and scripts for contacting members of Congress. Concerned individuals could also email their representatives directly through the Web site. To maintain grassroots interest for the duration of the campaign, the coalition sent informational and exhortative emails to airline employees and frequent flyers asking for their support. Additionally, social media sites were incorporated, with over 1,500 people joining the official SOS Now Facebook group.
Coalition advertising was placed in the print and online versions of Washington D.C. news media publications such as The Washington Post, Politico, and Roll Call. These advertisements targeted government policymakers and used the same messages as the media relations campaign. The ads directed readers to visit the coalition’s Web site to learn more about the issue or to contact their members of Congress. The coalition also used billboard advertisements at interstate gas stations to target truckers and other motorists dependent on low gas prices.
These coordinated media, grassroots, and advertising strategies significantly impacted the public’s perception on oil speculation. A national poll conducted at the request of the coalition showed that the majority of Americans thought speculation caused high oil prices and that Congress should better regulate the markets. The public was so supportive of the campaign’s messages that constituents sent over two million SOS Now emails to Members of Congress through the coalition Web site. Similarly, the Congressional telephone system temporally failed after SOS Now supporters overloaded the operating switchboard with numerous phone calls.
As a measurement of success, the campaign generated significant national and regional news, hundreds of blog postings and story threads, and multiple editorials. Members of Congress used SOS Now messages during floor debate and the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to stop oil speculation. Most importantly, the increased public pressure for regulatory reform caused a fundamental change in the markets’ psychology. This caused oil prices to drop from $147 to less than $100 a barrel in only two months. The reduced cost of oil lowered jet fuel prices and saved ATA member airlines billions of dollars in lost revenue.
For its work on the SOS Now campaign, Xenophon Strategies was awarded the 2009 Silver Anvil Award by the Public Relations Society of America, the industry’s highest honor.
“The last time we worked together, Xenophon helped produce a strategic plan that ultimately transformed a bankrupt technology company with a stock option probe into a successful $2.1 billion acquisition.”