Ensuring Security Globally; Protecting Jobs Locally
Client: A global defense contractor
Beginning: When cost overruns, production delays and persistent media scrutiny threatened to erode congressional support for a state-of-the-art jet fighter, a global defense contractor decided it was time to recast the narrative.
Narrative: To support the defense program, Aesop sought to spotlight the nascent defense services industry in Rockford, Illinois, an under-appreciated story in Illinois. A coalition was assembled whose strength resided in its diversity including union members, retired military officers, business and community leaders, mayors, state lawmakers and Democratic donors. As the defense program reined in costs and continued to meet production goals, myths were dispelled and messages became more credible, supporters became more vocal and opposition softened.
Ending: After just nine months, more than 160 letters of support were delivered, nearly half of which came from Illinois state lawmakers, many of whom were Democrats. Targeted media coverage and a successful project demonstration event helped drive positive messaging to Members of Congress. The funding for the defense project has been protected even when the Pentagon announced subsequent budget cuts and downsizing.
Negotiating a Retirement Funding Crisis
Client: A national retail services company
Beginning: Among pension plans in the U.S., multi-employer pension plans (MEPPs) are known to be severely underfunded. For one publicly traded retail services company, the retirement security of its workers as well as the long-term financial health of the company were seriously threatened due to a budding financial crisis of the MEPP to which it made retirement contributions. To prevent these outcomes, the company decided it must successfully negotiate an exit from its MEPP with its union.
Narrative: Simplifying and humanizing incredibly arcane and complex issues was the first order of business. Our messaging appealed to the common sense of employees by highlighting alarming facts, including that three retirees were drawing benefits for every one that was making contributions to the MEPP. Managers and supervisors were trained to deliver these messages to their employees, emphasizing key tips and techniques to handle contentious and emotional conversations. During the negotiations with the union, our team ensured that employees had both sides of the story through distribution of a bargaining update, deployment of a toll-free number for 60-second updates, and the release a short video that provided crucial context for the bargaining issues. Contingency plans were also developed in anticipation of adverse media coverage or intervention by outside parties, including elected officials.
Ending: The company successfully negotiated out of the failing MEPP without a work stoppage or labor dispute. In the end, financial incentives aimed at transitioning employees to a defined contribution plan, good faith negotiations, and employees forming their own opinions from timely and simple messages saved the day.
Converting Republicans on Immigration Reform
Beginning: Though it passed the U.S. Senate with bipartisan support, legislation to fix the nation’s broken immigration system stalled in the U.S. House of Representatives. Given the political partisanship, prospects for a debate and a vote were bleak. In Illinois, none of the six House GOP Members in Illinois were on record supporting immigration reform. FWD.us sought to change that.
Narrative: Our goal was to show that broad and deep support existed for immigration reform, particularly among prominent Republican-leaning constituencies: farmers, entrepreneurs and business leaders, religious leaders and Republican Party regulars. As a result, messages were highly credible as they were borne from personal stories based on lived experiences. With each grassroots action executed by these opinion leaders, the face of immigration reform movement in Illinois gradually changed to a broad-based, bi-partisan and multi-ethnic coalition demanding reform.
Ending: All told, 114 articles of support (op-eds, letters to the editor, events, letters of support) were generated to the six House GOP Members’ offices over an 11-month period. Through our work, we helped earn the public support of two Republican Members of Congress with other Members expressing their support after the fact. Crucially, we also established a statewide campaign infrastructure, created an ally network and educated key constituencies effectively laying the groundwork for a future campaign to pass immigration reform.