Here is the narrative portion of our submission to a PR awards program that helped us win a 2007 Silver Trumpet Award.
Oprah Speaks, Businesswomen Inspired
The Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) is our client – and we are theirs.
For the better part of 12 years, my firm, Chris Ruys Communications, Inc., has provided public relations services to the center, a nonprofit organization that offers services to support and accelerate women’s business ownership. In turn, the center has helped my 23-year-old, public relations business grow.
In 2006, the WBDC turned 20, having grown significantly since Illinois Governor Thompson provided two feminists, Hedy Ratner and Carol Dougal, with seed money to start the nation’s first small business assistance center for women. At the time, less than 10 percent of all businesses in the U.S. were women-owned (today, nearly 50 percent are women-owned).
Women in the 1980s were blocked by a “glass ceiling,” but today, they are leading the way in start-ups, according to a 2005 study by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor. Thanks to the WBDC, more than 50,000 Illinois women have received business counseling, benefited from $500 million in government and corporate contracts, and gained $90 million in bank loans to start or expand their businesses. The WBDC has maintained diversified funding sources and grown steadily to a staff of 25, with annual revenues of $3 million.
WBDC data shows that women entrepreneurs look for inspiration and guidance from their most successful peers. A key strategic element of the 20th anniversary celebration was to find a female tycoon – a public opinion leader and role model – who would make the event particularly meaningful to her entrepreneurial sisters.
WBDC Co-President Ratner approached Chicago resident Oprah Winfrey -- arguably the most successful woman business owner in the world -- to deliver the keynote address, and Oprah accepted.
Our agency, which had already begun publicizing the conference, had less than two months to get the word out.
• Use the media to communicate Winfrey’s involvement in the event and promote the WBDC’s key messages.
• Prepare for the potential media circus by developing a plan-of-action.
• Utilize the event to help maintain and increase the center’s funding sources.
• Create widespread awareness of the two-day conference and Winfrey’s address, and reinforce the image of the WBDC as a primary resource for women entrepreneurs.
• Increase gross revenues by at least 15 percent over the previous year.
• Stay within a public relations budget of $10,000 total for four months, including fees and expenses.
• Prepared a media kit using the WBDC’s new logo designed for the 20th anniversary, thereby reinforcing the WBDC’s identity.
• Wrote, edited and disseminated three tailor-made press feature articles about the WBDC to specially targeted major outlets, (MBE magazine, Enterprising Women and Minorities & Women in Business) and wrote, edited and distributed a comprehensive press release and schedule of events to local and national media.
• Provided each of the 21 media sponsors with a conference press release; many of them included it, along with the free ads. We provided broadcast sponsors, NBC5, Comcast and WVON-AM, with background for PSAs and also arranged for media interviews on each station.
• Issued individual press releases to announce the four Entrepreneurial award winners, who received their awards following Winfrey’s talk.
• Distributed written public service announcements, and an event fact sheet, to all Chicago area TV and radio stations.
• Scheduled numerous print and broadcast media interviews for WBDC spokeswoman Hedy Ratner.
• Helped secure and coordinated all aspects of a Chicago Sun-Times eight-page, special section focusing exclusively on the conference.
• Post-conference, distributed a press release and event photographs to national and local media.
• Chris Ruys Communications, Inc. suggested an in-kind advertising program, which today is managed by the WBDC staff.
• Hedy Ratner communicated key statistics from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s “2005 Report on Women and Entrepreneurship” in a pre-conference TV and radio interview effort.
• Because Governor Blagojevich and Mayor Daley were scheduled to speak a few minutes prior to Winfrey’s talk (therefore, political reporters also would be covering the event), the agency recruited three fellow publicists to assist with on-site media coordination.
• Identified 20 major media to cover the event (Chicago’s fire code limits the number of people allowed in the ballroom). Other media could photograph Winfrey upon her arrival.
• To keep expenses for four months under $2,000 total, the agency used a WBDC staffer to distribute press materials and made reprints of photos in-house.
• The event generated more than 534 million media impressions. Front page photos and stories appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Daily Defender, Windy City Times and Women in Entertainment. Some 36 news stories aired on all six Chicago television stations, including seven spots on WGN9, which reaches 71 million homes in the U.S. per airing.
• The conference grossed $900,000, an increase of 20 percent over 2005. Attendance topped 2,800, an increase of 40 percent. (NOTE: for Winfrey’s talk, 564 participants were in an overflow room with a video screen). Two-hundred corporate and government organizations exhibited in the event’s Women’s Business & Buyers Mart, an 11 percent increase over 2005.
• The agency stayed within budget. To show its gratitude for the public relations success, the client gave the agency a bonus equal to 2-1/2 months of the monthly retainer fee.
One objective was unmet. Due to a Navy Pier staff security breakdown, twice as many media were allowed access into the press area. The media were allowed to stay and cover Winfrey’s speech, as well as remarks by Governor Blagojevich and Mayor Daley.
E. Return on Investment
• Since the conference, the number of requests for information about the center’s workshops and seminars has increased by 15 percent.
• The client reports that there is a great deal more interest from prospective corporate donors, including Wal-Mart, Federated Department Stores, American Express and Merrill Lynch.
• In addition to rewarding our firm with a sizable bonus, the client has invited us, for an additional fee, to prepare the 2006 annual report.