PR > Culture & Context

FOR DETROIT: CREATING TOMORROW TOGETHER

CIVIC ENTERTAINMENT GROUP, New York / FORD / 2019

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Overview

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Overview

Why is this work relevant for PR?

Ford faces an existential question: can auto companies continue to exist at all? Bold moves were required to persuade press and public that Ford, and Detroit, have a viable future. Ford’s move was newsworthy: transforming the abandoned Station into the home of Ford’s new Living Laboratory, backed by an unprecedented partnership with Detroit. Ford committed $750M+ to the project, with millions earmarked for the surrounding neighborhood. We replaced the traditional “Golden Shovel” groundbreaking moment with a celebration for tens of thousands of residents, media and employees. That weekend, we celebrated plans for how Detroit, Corktown and Ford would “Create

Background

For years, both Ford and the city of Detroit have faced tough questions and deep pessimism about their futures as transportation industry leaders. Ford recognized that only a bold move, backed by major investment and a big vision, would answer these questions. Ford’s Michigan Station project was, indeed, big and visionary: a $750M+ plan to resurrect the abandoned Station and change the fortunes of its struggling neighborhood. The revitalized Station would emerge as Ford’s living laboratory for mobility innovation, while revitalizing the surrounding Corktown neighborhood. To earn attention and persuade the doubters, we would need to launch the plan with an historic roll out that would convey the company’s vision and persuade the skeptics of the company’s commitment. They’ve seen plenty of auto company announcements over the years: this one needed to be different.

Describe the creative idea

To announce Ford’s bold plan for Michigan Central Station and Corktown, we built an immersive, interactive, multi-day celebration for community members, decision-makers, press and Ford employees. To generate anticipation for the week leading up to the launch, we projected aspirational quotes-- from famous Detroiters-- on the station facade. The local community was invited to the launch weekend-- and the opportunity to go inside the Station, which had been closed to the public for decades. Inside, artifacts, films, archival photos and displays immersed attendees in the Station’s grand history and promising future as a Ford innovation hub. The official announcement was held in front of the landmark station, with Ford leadership joined onstage by celebrities, the Michigan governor and the US Poet Laureate. With 25,000 attendees, including press from around the world, Ford and Detroit had a massive platform to share their vision of resurgence and growth.

Describe the PR strategy

To address public and press skepticism about its commitment to Detroit and to tech innovation, Ford had to share the full scope and vision of its plan for the landmark Station and its struggling Corktown neighborhood. It wanted to signal that this was about more than opening a new Ford innovation campus: it represented a transformational moment for the community, the city and the Ford business. From the outset, we realized that community and city partnership was key-- while our launch event needed stagecraft and spectacle it also needed to put the community front and center, with corporate messages secondary. We designed the event as a memorable, newsworthy experience, with Community and Detroit renaissance stories front and center. The goal: deliver the story with ground-level impact and a persuasive message that Ford, Detroit and the transportation industry were starting a dynamic new phase.

Describe the PR execution

We crafted a Ford narrative that departed, dramatically, from formal, VIP-driven corporate groundbreakings: we gathered thousands of community members and Ford employees for a celebration. The event’s scale excited the public and the press about Ford’s plans for the Station and the community. Leading up to the announcement, we built anticipation with enormous quotes projected on the Station facade. On Announcement Day, Ford leaders addressed press, employees, and the community in a program featuring entertainers and VIPs. Throughout the weekend, we hosted tens of thousands of visitors at an immersive multimedia experience illustrating the Station’s glorious past and Ford’s plan for its exciting future. We invited residents to share their “dreams for the future of Detroit,” which became the quotable content from the event. The finale included the world premiere of the History channel documentary about Ford and Michigan Central Station, DETROIT: COMEBACK CITY.

List the results

The impact of our event stretched far beyond Corktown and Detroit: Ford’s announcement received more than 147M media impressions and 541M social media impressions around the world. The story of Ford’s ambitious resurrection plans for the iconic Station made the front page of THE NEW YORK TIMES and led the CBS MORNING NEWS. Ultimately, the story was covered by more than 230 print, broadcast and digital outlets around the world, including a major feature in the influential FINANCIAL TIMES. Ford employees and partners, two of our key target audiences for the project, shared their enthusiasm on their own social media platforms as well as on company forums. Local stakeholders in Corktown expressed gratitude for Ford’s efforts, echoed in social media posts from Detroiters past and present. The History Channel documentary was seen by more than a million viewers during its television run.

Please tell us how you designed/adapted your campaign for the single country / region / market where it aired.

Though Ford was aiming for global PR impact, we centered efforts on local stories, impact and potential. We focused on revitalizing Detroit as symbolized by the restoration of its crumbling 18-story train station and surrounding depressed Corktown neighborhood. We believed the local angle offered compelling stories, images and testimonials. We placed Ford’s corporate messages in a secondary role, allowing the local market story to feel bigger, more emotional and more emblematic of a larger narrative (with Ford as a bigger hero). Our key visuals-- the facade illuminated by quotes, the in-person experience offered in the re-opened hallways of the building-- emphasized the specificity of the location, making the promise and potential feel very real. And in perhaps the most ambitious effort ever taken by a major car company that did not feature cars or trucks, we kept Ford’s spotlight on what mattered: the local community and the city.

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