Public Relations Effort for New Safety Product
Saves Lives of US Soldiers
HABCO — Public Relations Campaign Shed Light on Important Safety Issue and Safety Ground Support Product to Military Market
In October 2003, a U.S. Army maintenance specialist was killed in Iraq and another lost his arms because the equipment they were using to inflate a Blackhawk helicopter tire was inadequate to protect them when the tire exploded. HABCO, Inc., a manufacturer of industrial testing and ground support equipment for military and commercial aircraft, learned of the incident and safety issues surrounding tire inflation on military helicopters from a U.S. Army maintenance briefing. The company identified a product gap that, if filled, could protect the lives and safety of men and women working in armed services as well as commercial aviation. The new product could be a key factor in HABCO’s goal to double its sales volume over the next five years, while supporting its mission to make “safety in flight” the guiding principle behind everything the company does.
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HABCO’s research and development effort to produce a strong tire safety cage that was light enough to be portable was ultimately successful. Tire safety cages were quickly available for commercial use, but stalled for 18 months in the government process of issuing the National Stock Number (NSN) necessary for military personnel to order it through the system. Meanwhile, helicopter tire inflation remained a safety hazard to our soldiers, prompting one maintenance supervisor stationed in Iraq to search online for a safer product and contact HABCO’s president to ask for a stock number so he could order it. That email was the catalyst for a public relations/ marketing strategy that would push the tire cage product into the military market.
Primary investigative research was conducted to develop a better understanding of the NSN procurement process. Bottom line: HABCO had to have an NSN to sell its tire safety cage to the military. One-on-one phone interviews to larger companies with experience navigating the Defense Logistics Information Service for NSN assignments were of minimal use to helping the current situation. Contacts with influential trade publications geared toward the defense industry revealed that they would not run a product announcement unless it had an NSN. First Experience Communications (FEC) conducted a brainstorming session with HABCO to identify opportunities to speed up the NSN assignment process in order to deliver the product to a market primed to procure it. Prioritization of options pointed to a public relations/marketing strategy that hinged on gaining support of U.S. senators and congressional representatives to press HABCO’s agenda for assigning an NSN to the tire cage in order to make the product available to the military market for procurement.
The Cage Demo
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Research on Connecticut’s congressmen and senators identified their connections with defense and small business issues. This would be leveraged in initial direct communication to establish vested interest in getting involved with HABCO’s agenda to make the tire cage available to the military market. Communications analysis of HABCO correspondence produced two emails related to seeking NSN numbers for HABCO products that gave strong third-party testimony to the importance and need for the products that were stalled in government bureaucracy. These would be leveraged to build a sense of urgency.
A targeted, strategic public relations/marketing plan was developed based on primary research findings. Elements of the plan were straightforward communications and relationship building with key people who could influence the outcome of our goal, which was getting an NSN assigned to the tire safety cage in order to sell the product to the military market. FEC analyzed profiles of target audience connections to armed forces, defense and small business issues and determined HABCO’s strongest link could be with House of Representatives Congressman Rob Simmons (R-CT), from the company’s geographic district. FEC contacted the congressman’s district director and arranged for the congressman to visit HABCO to meet with the company president, talk with employees and hold a press conference to spotlight the issue. Congressman John Larson also became a champion to press the NSN cause. FEC provided information used to draft a letter of congressional inquiry, which was jointly submitted to the U.S. Secretary of the Army by Congressmen Simmons and Larson. Similar outreach to U.S. Senators and the Governor’s office resulted in personal visits to HABCO by the state commissioner of economic & community development and by Senator Dodd’s long-term state director, who initiated phone calls to Washington armed services contacts related to HABCO’s tire cage NSN.
Before year-end, public relations efforts to bring HABCO’s tire cage product to market produced desired results:
On July 14, 2006 – Congressional Representatives Rob Simmons (R-CT) and John Larson (D-CT) united across party lines to jointly send a letter to Secretary Harvey, Department of the Army, outlining concerns with the delay in assigning an NSN to HABCO’s tire safety cage. The letter of Congressional Inquiry used emails identified in our communications audit as testimony from military field personnel in Iraq of the need for NSNs to obtain HABCO products.
November 1, 2007 – HABCO received an NSN for its tire safety cage product.
Within a few weeks of receiving the NSN, the U.S. Army ordered 50 tire cages from HABCO, most for overseas deployment.
HABCO shipped its first 16 tire cages for the U.S. Army to Iraq, Bosnia and Afghanistan in January. A month after the first shipment, the U.S. Army ordered an additional 250 tire cages from HABCO, valued at $625,000.
HABCO estimates potential orders for 1,000 tire safety cages over the next five years, depending on deployment status and need, will bring $2.5 million in new business to the company.
Relationships established with congressmen and senators continue to produce results for HABCO.