Follow the Leaders
In a incredibly competitive presidential campaign season, two Virginia Council members briefly found their way into the 2012 race and into the national spotlight.
We sat down with Mobility Supercenter CEO Kaye Crenshaw and her husband Lee, along with Melissa Ball, CEO of Ball Office Products, to discuss the events that brought Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney and his supporters to the doorsteps of their businesses.
Both the Crenshaw and Ball stated they were not politically active. So, what WAS on their respective agendas? And, what, if any, business or public relations lessons did they learn as they the basked in the beguiling light of publicity? Here’s a recap.
Lessson #1: If You Do Nothing, You Get Nothing.
It was a simple note submitted to the Romney website that triggered immediate feedback from the campaign.
Lee Crenshaw, Vice President, Mobility Supercenter explains, “How many times do we have a great idea and then don’t execute on it? I’ve never felt compelled to write a politician before, but I felt our message and his message were the same. I thought the letter would just go into a black hole. Five days later we got call that said someone was coming to scout our facility to see if it would be appropriate for an event.”
Lesson #2: Be Prepared to be Flexible, and Act Fast.
Melissa Ball, owner Ball Office Products says, “When any campaign ask you to do an event it moves really quickly. You may only get 24 or 48 hours notice; it just happens. They swoop in and do their thing and then they are gone. There’s not a lot of prep time.”
The Mobility/Romney rally actually started out as an event for Mrs. Romney, but with only a few days to go before she was to arrive, the Romney camp changed the location.
Kaye Crenshaw (CEO) explains how the week unfolded: “Lee wrote the letter and about a week later our location was scouted. Then almost immediately the advance team for Mrs. Romney showed up. We all went through background checks and were actually mapping out where she was to stand when her team received a call– there was another site in the area they wanted to look at. That was at noon on Friday, October 9th, just a few days before she was scheduled to come. They immediately left. Later that evening we heard they weren’t coming. We were really disappointed.”
Kaye and her staff didn’t stay disappointed long. The following Monday she got another call from the organizers. This time, they wanted a full-on rally for Mitt. Mobility had only minutes to regroup after the first disappointment and less than four days to get the word out about the rally and find six clients to meet the presidential candidate.
Lessons #3: Timing IS Everything.
Ironically, the timing of all the Richmond Republican events could not have been more perfect for both for Both Ball Products and Mobility.
In Ball Product’s case, the first event came just days after Melissa purchased a new building. The new empty lot and interior space was ideal. Melissa explains, “After years of searching we closed the purchase of our new building the first week of May. The Governor came for a press conference the very same week.”
Mobility moved into their new supercenter last January. The new headquarters on Midlothian Turnpike is a large open and well lit professional space situated on a highly visible lot with ample parking. And it was prestigious enough to hold the campaign’s attention.
Kaye Crenshaw says, “We went from small, obscure 10,000 square foot location to a sprawling 40,000 square foot space at the beginning of this year. The decision to make this move was difficult given the current economic environment.” She adds, “In many ways our new space helps to elevate the perception of our mission and why we are in business.”
But Mobility had undergone more than a facelift in the last year. Curtis Blackwell, Owner, Curtis and Company and Mobility Supercenter’s Marketing Consultant explains, “We had been working so hard to put systems and processes in place from a marketing standpoint. The timing of the rally was perfect. We had just launched our new website the week prior. Our content and design were up-to-date and we were able to track visitors using multiple metrics and how they interacted with our website.”
He continues, “All of the sudden you had national media repeating the search terms ‘Mobility Supercenter’. We got so much coverage that we were indexed by Google in a week.” He adds, “The amount of time of time spent and the number of pages visited on our website was significant. They didn’t just go there to get a ticket.” But they learned more about Mobility Supercenter and the services they provide.
Curtis reports that Mobility had recently established other communication process in place as well. He says, “We had email lists including referral sources in place. We were able to send a newsletter to our distribution lists with not only the news of the event, but with a message of ‘hey, this is what we do,’” he adds.
Personal invitations and emails, website and blog updates, and Facebook and Linked In posts complemented his communication strategy as well.
Lesson #4: It’s About the Big Picture, Not the Business Won or Lost.
In the words of Melissa Ball: “Business gain was certainly not my motivation. Any time there was an opportunity to talk about employment and jobs and the importance of small businesses to our community, then I am in. I’m happy to do it.”
She continues, “No matter who is elected to office, no matter what side of the aisle they are on, business is really important. It’s feeding our families, fueling our economy and providing care for our communities. It’s an important subject and I’m happy to keep productive conversations going.”
Kaye Crenshaw explains her motivation, “Our goal was to put some attention on the clients and the business we built to support those clients. I look at our clients here and how each day they go out they are fighting for their independence and freedom. Our staff fights just as hard to find solutions for our clients. When you put all that together and what the campaign was saying, I felt like it was an impossible position for the Romney campaign to turn down.”
Lee further explains, “Having disability awareness on a national platform was more important than being labeled as a supporter of Romney or losing business. It wasn’t about us. It was about the elderly, the veterans and the disabled and their challenges. Our goal was to have their issues brought to light on a national platform and to feel like they were heard.”
So, did they reach their goal? Yes, and no. Lee says, “We got six of our clients to have a one-on-one conversation for 20 minutes with a presidential candidate. But, the media missed the point. We felt like the candidate heard us but not the press.”
Melissa reports she had press woes. On a separate occasion her (video) reaction to Obama’s “We built it” comment spiraled out of control because of the lack of due diligence by some members of the press.
Both Ball Office Products and Mobility Supercenter received some negative backlash for hosting, albeit both reported more positive reactions from their clients than negative.
Lesson #5: Seek Business Counsel
Melissa Ball says, “I suggest businesses who are considering a big event like this to tread cautiously. As entrepreneurs, we are used to moving fast, making decisions, taking risks, working quick. But when it comes to things like this, it might be a good time to step back a little and remember what your strengths and weaknesses are.”
She continues, “I was fortunate in that I had the Virginia Council of CEOs and other business friends who had been through similar events and circumstances. I was able to bounce things off of them. It was nice to know they were there if I needed them. I’d say reach out to others before you dive in.”
When we stepped back and took a look at their stories we saw heartache, chaos, press mishaps and an and obvious opportunity to lose a client or two. We had to ask, would you do it again? Melissa: “Absolutely.” Lee Crenshaw, “It was the most taxing and exhausting but most fun day of my life.” Curtis Blackwell: “A real fun day, off the charts.”
About Mobility Supercenter
Mobility began its operations over 25 years ago and provides products like driving aids, ceiling lifts, stair lifts and wheelchair accessible vehicles to individuals with mobility challenges. Its secondary mission, as described by Vice President Lee Crenshaw, is to “bring mobility needs awareness to the community, because, for many of us, our brother, child, sister or wife that faces these challenges every day. It’s an emotional business.”
Co-owner Kaye Crenshaw has been member of the Virginia Council of CEOs for almost 5 years. For more information visit: www.mobilitysupercenter.com.
About Ball Office Products
Melissa and her husband Jonathan began Ball Office Products in 2000. Her focus is to bring “outrageous customer service and great prices along with an unparalleled personal touch.”
Melissa has been a member of the Virginia Council of CEOs for almost two years. For more information, visit Ball Office Products.
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