Public Relations Contest Rules
Below is a set of facts related to a fictional company. Most information has been fabricated. Some is based on actual artifacts (example: The Advocate is the state’s flagship newspaper) or real-world materials (certain chemicals).
Your job is to review this information to determine what public relations opportunities or threats face the company. Based on your review, select the top three public relations plans the organization should develop. Explain why you have selected these plans as the most pressing. Then, outline the plans themselves.
The final product would be presented as a prospectus that you submit as part of a bid proposal to represent the organization as its public relations firm.
HAM-CO., Inc., is a privately-held company owned by Brett Hammett, a Tuscaloosa, AL., resident (see Biography below). It is a chemical manufacturing plant, located in Eastern Louisiana along the Mississippi River (see Location below), that began operations in 1983. It is the nation’s largest producer of Kryptonite (see Kryptonite below), providing 65 percent of domestic consumption.
The company is planning a $30-million expansion project that is expected to increase production volume by 28 percent and increase distribution speed by 34 percent. Heretofore, the company has not engaged in public relations activities. Marketing efforts have been confined to trade journals and events. However, in anticipation of this project, the company is considering hiring an outside pubic relations firm to help facilitate matters. Bids have gone out to competing companies. Each has been asked to provide an outline of the general strategies that would best serve the company’s interests.
These outlines must indicate public relations steps that should be taken to address significant difficulties that might be anticipated during this move toward expansion, as well as cost-benefit analysis of these strategies. As there are many conditions that could be addressed in a comprehensive PR plan, for the purposes of this project you are asked to “triage” what you consider to be the 3 most pressing challenges and create your plans for those 3.
Corporate headquarters for HAM-CO are located in Tuscaloosa, AL. The office employs a small clerical staff and 10 senior executives.
The manufacturing plant, which employs 150 laborers, a clerical staff of 14 and three senior administers, is located in Louisiana along the Mississippi River 25 miles north of Baton Rouge and six miles north of a four-lane bridge linking Louisiana and Mississippi via interstate. The interstate served by the bridge is a main corridor for road shipping between Texas and Georgia. The parish population is 3,700, and the plant is the second leading employer. The first is the parish government.
Directly across the river is a Mississippi county of 27,000. This is where the three the senior administrators live.
The plant occupies 20 acres abutting the west-bank levee along the Mississippi. Though a two-lane state road runs tangent to the western boundary of the plant and is connected to it via an access road, the river serves as the primary source of materials into and out of the facility. In fact, with U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers permission, the levee’s crest has been lowered by six feet adjacent to the plant to facilitate movement from the plant to the docking facility it maintains at the river itself.
The surrounding area is devoted primarily to agriculture. The land for 10 miles in any direction is largely comprised of commercially cultivated delta soil. Citrus and peach orchards make up 60 percent of that agricultural production, while peanuts make up another 15. The rest is a mixture of various food crops.
The two significant exceptions to the agricultural nature of the region are a low-income housing development of 10 homes (valued at $45,000 each) 3 miles south of the plant and a community of 2,500 residents six miles west-south-west. Most of the plant’s labor employees live in this community, named Smalltown Ville.
The weather patterns are typical of those found at that latitude. Prevailing winds are from the north. Maximum temperatures during summer months are in the high 90s; lows during the winter rarely reach much below freezing and seldom for long. Snowfall is negligible and the river never freezes. There can be problems with high river levels caused by runoff from spring thaws farther north. The location is far enough from the coast so that dangers from hurricanes are almost non-existent.
These conditions make the area an ideal location for an Amazon Distribution Center. The center will open next spring and bring an additional 500 jobs to the area. There is a good deal of public support for the Center. While the jobs will pay less than the HAM-CO Plant, the center poses no potential threat to the surrounding agriculture industry.
The HAM-CO Plant has recently come under scrutiny from the Parish Council for potential safety concerns, posing threats to both workers and air quality for the community.
As a rural community, there is little local media coverage. There is a weekly paper with several thousand subscribers. It focuses on community news like births and school events. A 500-watt FM station is located in the area. It has a country format and carries little original programming and the bare minimum of news content.
The Advocate newspaper (the state’s flagship newspaper) occasionally will cover public affairs events in the community when they are deemed significant enough. Likewise, both the Baton Rouge and New Orleans electronic media will at times cover major stories from the region.
As noted, the manufacturing plant employs 150 laborers (this includes four chemical engineers). During peak production periods (dictated by high consumer demand) the plant operates on three eight-hour shifts seven days a week. During slower periods there are two daily eight-hour shifts on weekdays, and skeleton maintenance crews supervise the facility at night and on weekends. Senior administration includes a plant manager and two assistants.
On the plant grounds are: a central administrative building located at the entrance from the state road, four large storage tanks for the refined Kryptonite gas, smaller storage tanks for the raw materials needed in the refining process, the refining unit itself, and a small building with a meal room and temporary sleeping quarters for some crew members.
The facility is bordered on three sides up to the levee by a 15-foot-high chain-link fence. Crops in adjoining fields are grown right up to this fence line. The fourth side of the plant is protected by the river and the levee that borders it.
In addition to the plant itself, the facility also maintains a dock for the delivery and dispersement of material. The dock has two heavy-duty cranes and berthing for four standard river barges. It has water, power and sewerage hookups. It also has powerful liquid and gas pumps with the piping necessary for off-loading barges into the appropriate storage tanks within the plant’s confines or, conversely, loading material onto barges. It has no permanent staff. Workers are sent there from the plant as needed.
Any modifications to the levee must be approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Neither the plant nor dock employs security staff. Security is provided by the regular parish-wide patrols of the sheriff’s office. Fire defense is provided by the parish (county) volunteer fire department.
In the event of a significant industrial accident, the plant’s emergency policy calls for immediate notification to 911, shutting down plant operations and evacuation of all employees.
The last significant upgrade to the facility occurred in 1998. It cost $10 million adjusted for inflation.
Safety audits are conducted once per year by employees. Any significant concerns are brought to the attention of senior administrators, who decide what, if any, remedial action is needed.
EPA inspectors conduct an audit every other year. This includes a tour of the facility, interviews with employees and review of plant safety records. Three problems were noted during the most recent review, conducted in 2020. Auditors reported unidentified leakage in the area of the waste-storage container (This was also reported during the previous review, though the problem does not appear to have gotten worse), corrosion on the input ducting for two of the Kryptonite storage tanks and deterioration on the piping used to off-load barge material. None of these issues were deemed serious enough to warrant a fine. As a cost-saving measure, no remedial actions have been taken.
During the last four years there have been 30 reported employee injuries. Four were considered serious.
Twice during the last two years (both times during the late fall) untended barges slipped their moorings during the night and were found three miles down river stranded on sand bars the following day.
Kryptonite is gaseous material developed in 1954. It is used as the sole industry-wide coolant for drills on offshore wells. It is comprised of a number of chemicals, including methane gas, Freon and Arsine. Once refined in must be stored under pressure in spherical containers at temperatures between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.* At temperatures higher than that, it becomes highly unstable and flammable. Should the pressure fall below three atmospheres it also becomes unstable. It is also quite toxic and caustic.
Byproducts of the refining process include lead, chlorine gas and an arsenic-laden heavy liquid. These materials must be stored for later disposal at off-site facilities operated by subcontractors. In an effort to protect workers from leakage, these storage containers are located just outside of the containment fence’s southern perimeter
As noted, HAM-CO’s Louisiana plant produces 65 percent of domestic consumption of the material. It accounts for 45 percent of the international market. As offshore fields continue to expand, demand for the product is expected to grow exponentially.
Given the nature of the product and process, expansion must be approved by both the EPA and the DEQ.
Brett Hammett is an Alabama native, who graduated from the University of Alabama with a B.A. in chemical engineering. He started the company – one of six that he owns – with a loan backed by a $6 million inheritance. The debt has been paid off. He last visited the plant 12 years ago and relies on local administrative staff to handle operations.
His granddaughter, Sarah, is an honor graduate of Southeastern Louisiana State University’s biological sciences program, and is completing master’s work in chemical engineering at Louisiana State University.
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