Division C - Audio/Visual Tools of Public Relations
Category 9 - Web Site
CoreMessage, Inc., Design Farm, Wal-Mart/Murphy USA

Golden Image Award
Grand Golden Image Award

Research/Situation Analysis: In 2005 and 2006, gas prices in Florida reached all-time highs. As a result, Wal-Mart, Murphy USA and a coalition of supporters wanted to repeal a portion of the Florida Motor Fuel Marketing Practices Act, also known as the Minimum Markup Law. Economic studies showed that repealing this law would eliminate a required 3-cent premium on gasoline, thereby encouraging and increasing competition, lowering gas prices around the state, and saving consumers more than $250 million per year. The Florida Petroleum Marketers Association, which had strong ties to state legislators and did not want to lose the guaranteed margin this law permitted, claimed that repealing the law would force smaller gas stations out of business by allowing larger gas stations to sell their gasoline below cost. However, economic studies showed that in the 38 states without such a law, small gas stations still operated and competed, mainly by diversifying their convenience stores and adding other features to entice customers, but also because, according to the Federal Trade Commission and the Supreme Court, there were already federal laws in place to prevent predatory pricing. Plus in those states, competition flourished, and as a result, the average gas prices were lower than in states with Minimum Markup Laws. This demonstrated a need to educate Florida lawmakers about the benefits a repeal would bring to their constituents. Wal-Mart and Murphy USA hired CoreMessage, Inc. to mobilize a consumer lobbying effort to encourage Florida lawmakers to support a bill to repeal the law. CoreMessage developed an integrated public relations strategy which included a Web site as one of the tactics. This Web site, created for the Florida Coalition for Lower Gas Prices, would inform Florida residents about the Minimum Markup Law and enable them to e-mail their state lawmakers urging them to vote for the repeal. The site would be used as a tool for consumers to reach the client’s audience: state legislators.

Objectives: In developing a Web site for the Florida Coalition for Lower Gas Prices, founded by Wal-Mart and Murphy USA, and in implementing corresponding promotional tactics, CoreMessage set the following objectives to be achieved within nine weeks of the Web site launch: 1.) Deliver at least 10,000 consumer-generated e-mails to state lawmakers via an “e-mail your legislator” feature on the site. 2.) Generate letters to the editor in at least five Florida media markets highlighting information consumers learned from the Web site. 3.) Inform Floridians about the Minimum Markup Law by attracting an average of 200 unique visitors to the site per day, with an average visit length of at least five minutes. 4.) Generate an average of 25 phone calls to the Web site hotline and 50 e-mails per day to the address listed on the site from people seeking additional information about the law. 5.) Serve as a central source of information for the media on the issue.

Implementation: CoreMessage hired Design Farm, LLC to develop the Web site database and execute the design. CoreMessage directed all graphic concepts, determined the navigation and flow of the site and drafted all copy. Prior to launching the site, CoreMessage developed “tear-off pads” promoting the site and shipped them to all Murphy gas stations in the state. Gas stations posted the pads on each gas pump so consumers could tear off one of the ads if they wanted to visit the Web site to find out how to help lower gas prices in Florida. The Web site was launched on Feb. 27, 2006 and remained live throughout the Florida legislative session. On the site, visitors could access factual information about the law and learn about the benefits a repeal would bring. They were also able to find and e-mail their legislators directly from the site using drop-down menus and a pre-drafted e-mail containing key messages. An e-mail address and hotline number were listed on the site for consumers seeking additional information. Callers and e-mailers were encouraged to submit letters to the editor of their local newspaper outlining information they gathered from the site. These individuals also received additional tear-off pads so they could give the sheets to friends, family and member organizations. Interested consumers who did not have access to a computer were mailed the information contained on the Web site along with the address of their legislators and a pre-drafted letter. CoreMessage engaged in a separate media outreach effort that directed reporters and consumers to the Web site, and the press began visiting the site regularly for detailed information.

Evaluation: CoreMessage exceeded its objectives within the nine-week time frame. 1.) 14,995
e-mails were sent to state lawmakers via the Web site and 1,245 letters were mailed to lawmakers from consumers without access to the Internet, exceeding our goal of 10,000 by 62%. 2.) The site helped generate letters to the editor in seven Florida media markets, exceeding our goal of five media markets. Two were markets that encompassed the districts of legislators who were strictly opposed to the repeal. 3.) The Web site attracted 27,025 unique visitors, an average of 428 unique visitors per day, more than double our goal of 200. The average visit length exceeded eight and a half minutes, exceeding our goal of five minutes. 4.) The e-mail address listed on the Web site received an average of 65 messages per day, exceeding our goal of 50, while the hotline logged an average of 41 calls per day, far surpassing our goal of 25. 5.) The campaign generated more than 100 positive news stories, most of which contained factual information that reporters obtained directly from the Web site.

Budget: Wal-Mart and Murphy USA paid CoreMessage a monthly retainer to implement the entire campaign, including Web site efforts. In addition to the monthly retainer, the client budgeted $35,000 for Web site development and promotion. CoreMessage came in at $7,718 under budget. Design, printing and shipping of 5,000 “tear-off” pads promoting the site: $10,232. Site design and database development: $16,030. Site hosting and maintenance: $1,020. Total: $27,282.