The SPN Communications Excellence Awards recognize and encourage outstanding achievements in marketing, communications, and media across the state think tank Network. Winners received a grant to pursue future projects, as well as a trophy to honor their effort and results. SPN is pleased to announce the 2020 Communications Excellence Awards winners:
The Mackinac Center recognized that the best way to convey the ridiculous nature of Michigan’s arbitrary business closures and restrictions was to illustrate them in a series of cartoons. Mackinac created a comprehensive communications plan and used their existing presence on Facebook to promote their cartoons to existing and new audiences. The cartoons took on a life of their own, with many Michigan residents and even lawmakers sharing the posts on social media. Each time a new cartoon would appear, the arbitrary law it highlighted was soon repealed. By creating and sharing clever cartoons, Mackinac was able to reverse the tide of arbitrary government control during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Washington Policy Center examined Washington state’s coronavirus testing rates and the governor’s widely-touted “COVID-19 Risk Assessment dials.” Through their research, WPC found the governor’s risk assessment dials were unscientific, sometimes not tied to any data, and other times connected to incorrect data. WPC sent this information to media outlets, shared this information on their social media channels, and highlighted it on their homepage. The Olympian featured WPC’s work in a front-page story. This newspaper is in the state capitol and widely circulated among lawmakers and their staff. WPC’s Todd Myers wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, which in turn led to an interview on the “Ingraham Angle” on Fox News. As word spread, reporters started to ask the governor questions about WPC’s findings at his regular coronavirus press conferences. The governor soon abandoned his risk assessment dials and opted for new metrics.
The Commonwealth Foundation helped Myles Slade-Bowers obtain a tax credit to attend Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Without this school choice scholarship, Myles would have to attend a public school in his neighborhood that is consistently ranked among the worst 15 percent of schools in the state. Myles has an eye condition that requires frequent reading breaks, and his mom knew he needed more flexibility than what was available at his local school. Soon after Myles started at Bishop McDevitt, Commonwealth hired Myles as an intern and sent his compelling story to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who invited Myles to a White House education summit with the president himself. Commonwealth helped Myles become a nationally recognized advocate for school choice, and in the process helped build their brand as powerful school choice advocates for struggling students and their families.
With a budget of just $300, the Pelican Institute traveled across Louisiana to learn how shutdowns were impacting the people of their state. In town after town, they encountered the same challenge: Business owners had been forced to close, lay off employees, and face the prospect that their dreams and livelihoods might not survive. To share these personal stories far and wide, Pelican launched a new a video series, Faces of the Shutdown. They shared the story of gym owners Jarett and Kallie Landry who had to lay off all 12 of their employees. They featured Karlos Knott, owner of Bayou Tech Brewing, who had to cut 15 of his employees. And Pelican called attention to the consequences related to unemployment benefits by telling the story of Jose Villeda, owner of JLV Construction, who lost employees because they chose to receive unemployment benefits rather than continue to work for him. To date, the Faces of the Shutdown stories have been viewed more than 51,000 times on Facebook.
Tom Slattery and his wife were excited for their big move in May. Tom’s wife had just finished her cancer treatment, and the couple was excited for a fresh start in Silver Spring, a community for people 55 years and older. That excitement quickly faded when the Pennsylvania Governor shut down residential construction across the state, preventing their new home from being finished. Facing homelessness, the Slattery’s were scared and anxious about what the future held. The Commonwealth Foundation shared the Slattery’s story to encourage policymakers to safely reopen certain sectors of the economy, including home construction, despite the Pennsylvania Governor’s opposition. Commonwealth shared the Slattery’s story in ten op-eds and news stories across the state. The story even received national attention in an op-ed for the Washington Examiner. Commonwealth leveraged these placements with Facebook advertising and distributed the pieces to lawmakers, who were anxious for material to support reopening legislation. With real-world examples of the suffering caused by the continued economic shutdown, lawmakers began passing bill after bill to safely reopen certain business sectors. The governor committed to reopening construction work in May—in time for the Slattery’s new home to be completed and avoiding the severe health risks they would have otherwise faced.
In Mississippi, goat milk must be sold directly to the consumer on the premises of the production, you can only have nine goats, and you can’t advertise your business. For Debbie Huff, owner of Hidden Arrows Farm in Brandon, Mississippi, it’s an overly restrictive policy, but it at least allowed her to sell her product. That all changed in February 2020, when the Mississippi Legislature introduced a bill to ban the sale of goat’s milk altogether. If the bill passed, those who violated the law and continued to sell goat milk could have been sentenced to 60 days in jail with fines of up to $500. The Mississippi Center for Public Policy stepped in and launched a campaign to prevent this misguided policy from passing. Mississippians should have a choice in what they consume, and government should trust them to make decisions for themselves and their families. Through blog posts, podcasts, targeted emails, op-eds, and social media outreach, MCPP educated policymakers and the public on the proposed legislation. Thanks to MCPP’s campaign, the bill failed to pass the Public Health Committee and goat milk sales remain legal in Mississippi.
This opportunity is open to current SPN state think tank affiliate members only. All affiliate members are invited to nominate their work in one or more categories. Category finalists are chosen by a selection committee, and the winners are determined by votes from the Network’s Communications Peer Group and State Think Tank CEOs. Learn more about the awards here.