In October 2001, BusinessWeek ran a lengthy investigative piece on the credit counseling industry and prominently featured the CEO of Amerix, the nation’s largest processor in the debt management industry. The story included a damaging raised quote, a large, out-of-date photo and damning direct quotes. The Amerix CEO was stunned. He immediately received inquiries from his board of directors and from his clients.
Capital Strategies had been talking with Amerix for several months and previously had helped the company with brand positioning and individual projects. So, when the BusinessWeek story came off the presses, Amerix turned to Capital Strategies.
Capital Strategies saw the client’s first priority was to set the record straight. After BusinessWeek came the Washington Post and major trade publications all probing for their own ugly angle on the BusinessWeek story. The client’s second priority was to improve the company’s corporate image with key external audiences.
 Amerix had three equally critical business audiences: The nation’s roughly 1,000 consumer credit counseling agencies were the direct customers of Amerix’s services. Creditors, more than 70,000 strong, formed another key audience segment since they comprised the primary funding source for the client’s customers (credit counseling agencies). Creditors also were a good referral source for the individual consumers who were likely candidates for credit counseling.
Lawmakers and regulators constituted a third important segment, since the consumer protection issues raised in the BusinessWeek story invited inquiry and regulation at the local, state and national level. With bankruptcy reform on the verge of becoming law, gaining access to key members and staff of the Congressional Banking and Finance committees was a priority for Amerix.
Creating a positive impression of the Amerix brand in the general marketplace was also important, but consumers were a secondary audience for purposes of Capital Strategies engagement.
An aggressive media relations strategy was developed as the most effective way to offset the negatives from the BusinessWeek story and to fuel positive media coverage. The strategy involved positioning the company’s senior executives as experts and positioning the company as the industry leader (size, setting standards, innovation, service quality).
 The research involved a focus on the debt management industry, including a review and digest of the top 25 players among credit counseling agencies. An on-site communications audit was conducted and interview of key leaders in the Amerix organization. The ongoing research included a review and analysis of news and legislative activity, including: A daily scan of news coverage to evaluate opportunities and provide morning clip packet to client; Analysis and briefing documents generated twice a month to update client on the status of pertinent legislation in 10 key states; Bulletins issued to give Amerix leaders a “heads up” on breaking legislative issues.
The planning included evaluating optimum media targets (local, trade and national), assessing the 10 states in which Amerix had the greatest strategic interest from a legislative and media perspective, and focusing on Congressional leaders with a constituent connection to the client.
The resulting quick start eight-week plan and the annual strategic communications plan created positive momentum for the client and provided a flexible framework for elevating the Amerix name and reputation in the marketplace.
Over the course of 12 months Capital Strategies implemented the following tactics within the context of Amerix business goals and communications planning framework:
· Media Training: Both the Amerix CEO Bernie Dancel and President Mike Croxson participated in our customized media training, tailored to prepare them for follow-up interviews resulting from the BusinessWeek story and to lay the foundation for dozens of positive interviews being scheduled.
· Introductory Media Tours: In New York, Washington and Baltimore, Capital Strategies introduced the Amerix name and executives to key reporters and editors at outlets including Bloomberg, Money Magazine, Newsweek, the Associated Press, Bank Technology News, CEO Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, American Banker, The New York Times and The Baltimore Business Journal.
· Relationship Calls: Our firm made weekly relationship and pitch calls to critical media contacts and generated and distributed more than a dozen news releases and advisories during the year.
· Satellite Media Tours: A pair of satellite media tours in the fall and spring featuring live interviews of Amerix President Mike Croxson offered consumer-friendly and “expert” spending and savings tips.  Interviews positioning Amerix as an expert aired on 24 TV stations, coast to coast.
· On Capitol Hill: The firm facilitated introductory meetings that included discussion of bankruptcy legislation and fiscal literacy with key Senate and House members and staff and set the stage for future dialogue.
· Amerix Quarterly Index: The PR team developed and launched a quarterly data analysis tool for reporters to use as a story starter. The Index resulted in more than two dozen positive Amerix mentions on prominent Web sites and publications including the Los Angeles Times, CBS MarketWatch and The Financial Times of London.
· Interview Facilitation: Every month Capital Strategies developed interesting story angles to pitch and prepared executives for interviews that resulted in positive stories in the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones News Wire, and three appearances in CNNfn’s Business Unusual, for example.
· Collateral Development: The team designed and produced sales brochures and collateral material to support Amerix’s communications goals with creditor, agency and employee audiences.
The media relations and public affairs implementation for Amerix was an unqualified success. The company transformed its tarnished reputation, and in the process changed the context for company executives when they met with members of their key audiences of creditors, consumer credit counseling agencies and regulators.
The numbers tell the story best: From October 2001 – October 2002 Amerix enjoyed more than 90 positive interviews and mentions in more than 65 media outlets. In the previous year, none of the national stories were positive, and the total of positive stories generated had been fewer than 10.