The Voters of Dubuque

Milton Shapp thanked the group of voters who had supported his campaign, and together with several members of his public relations counseling firm, Ruder & Finn Associates, began work on the second scheduled election.

The problem now was one of voter apathy. It was going to be difficult to continue the high level of interest and to get large numbers of voters out for a second time. In addition, voter interest now was on the November Congressional elections. In order to get a larger group of people interested, Jerrold aimed much of its publicity and advertising towards the people in the Dubuque suburbs, many of whom were able to obtain fairly satisfactory reception with individual antennas. The theme of "Be a Good Neighbor to Your TV less Friends" was designed to get these people to vote to bring a community television system to the people in the central "valley" part of the town where individual antennas were not effective. In addition, the theme of "Better TV Now for Dubuque" was continued.

On the Sunday before the second election, Mr. Shapp appeared on Dubuque's first radiothon, a one hour long session on stations KDBO and KDTH. During the broadcast, he answered over 70 telephoned questions and discussed material from the 20 full page ads that had been used during the campaign.

Publicity continued on the same high level with extensive coverage given by the national wire services. The week before the election TV Guide printed a two page story which was extremely favorable to Jerrold. Several thousand copies of TV Guide were distributed in the Dubuque area.

The voters of Dubuque again went to the polls, and out of a total of 5,617 votes, 4,560 ballots were cast in favor of granting a community television system franchise to the Dubuque Jerrold Television Cable Corporation.

Milton Jerrold Shapp subsequently was made an honorary citizen of Dubuque, and his story was voted top story of the year by the Dubuque Telegraph Herald. Charles Kinzinger, the lone city councilman who had supported Jerrold, was elected Mayor of Dubuque.

Here is a story of one way a corporation can make friends in a community through personal contact. It is the story of a visit of a corporate board of directors to one of its plant cities for one of its regular board meetings coupled with a round of community activities that turned out to be most enlightening to community and visitors.

It was during the 25th anniversary of Pillsbury Mills' Buffalo plant, and it was the company's 80th anniversary. This historical mark, together with the fact that the Buffalo mill is the company's largest flour mill, were the main reasons Buffalo was selected as the site of the first out of Minneapolis board meeting. (There have since been others.) As further background, it is important to note that most of Pillsbury's principal competitors also operate plants in Buffalo. Flour milling has traditionally been one of the major Buffalo industries. While it had always been a major market for Pillsbury (in addition to the manufacturing plant there, the company also has a large sales office and large grain elevators) not nearly enough had been done at the time to cultivate the importance.

Ward Stevenson, a native of Minneapolis, began work in 1939 in the Coca Cola Bottling Company office, and later became a salesman. In 1941 he joined the staff of Associated Industries of Minneapolis, and went to Pillsbury Mills in 1943 as assistant to the labor relations manager. After Navy Service he returned to Pillsbury, becoming director of public relations. He moved to New York in 1955 to join Benton 6 Bowles as vice president and director of public relations. He has been treasurer, PRSA.

Few Buffalo educational, business and church or labor leaders had met the men comprising top Pillsbury management. Few had met the local company management. What appeared to be needed was some kind of highlight event to enable important community and company leaders to become acquainted and to establish the basis for a continuing friendship. Those are the reasons why the Pillsbury board of directors journeyed as a body to Buffalo one December to hold their regular meeting that month.

It was a two day affair with both days tightly scheduled. The schedule was full, but informal. This was not a visiting inspection party. It was, instead, a group of visiting business people informally getting acquainted with others in the community with whom they had common interests.

But there were other objectives. They were put in writing and agreed to by all participants well in advance. They were:
  1. To help break down any prevailing views that Pillsbury in Buffalo was controlled by a disinterested "absentee" management.

  2. To improve trade relations and create a better sales climate by contacts between key trade figures and top company management.

  3. To provide a basis for continuing community relations in Buffalo, and to label the company at the outset as one with a modern, active, interested, and democratic management.

  4. To enhance employee relations by giving local employees a chance to see that the directors are human, sociable men, many of whom have worked up from office and plant jobs. It was also the aim to give employees a sense of pride in their company because of the progressive reputation this activity would give the company in the community.
The board arrived early one morning and went directly to a hotel where the meeting convened. Local sales and production management people were special guests observing the board meeting. This was a regular board of directors' meeting of the type which is held every month. There was no special agenda.

The meeting adjourned at noon, and the local news people were given a chance to talk with and interview the board members, both individually and collectively. Pictures were taken, and the chairman of the board announced plans for a moderate expansion of the Buffalo plant.

Luncheon was at 12:30. The guests included management personnel from the office and the mill, employees with 25 years' service and retired employees, union officials, civic officials, and all local stockholders who wished to come. There were a number of local opinion leaders from the fields of religion, education, commerce, social work, and, of course, the press. Altogether there were some 200 guests. It was an informal affair with no head table. One of the members of the board instrumental, in selecting Buffalo as a Pillsbury plant site twenty five years ago, was the honored guest.

After luncheon, beginning about 2:30 and lasting the rest of the afternoon the directors were divided into two or three man teams each accompanied by a representative of the sales department. Each team called on two or three representative customers. Some directors went calling on the headquarters of chain stores, others on bakers, others on industrial accounts; but, they all got a chance to spend at least a few hours with a customer on the sales front. That evening the Marine Trust Company of Buffalo was host to the Pillsbury directors and to the financial people of the Buffalo community at a private dinner at which there was free discussion about the financial outlook, both for the company and the community.

The following morning the directors spent at the mill quite informally in small groups. Ample time was allowed for the directors to visit as they wished with employees along the way. The purpose of the tour was to get acquainted with the people in the plant, not to look at the operation of the plant.

At noon the second day, the directors had lunch in small groups with local management people. There was no formal luncheon arrangement made, but everyone in local management ate lunch in the company of one or two directors. Immediately after lunch the directors had a chance to become acquainted with the office employees. From 3:30 to 4:30 in the afternoon of the second day, the directors were present at one of the regular meetings of the plant supervisory staff, and the directors sat as a panel answering questions from the supervisors.

At 5:00 the second day, the directors were hosts at a reception in the hotel for all of the trade people served by the company in the Buffalo area. Immediately after the reception, the board members departed.

A word should be said about the cost of such an undertaking. The big cost, of course, is in the time and travel of the executives involved. Yet, perhaps, this is the item most readily and quickly recovered. Such a trip serves as a means of effective two-way communication with all kinds of people with whom management has an important obligation and need to communicate.

The other costs of the luncheon, the receptions, etc., are relatively modest, and such an undertaking could be carried on in most cities for less than $2,500.

What about the results? There are a number of ways to evaluate such an undertaking. Of course the news coverage was good, and, of course, there were many complimentary letters from all kinds of community leaders. The real evaluation of an undertaking, however, can be made only after the passage of time. The important measure may well be found in the answer to the question: To what extent several years later does the local management feel this kind of undertaking made its job easier? To what extent have the friendships established in an event of this kind been continuing and flourishing friendships that have interacted to the benefit of both the community and the company?
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