Ackerley: In the Company of Leaders
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Ackerley: In the Company of Leaders

The Ackerley Group challenged MWW/Savitt with producing a commemorative book that would share the history of the company with employees while also communicating the company’s ethos and mission.

Paul Holmes


The Ackerley Group challenged MWW/Savitt with cost-effectively producing a commemorative book that would share the history of the company with both new and old employees while also communicating the company’s ethos and mission:  “Grow, Protect, Enjoy.”  The result is a sophisticated, elegant and inviting book that surpassed expectations as not only an employee communications tool, but also as a definitive communications piece for media, shareholders and other stakeholders.


The Ackerley Group (NYSE: AK) is a diversified company comprised of 32 media and entertainment operations nationwide in four distinct operating segments – outdoor media, television broadcasting, radio broadcasting and sports and entertainment, which, until recently, included the NBA Seattle SuperSonics and the WNBA Seattle Storm.  Since its inception in Seattle in May of 1975, The Ackerley Group has focused on growth through acquiring undervalued or under-performing properties and nurturing, improving and operating them to the benefit of its customers, communities, employees and shareholders.  May 1, 2000, would mark the 25th anniversary of the company.  The Ackerley Group’s management wanted to commemorate the first 25 years, communicate the scale and scope of the company to its employees – many new through acquisition – and let employees know that they were part of a larger, synergistic group that possessed a proud history.


In August of 1999, the company formed a 25th Anniversary committee, who decided that the best way to chronicle the first 25 years of The Ackerley Group was to create a keepsake book.  In October 1999, MWW/Savitt won the RFP to produce this “coffee table” book commemorating The Ackerley Group’s 25 years of growth and achievement.  The book was to be presented as a gift to every Ackerley Group employee and other selected friends of the company on the company’s 25th Anniversary, May 1, 2000.  The book had to be at the printer in March, leaving just five months for pre-print production.  The project budget was $100,000 plus hard costs.

To begin the process, MWW/Savitt held several interviews with The Ackerley Group’s 25th Anniversary committee to determine the focus, tone and content for the book.  From this, MWW/Savitt drafted a creative brief containing the objectives for the book, the key messages and the content mandatories, including a list of the individuals who should be interviewed for content and contacted for archival materials.


The Anniversary Committee and the account teams developed the following objectives:

  • To accurately chronicle the story of The Ackerley Group’s first 25 years.  The book should be accepted as an enduring document, the definitive history of a great Northwest company.
  • To help employees understand that the 25th Anniversary is a defining moment in the company’s history.  The company believes it is a time of transformation and transition as the synergies of the “group” concept are finally being realized.
  • To communicate the philosophy of “Grow, Protect, Enjoy” that has enabled the company to create and continue to build a unique and highly successful group of “outstanding media and entertainment” companies.
  • To design a book that looks elegant and professional, produced with fine materials, yet feels warm and inviting.
  • To create a book that is the cornerstone of all other 25th Anniversary events and items, and as such, it must communicate the celebratory nature of this major milestone.
  • To make the reader feel they have just experienced a great story.
  • To create a book that employees will want to proudly display at home or work, not only as a gesture of pride in their workplace, but because the book is beautiful and content rich.


The primary challenge was telling a story that would unite very different internal audiences.  While the company had adopted a new management structure that focused on creating synergies between media groups, many of the television station employees, for example, didn’t recognize that the company owned billboards or radio stations.  The company also employed a diverse group of 1,800 people working within a wide range of company cultures, i.e., hip radio stations, sports training facilities, buttoned-down “corporate” environments, and in a geographic area stretching from Massachusetts to southern California to Alaska.  In addition, the company’s rapid growth –13 new television stations from 1996-1999 – meant that many employees were unaware the company had existed for 25 years.  Furthermore, before the project began, no central archive of materials and historical artifacts existed at the corporate level.


The MWW/Savitt creative and account teams worked intensely for the next five months, tracking down people and phone numbers and scheduling and conducting more than 75 interviews with employees and influencers.  The team also located, recorded and archived more than 4,000 items, including marketing materials, photos, important documents, awards and other miscellaneous pieces.  All of the items were catalogued, photographed, and returned to the client.  In effect, MWW/Savitt created a permanent company historical archive.  Facts were cross-checked in interviews and by combing through press clippings, SEC filings and other documents.


As the universe of available images emerged and the text was completed, the final design of the book was determined.  Photographer Kevin Cruff was chosen based on his evocative portraiture and unique "dreamscapes" photo-poems.  His portraiture was used to capture individuals key to the success of the company and as “anchor” and thematic images for chapters.  The dreamscape technique was applied to particularly interesting and unique stories where no photograph was available.  A “collage” technique was applied when an important memory/milestone offered multiple archival photographs and objects.  Other existing professional photography was used to tell the story as well.  In lieu of staged formal employee group portraits and to give the book a personal and inclusive nature, Polaroid cameras were sent to every operating company with instructions to take a photo of every employee and then label the photo with the employee’s name, company and the date hired.  No one was told what the photos would be used for; the book was to be a surprise gift.  These photos were then placed in a collage for the final chapter of the book, “Our Company of Leaders.”  Lastly, a letter addressed to employees from Barry and Ginger Ackerley, the company’s Co-Chairmen, was placed in the front of the book in a vellum envelope.

The book garnered tremendous positive feedback from its target audiences.  Employees have been especially enamored with stories from the early days of the company, and they are proud to have been included in the book personally.  The Ackerley Group is thrilled with the results and has embraced the book as the authoritative communications piece about the company’s history and brand ideals.  The company and the media use it frequently as a reference source.

comments powered by Disqus