Becoming Antitrust's Authoritative Voice
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report
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Becoming Antitrust's Authoritative Voice

In just three years, AAI has gone from a classic startup to success story through its role as an indispensable independent voice on antitrust issues.

Paul Holmes

 

The non-profit American Antitrust Institute (AAI), founded in 1998 as an education, research and advocacy organization, has succeeded in becoming the public interest voice on antitrust issues. The AAI has established itself as the most authoritative antitrust advocate in Washington. AAI’s achievements have included testifying before Congress, consulting with federal and state antitrust agencies, becoming a key media resource, convening a major antitrust conference in Washington, and producing influential and well-distributed research and opinion. In just three years, AAI has gone from a classic startup to success story through its role as an indispensable independent voice on antitrust issues.

CHALLENGE   

AAI’s purpose is to support antitrust laws and institutions, which a variety of conservative think tanks have attacked for over twenty years.  The challenge was to create a new organization, find funding, and build national credibility and influence. 

PLANNING PROCESS AND OBJECTIVES

After consulting with leaders in government, the public interest community, and the legal and economic community, AAI developed a strategy for (a) gaining public support of decision makers via creation of a prestigious Advisory Board; (b) publicizing itself and its work through creation of a website; (c) positioning the group as a reliable, unbiased resource for the media; (d) identifying the target audience as the political center and left of center and molding its mission and public statements to appeal appropriately; (e) identifying and reaching out to potential funding sources; and (f) bringing everything to a focus in a high profile national conference.  Public relations was a key element in presenting AAI and its conference as a major “player” in the antitrust world.

STRATEGIC APPROACH

Recognizing that fundraising would be difficult with no capital at the outset and major corporate funding unlikely, AAI needed a low-budget, high profile public relations strategy that would leverage limited resources. The organization is run by its president out of a home office and relies heavily on the Internet.  AAI has no additional staff, but uses The Hawthorn Group to create image and presence on a limited budget.  As funding became available, it was decided to pay prestigious academics for consulting and writing assistance rather than to outfit and staff an office. This structure permitted execution of the strategy described above.  

CAMPAIGN EXECUTION

The Advisory Board grew as existing members helped recruit others. Some Advisory Board members also became financial contributors. AAI used its website and e-mail lists to notify the antitrust community and media of AAI positions, statements on the developments in the antitrust world. The AAI’s authoritative website, with its news digest, pull downs and links to government enforcement agencies around the world, has become the ultimate source for reporters, lawyers, and law professors seeking antitrust information.

In December, AAI cut through the media clutter over the 2000 presidential election with its dramatic call for breaking up the Voters News Service (VNS), the data-gathering organization that every television network – ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News and the Associated Press – uses on Election Night to predict winners. The Election Night fiascoes, with the networks mistakenly saying first Gore, then Bush, had carried Florida, could be blamed in part, AIA emphasized, on the lack of competition among the networks. The AAI’s recommendation to break up the VNS  made the front page in newspapers around the country. Just as important, the AAI was able to leverage that success with the news media to highlight a number of other antitrust issues.

In June 2000, AAI, with the assistance of The Hawthorn Group, organized its first the annual national conference, which drew over 240 lawyers, economists, government officials, public interest advocates, plus media, including numerous television cameras from the networks. At the AAI luncheon, Attorney General Janet Reno, made her only antitrust address during her long tenure at the Justice Department.  During the conference, the Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust, Joel Klein, was presented the AAI’s first award for antitrust achievement. The keynote speaker was the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission and other speakers were drawn from the AAI Advisory Board. 

RESULTS

Credibility – AAI’s Advisory Board is comprised of more than 50 antitrust leaders, including Alfred Kahn, the godfather of deregulation, former Senate Antitrust Committee Chairman Howard Metzenbaum (D-OH), three State Assistant Attorneys General, and numerous leading academics and antitrust practitioners.  David Boies, well known as the lead attorney in the government’s successful prosecution of the Microsoft antitrust trial and as Vice President Gore’s lead attorney in the Florida recount case, is scheduled to give the luncheon address at AAI’s second annual conference in June.  

Media – The Wall Street Journal, NY Times, Washington Post, USA Today, National Journal, CNN and journals of opinion have covered AAI, which has also been featured in many TV and radio interviews. AAI’s leaders are typically called by trade press several times daily for commentary and background. Large profiles of AAI have appeared in The Daily Deal, Business 2.0, and others. AAI’s president, Albert Foer, writes a regular column in FTC: WATCH, as well as op-eds in Washington Post, New Republic, and other newspapers and magazines.

National conference – AAI’s first conference gained status as an important event in the resurgent antitrust community, drawing top people in field and serving as a platform for cutting edge presentations by academics and leading public officials. “Here, finally, was an antitrust community, a group of over 240 lawyers, economists, government officials, public interest advocates, and journalists who deeply care about the antitrust mission, and for the first time in over twenty years felt solidarity and pride.”--Howard Metzenbaum, Chairman, Consumer Federation of America and former Chairman, Senate Antitrust Committee. 

Website – AAI’s website, www.antitrustinstitute.org, includes archives of activities such as testimony, studies, articles, links to other antitrust sources, and antitrust news drawn from other sources. Hits in January totaled over 70,000 from all over the world.  The website has emerged as the most respected source for antitrust information. 

Recognition – AAI is frequently invited to testify before Congress and government agencies, to confer with agencies during policy-making, to assist other public interest organizations on antitrust issues, and to speak at consumer conferences and trade association meetings.
“AAI has been a strong supporter of good initiatives of strong antitrust enforcement, and I think the American people owe you a debt of gratitude.” –Janet Reno, Attorney General of the United States.

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