Ruffling a Few Feathers in the Michigan Legislature
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Ruffling a Few Feathers in the Michigan Legislature

Michigan hunters and the National Rifle Association targeted the mourning dove and aimed at adding it to the state’s list of hunted species.

Paul Holmes

The mourning dove, which has long been a symbol of peace, became the symbol of much controversy in the Michigan legislature this past fall.  Michigan hunters and the National Rifle Association targeted the mourning dove and aimed at adding it to the state’s list of hunted species.  The small grey bird, which has enjoyed almost a century of protection, came under fire when H.B. 6147, which was introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives, attempted to authorize dove hunting.
 
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the nation's largest animal-protection organization, spearheaded an effort to defeat H.B. 6147, which was passed out of committee and brought to the House floor on November 28 by Representative Susan Tabor. 
 
The legislation was of particular importance to the HSUS since dove hunting is inhumane.  Mourning doves yield a very diminutive amount of meat and pose no threat to agricultural crops or property.  Furthermore, statistics show that nearly 20 percent of doves shot by hunters are wounded and are never retrieved.  The HSUS was outraged by the introduction of the bill by Rep. Tabor and especially her reasoning for allowing dove hunting, “Anything that gets them [children] out from in front of the television is a good thing.”  Consequently, the HSUS asked Weber Shandwick Worldwide (WSW) to ensure that the bill, not the doves, died.
 
THE CHALLENGE AND OBJECTIVE:
 
The main challenge for Weber Shandwick was to defeat H.B. 6147 before the legislature adjourned for the year 2000. The bill was introduced during the last month of a lame duck session - the legislature was trying aggressively to complete all unfinished business and paid little attention to the concerns of their constituents.  Unfortunately, Weber Shandwick had little time to create and execute a strategic plan. 
 
An additional challenge for Weber Shandwick was to overcome the political coup d’etat surrounding the legislation.  A number of lawmakers were willing to overturn the hunting ban in return for support from fellow lawmakers on other legislation.  Weber Shandwick had to create a public outcry that would arouse the attention of the lawmakers and convince them that their constitutes were more important than political favors. 
 
Weber Shandwick also had to sustain momentum and convince the public to continue inundating the legislature with calls against dove hunting as the bill moved from the House to the Senate. 
 
THE RESEARCH:  
 
Given a small budget ($5,000) and smaller time frame, Weber Shandwick decided to strategically contact high-profile newspaper reporters and radio hosts.
 
Weber Shandwick developed a media database that included editorial page editors, environmental reporters and radio show hosts for various outlets throughout Michigan.  We also researched all the contacts included in the media database and selected a dozen reporters based on their focus, readership, influence and previously written articles on similar subjects.  After researching all the reporters, we  narrowed down the contact list to those who had the most influence. 
 
STRATEGY: 
 
Weber Shandwick, in collaboration with HSUS, developed material to utilize in the media outreach.  A press release and fact sheet were created highlighting reasons why the dove hunting bill should be defeated. 
 
Additionally, WSW researched dove hunting legislation in other states to help develop our strategy.
 
EXECUTION: 
 
Weber Shandwick aggressively pitched twelve newspapers editors and encouraged them to run editorials in support of the HSUS’s position.  Additionally, we pitched three radio shows and scheduled an interview with the HSUS’s spokesperson. 
 
Weber Shandwick pulled on the heartstrings of the media and stressed that there were no good reasons to hunt doves, but plenty of reasons not to hunt them.  Furthermore, we emphasized that the desires of a small group of hunters was no reason to change a law.
 
Weber Shandwick also appealed to the watchdog responsibility of the media and noted that after several years of no activity on this ill-conceived legislation, it has been resurrected during a lame duck session of the legislature.  Presumably, when families are thinking about the holidays, a small faction of the hunting lobby attempted to sneak a bill through the Legislature and catch citizens napping. Weber Shandwick stressed that this was a lame duck effort to make lots of lame doves in Michigan and that it was the media’s responsibility to educate the public on the issue before it was too late.
 
After an editorial was written and published, Weber Shandwick duplicated the piece and sent it to the legislature.  The editorials and the public outcry helped lead to the defeat in the Senate.
 
RESULTS: 
 
On December 14, 2000, just one month after the H.B. 6147 was introduced in committee, it was defeated in the Michigan Senate.  The ban on mourning dove hunting will continue in the state of Michigan.
 
Weber Shandwick was credited with:

  • The placement of nine editorials in Michigan largest newspapers between November 28 – December 5, 2000.
  • The placement of seven newspaper articles supporting the HSUS’s position in Michigan newspapers with the largest circulation. 
  • Obtaining an interview with HSUS spokesperson on Michigan’s most popular morning news show, the Paul W. Smith Show on WJR.
  • Hundreds of emails, phone calls and letters that were placed to lawmakers from constituents who had read the newspapers articles. 
Retaining the ban on mourning dove hunting in the state of Michigan.
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