The following is a portion of Chapter 6, “My Stroh Years,” from my book. Stroh remains an iconic name in Detroit, and I had the good fortune to counsel the brand during its growth years. I highlight this particular selection as I feel it is important that, as a public relations professional, you must stand by your client and the community it serves through thick and thin. For many of you, this will be a revealing look into a lively tale of Detroit’s economic legacy, as well as the “why” and “how” of communicating news on behalf of a company in a responsible manner.
In 1985 the company closed its iconic Stroh brewing facility located in downtown Detroit near Interstate I-75 and Gratiot Avenue. This was a huge blow to the local economy and image of the Detroit community. The old brewing facility built in 1912 with some of the earliest buildings on the site dating to the 1860s was the most expensive brewing facility to operate in the country and was land-locked and could not expand. Our challenges at AMF, Inc. were:
- To deliver the message that Stroh was not leaving Detroit or Michigan and would remain a major player and employer in Detroit for years to come, even though the plant was closing. The plant had been there since 1912 but the first cellars were located on the site in the early 1850s though the first Stroh brewery, then named Lion, was not completed until 1867 on the site. The brewery had been expanded many times over the years. But the facility had become the least efficient brewing plant of all brewing companies in the country. And the Stroh acquisitions had given them several newer and more efficient brewing facilities and lower production costs.
- To minimize negative responses from business and government leaders and if possible, have these leaders say something positive about Stroh.
- To communicate that The Stroh Brewery Company would do everything in its power to help workers find new career paths, if not another job.
In one planning meeting regarding the details of the plant closing, about twenty of us were sitting in the huge boardroom at Stroh with company officers, lawyers, investment counselors, and other senior consultants. I was the least important person in the room—I know I made the least money. They were talking about closing the plant on February 14, 1985. I got up my nerve to say… you can’t close it that day. They all looked at me like I was from outer space. What could this lowly public relations idiot be thinking… we are in charge… I could read this on their faces.
Why? They demanded.