Late in 2006, the Seminole Tribe of Florida learned that it had won a bidding war to purchase Hard Rock International, the parent company of Hard Rock Cafes and Hotels throughout the world. The seller was Rank Group, plc, a London-based conglomerate. Closing the deal would mark the first purchase of an international corporation by an Indian tribe in North America.
With company-owned and franchised operations throughout the world, Hard Rock catered to a far-flung and diverse global audience, which in many cases had very little understanding of the evolution of Native Americans into successful business operators. Early evidence of reports from London indicated a stereotypical portrayal of the Seminole Tribe. It became clear that news of the impending sale would need to be accompanied by educational information about the Seminoles and other Native Americans.
STRATEGY AND ACTION
Bitner Goodman representatives gathered information about Hard Rock Cafe and Hard Rock International, as well as the specific details of the sale of the company to the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The firm reached out for country-by-country support to partners of the Worldcom Public Relations Group. Firms were retained in London, Paris, Munich, Madrid, Amsterdam and Milan, all sites important to Hard Rock Cafe operations.
Briefing materials on the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Native Americans, in general, were provided to each of the public relations firms. Press materials announcing the acquisition were provided in advance for translation into local languages.
All firms cooperated in a planned announcement of the sale on December 7, 2006. In coordination with representatives of Rank Group, plc, the announcement was made at 7 a.m. London time, prior to the opening of the stock exchange there. Representatives of the Seminole Tribe of Florida were made available for interviews by telephone with journalists in Europe.
At 11 a.m. in New York, representatives of the Seminole Tribe of Florida held a press conference at the Hard Rock Cafe New York, with representatives of financial media outlets on hand for in-person interviews of participants from the Seminole Tribe of Florida. This program was coordinated with public relations representatives of Hard Rock Cafe.
The initial announcements were followed up by ongoing availability for interviews through the closing of the sale in March, 2007. Following the closing, representatives of the Seminole Tribe toured major European and Asian countries and hosted journalists at the Hard Rock Cafes located there.
News coverage of the acquisition announcement and closing was extensive, with significant coverage in major European markets of Hard Rock Cafe. Reports accurately described the current status and the history of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, with few stereotypical comments. The widespread publicity helped to boost sales at Hard Rock Cafe outlets worldwide.
Because news coverage also focused on the Seminole Tribe’s desire to expand the hotel and casino operations of Hard Rock, managers were inundated with potential expansion opportunities and ultimately acted on many of them.