MSU FRIB groundbreaking: The backstory


Martin Waymire was pleased to utilize our strategic communications and event planning skills to assist Michigan State University’s extraordinary team at Monday’s groundbreaking for the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, which you might have read about in the papers or heard about in one of a number of radio and television news segments.

It’s just another way our firm is helping to advance our state’s talent agenda, this time by assisting in a years-long project to help an important investment in cutting-edge nuclear physics research make the long journey from an idea to a reality.

For those who don’t work in the communications industry, a behind-the-scenes look at how this project came to fruition offers a case study in the time and effort a major research project like the FRIB – officially pronounced “eff-FRIB” – can take, and why a public relations firm like ours enjoys the challenge so much.

It started with a phone call

Six years ago, I took a call from MSU’s government affairs team asking if we were willing to assist the university in developing and implementing a strategy to help it communicate throughout what promised to be a very intense government procurement process for the next major stage in the university’s long and impressive history of nuclear science research.

The entire Martin Waymire team jumped at the opportunity. Looking back at a memo I prepared in April of 2008, I described the basket of services our firm could offer, from issue management to materials development to web consulting.

And we have called on all those services and more as the project has moved toward the very Green St. Patrick’s Day groundbreaking.

From a catchy rallying cry to strategic counsel

Here’s a rough breakdown of how strategic communications came into play:

Issue management services: Our expertise was added to the university team’s strategic thinking, crafting plans about  how to position its capabilities, enlist the help of key citizens in the state, and leverage their engagement at critical junctures.

Developing approaches to various constituencies: A Martin Waymire student practitioner from MSU who later joined the firm (and then headed off to make her name in San Francisco), Monica Fineis, came up with “Bring FRIB to our crib” as a rallying cry to engage students. Once students were engaged and mobilized, we worked with nuclear physics graduate students to explain to undergraduates the importance of FRIB to the university’s reputation – and ultimately their degrees.

Helping deliver MSU’s capabilities concisely and persuasively: National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory Director Konrad Gelbke, who coordinated the MSU bid team, knew the vast reams of paper that would be evaluated could best be summed up in a quick video about MSU, the community and the project. Martin Waymire brought in video producer Doug Monson, who delivered a sterling piece of work that competing bidders on the project later said made a big impression on the selection committee.

Strategic counsel and connections: When U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu wavered in his support of FRIB, all hands were called on deck. Martin Waymire helped position a series of questions to top officials and worked with MSU’s top-notch government affairs team to help move the project back into a go-forward status.

Events management: Twice now our firm has been asked to help put together major events that highlighted milestones along the way. The recent groundbreaking saw us engaged from the beginning, helping develop concepts for the event, again producing a video, drafting the day’s agenda and key talking points for many of the speakers. We talked with FRIB leaders like Director Thomas Glasmacher to determine the flow of the speeches and overall direction of the event. Jessica Tramontana ran point on the event, as we ensured the details that make a difference – paper program font size to electronic invite distributions – came out right.

Great partnerships

It’s all been a lot of exhilarating, creative, fast-paced and profound work, all in very close collaboration with the talented professionals at MSU’s offices of governmental affairs in Lansing and Washington, D.C., communications and brands services, and of course the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams.

Even though we’ll never drive an excavator, bolt a girder, weld a wire – or analyze data with FRIB scientists – we are proud to have been part of the large team building the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams. FRIB is a fantastic example of the type of successful project Martin Waymire executes for its clients every day.