Michigan Central Station: Much More than a Ribbon Cutting

Michigan Central Station is one of my favorite symbols of Detroit’s revival. It’s such a unique building, and as it grew increasingly dilapidated over decades, it became symbolic of Detroit’s downfall. Now that our amazing city is on the up and up again, it’s only right for it to be symbolic of revitalization.

When I heard the news of Ford Motor Company acquiring Michigan Central Station, I was shocked (in a good way) to say the least. I felt a sense of relief when I heard that, because I knew the building – an important part of Detroit’s history – was in good hands and would get the love it needs to find new life in our modern age.

As an attendee at “How Ford Reinvented Michigan Central Station,” I had the privilege of hearing from Stuart Ruderfer, co-founder and CEO of Civic Entertainment Group and PR liaison and program manager of the announcement event, Christina Twelftree, Ford’s Corktown communications manager, and Marisa Bradley, Ford’s internal communications director.

The trio provided an overview of the planning and execution of the announcement. The event itself took place in “The Factory,” which is a neat, historic building in Corktown that Ford acquired in December 2017. The purchase led to a lot of speculation in the media about what Ford was planning in Corktown, and anticipation continued to build until June of 2018 when it was announced that Ford had purchased Michigan Central Station. Since then, they’ve offered several events there that have engaged the community, including the community open house, a family-friendly Halloween event, and a Detroit Free Press Film Festival screening.

One thing that really stuck with me was a remark Ruderfer made about the announcement being much more than a ribbon cutting. Could they have simply done a ribbon cutting and called it a day? Yes, they could have. Big companies do it all the time. But, Ford recognized how important Michigan Central Station is – its cultural and historical significance – and did an excellent job respecting those factors.

As for their announcement, they focused a lot on four factors: community engagement, dynamic visuals, media and partner storytelling, and paid amplification. This approach proved to be an effective strategy for them, and I especially love the community engagement they’ve done and are continuing to do. They are encouraging their staff to live and work in Corktown, and really be a part of the excitement and energy there. I think it’s great for both their staff and Corktown.

Thanks to their sound strategic moves and well-planned event, Ford’s community open house was attended by more than 25,000 people, had more than 210 media attendees resulting in more than 550 articles and broadcast hits, and a social media reach of more than 541 million people. To say it was successful would be an understatement!

Attending the event was a wonderful look at how they took an event that could’ve been very basic, put some serious creative thought and planning into it, and achieved hugely successful results. I (and many others!) am very much looking forward to seeing what the future holds. I am positive we have not seen the end of Ford’s contributions to not only Corktown, but Detroit as a whole.

Jeff Adkins is a public relations specialist with Henry Ford Health System, and a member of both PRSA National and PRSA Detroit.