Park51 is an Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan, two and a half blocks from Ground Zero. Prior to its completion, leadership announced plans to include a mosque, with a goal of providing a multi-faith, multi-use facility in a community lacking these resources. Muslim Americans working in Lower Manhattan had no worship space, and Park51 also wanted to fill this need.
Park51 quickly become a hot-button topic when members of conservative groups, such as Sarah Palin and numerous right-wing bloggers, began referring to it as the “Ground Zero Mosque,” ushering in a high-profile controversy regarding issues of religious freedom and civil liberties.
We were retained at the peak of Park51’s communications crisis, as political leaders and members of the media from across the country were calling for the organization to move the center further away from Lower Manhattan. Politicians on both sides were misrepresenting the project, and the media was largely misinformed about its meaning and goals.
We first shut down the extraordinary media attention the project was receiving around the world. Then we turned to repackaging and re-messaging, including re-educating the media about the center, the Islamic faith, and the history of mosques and the Muslim-American community in Lower Manhattan. We also worked with Park51 leadership on how to handle the press.
We placed Park51 on CBS’s “60 Minutes” in a favorable, lengthy interview; on the Today Show with Matt Lauer; and on an NBC Thanksgiving special hosted by Matt Lauer called “People of the Year.” We rolled out the new Park51 story to targeted open-minded outlets around the country with the goal of reclaiming the narrative, generating positive media coverage in The New York Times, on PBS, BBC and NPR, and on hundreds of other outlets around the country.
By September of 2011 Park51 opened its doors to glowing reviews, comprehensive community support and favorable media attention.