Case Study: Pay Up KCP&L
The intent of this project was to design visual materials to raise general public awareness of Kansas City Power & Light’s corporate malfeasance in skirting their tax burden while consistently raising electricity rates and paying CEO Michael Chesser excessively. We sought to move the primary market from knowing facts to having an opinion, and from having an opinion to taking action on this matter. Visual materials were intended to support a range of public actions from leafleting to street theater, from marches to a shareholder meeting confrontation.
The primary market included Kansas Citians who held opinions sympathetic to working class people and were concerned about financial inequity. Key groups targeted included local labor organizations, faith-oriented activists, university students and Occupy Kansas City.
One hundred percent of design services were donated. All expenses were for the following printed materials: banners, T-shirts, posters and fliers.
A research team assembled by the client, the Midwest Center for Equality & Democracy, produced a four-page listing of facts about KCP&L, many of which came from the corporation’s own annual 10-K report and proxy filings. Other relevant facts were culled from online news sources such as Reuters, government websites and the Kansas City Star newspaper. This included information about yearly profits made, yearly income tax paid, executive compensation and rate hikes.
The communication strategy was to make a largely logical and factually airtight argument rather than making an emotional appeal. The design team scoured the confidential research document for the most salient points about numerous rate hikes, KCP&L’s actual tax payments (they paid no taxes from 2008 to 2010) and tax refunds, and the decision was made to highlight executive compensation in relation to compensation of Kansas City’s working class. These content areas and facts were discussed with the client in an effort to produce a logical narrative based entirely on documented facts and figures that, when seen as a whole, would evoke a strong emotional response.
While most campaign content was factually based, the campaign name, logo series and some slogans were crafted to reflect the “vox populi”—everyday people asking for economic fairness in a direct and clear way.
Public actions were the most visible aspect of this campaign, and the supporting materials were designed as components of a larger messaging system that functioned on two levels, communicating to passersby on the street and to people viewing media coverage of the event. To that end, scale and legibility of the typography was a high priority.
The shoestring budget required the cheapest possible printing of all materials, so we used black and white for all components. Posters (24" x 36") were printed on 24# bond and adhered to reused cardboard. This was done by local activists at a “poster party” staged by the client. Another key issue was a decentralized design team, comprised of students and professionals, which proved challenging for making design decisions and sharing work easily.
The campaign was widely covered in local print, radio and television media. The shareholder action even garnered national press coverage. The design of the materials lent the project visual cohesion and narrative continuity, and gave the campaign a professional credibility that reflected in the campaign’s actions, media coverage and online footprint.
The Pay Up KCP&L campaign also became a critical bridge between the Occupy Kansas City movement and the creation of a permanent organizing project called KC99. In fact, the organizers hatched the idea for KC99 during the Pay Up campaign. Pay Up KCP&L allowed dozens of activists and thousands of supporters of the 99 Percent movement to continue organizing in Kansas City at time when the Occupy Wall Street movement had begun to wane nationally. The realization of the design marked a maturation of the local 99 Percent movement and remains a hallmark of KC99’s grassroots organizing to this day.
In summary, design was a major component of what made Pay Up KCP&L a successful campaign—according to its lead organizers—and that effort has allowed Kansas City’s 99 Percent movement to grow, take on new campaigns and train more activists to unite “the 99 Percent” in a larger fight for income equality.