Republican gubernatorial candidate Eric Greitens “spent another $600,000 on image consultants” to rebrand his charity, The Mission Continues.
— Chris Koster on Tuesday, September 13th, 2016 in a campaign ad
In a recent ad, Missouri Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Koster criticized how Eric Greitens’ charity, The Mission Continues, has been spending money.
“Eric Greitens used money from his veterans charity to pay himself over $700,000 in salary and bonuses,” said the ad, as part of a broad attack on how Greitens’ nonprofit, intended to help veterans re-enter civilian life, has been run.
In the ad, a voice says, “He spent another $600,000 on image consultants,” while viewers see a makeup artist applying makeup to Greitens’ face.
We wanted to know if this claim about The Mission Continues spending money on image consultants checked out, so we decided to look into it.
The Mission Continues
Greitens’ nonprofit benefits recently discharged veterans by giving them volunteer opportunities in their own communities where they can learn new skills by “improving community education resources, eliminating food deserts, mentoring at-risk youth and more.”
The Mission Continues has operations in over 20 states and Washington D.C. called “service platoons” that collaborate with local groups to plan service activities to benefit specific communities.
The organization is a Better Business Bureau accredited 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
In 2013, the organization decided to rebrand in an attempt to expand its operations.
The Mission Continues hired St. Louis-based public relations firm FleishmanHillard Inc. as an independent contractor. FleishmanHillard is one of the most respected PR firms in the country, with big-name clients like Chevrolet, EA Sports, Olay and Procter & Gamble.
The Mission Continues paid FleishmanHillard $619,599 for its services in 2014 and 2015, according to public filings required by the charity.
This $619,599 made up approximately 5.2 percent of the organization’s total expenses for each fiscal year.
News of the rebranding effort ran as a story in PR Week, an international trade publication for the public relations field.
What they paid for
Greitens’ charity launched its new image to the public “at a food bank event that brought veterans together with President (Barack) Obama, as they served meals to dozens of underprivileged families,” according to the PR Week article.
The crown jewel of the nonprofit’s new image was a new logo. It features a shield-shaped patch with a two-sided bird: an eagle to represent patriotism, and a dove to illustrate a commitment to service, as explained by a video on the group’s website. The logo won a Silver Anvil Award of Excellence from the Public Relations Society of America, a top trade organization for the industry.
The campaign also introduced a new website and introduced the branding into designs for community service projects.
Clearly, FleishmanHillard’s campaign was designed to rebrand The Mission Continues as a charity, not Greitens himself.
This rebranding was covered by several major news outlets, including ABCNews.com and Bloomberg News.
Charities have to market themselves so the people they want to help know about their services, said Daniel Borochoff, president and founder of Charity Watch.
“It’s a legitimate expense,” Borochoff said. “They can’t do it in the dark.”
A representative from the Greitens campaign said the ad was a blatant misrepresentation of the reality of the expense.
In a TV ad, Koster said Greitens’ charity The Mission Continues spent $600,000 on image consultants.
This amount was well-supported by non-profit Form 990s, which listed $619,599 in payment to PR firm FleishmanHillard.
The ad was misleading, however, when it suggested that the image consultants were used to craft Greiten’s personal image, instead of The Mission Continues. Furthermore, it implied that a charity spending money on branding is wasteful. An expert who monitors charities said it was a legitimate expense.
We rate Koster’s claim Half True.
Chris Koster campaign ad
Email exchange with David Turner, Oct. 5, 2016
Email exchange with Jamie Flink, Oct. 19, 2016
Phone interview with Daniel Borochoff, Nov. 2, 2016
Phone interview with Greitens campaign representative, Nov. 3, 2016
Article, PR Week, Feb. 1, 2014
The Mission Continues website
Public Relations Society of America Silver Anvil Winners, 2014