The Ohio 8 Coalition

The issue: Strengthening the largest school districts in Ohio to improve academic performance, increase graduation rates and close the achievement gap for urban students.

Our approach: Statewide advocay and strategic communication

The result: Strengtheed relationships with state policymakers and a strategic direction for statewide advocacy and communication.


  • Developed and implemented a state advocacy plan, including grassroots and communication components and related collateral materials, to engage members of the Ohio General Assembly (OGA) and members of the executive branch.
  • Developed and implemented an earned media and messaging strategy.
  • Helped to secure funding for the Third Grade Reading Guarantee.
  • Helped to ensure proposed report card/accountability system language was removed from budget legislation and moved into a separate bill for broader discussion.
  • Helped to eliminate or modify more than two-dozen policy provisions from proposed legislation to reduce negative impact on public school districts statewide.
  • Secured positions for members of The Ohio 8 leadership team to participate in stakeholder conversations with policymakers regarding state testing, truancy and attendance, and dropout and recover school accountability systems.
  • Supported The Ohio 8’s ongoing efforts to engage statewide media in order to shape the dialogue around k-12 state policy and secured dozens of quotes and mentions throughout state media.
  • Coordinated the development of The Ohio 8 Coalition 2015 Year at a Glance infographic, which highlights the accomplishments and activity of Ohio’s eight city school districts. The Year at a Glance reflects The Ohio 8 Coalition’s commitment to support the unique educational needs of every student in each of their districts, no matter where they came from, the amount of money their family earns, the languages they speak, or the physical or cognitive challenges they face.

ACS is well respected and thorough with a reputation that is above others. They have a hands-on approach that has allowed the Ohio 8 ease of access to the legislature. Their quality of work and service is excellent.”

David James

Superintendent, Akron Public Schools, Ohio 8 member

First Things First

The issue: Raising grassroots awareness of early childhood issues statewide.

First Things First (FTF), a statewide early childhood agency in Arizona, financially supports programs that provide children with the tools they need to start out on the right path so they can be successful in school and beyond. Funded by tobacco tax revenue, FTF is required by law to conduct an ongoing effort to build on-the-ground awareness of the issues and needs surrounding the state’s youngest residents.

Our approach: Since 2011, ACS has assisted FTF in communication, stratregy development and capacity building. This includes:

1. Communication -Developing and implementing two 3-year grassroots education campaigns.

2. Capacity Building – Increase the capacity of regional directors to facilitate and serve as spokespersons for FTF.

3. Strategy Development – Strategy development and ongoing facilitation services for several FTF-led initiatives including the state’s Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems (ECCS) grant implementation plan as well as FTF’s Quality First Advisory Subcommittee which developed recommendations about the long-term strategic direction and financing for Quality First, Arizona’s early childhood Quality Improvement and Rating system (QRIS).

The result: The efforts increased awareness of and support for FTF across the state. FTF has the capacity to sustain early childhood efforts statewide.



  • With a goal of increasing community support for and engagement in early childhood development, ACS developed two statewide, three-year communication plans with First Things First (FTF) of Arizona (2011-2013 and 2014-2016).
  • ACS developed communication guides (talking points, messengers, and framing).
  • Conducted training for staff to successfully implement the plan and use the communication guides.

Staff Capacity Building

  • Built and implemented a customized facilitation training, including one-on-one technical assistance for regional staff.
  • Built and implemented a customized spokesperson training, including video assessment and review, and one-on-one technical assistance for regional staff.

Strategy Development

  • Developed strategy for and facilitated quarterly meetings for statewide ECCS stakeholders.
  • Developed strategy for and facilitated stakeholders in the South Phoenix region related to early intervention.
  • Facilitated the development of recommendations from 22 statewide early learning stakeholders as part of FTF’s broader effort to determine a long-term strategic direction of the Quality First program, including ensuring continuous quality improvement,  increasing integration and coordination with the rest of the early childhood system in Arizona, validating the rating scale, and establishing financial sustainability.

Learn more about First Things First at

I believe that Arizona and First Things First probably have one of the most sophisticated and comprehensive strategic communications efforts that I’ve seen in early childhood in any state — and I don’t think we would have been there without the partnership we had with ACS.”

Sam Leyvas

CEO, First Things First

Franklin County Job & Family Services

The issue: Changing the image and effectiveness of a county agency.

Our approach:

1. Engaging agency leadership and community partners and stakeholders to help build a strategy to utilize limited public funds that support child care and youth services more effectively and purposely.

2. Outlining a messaging strategy for the changing landscape of Medicaid expansion and Federal healthcare exchanges.

3. Coordinating agency efforts as part of a regional infant mortality task force to build a collective strategy to increase program enrollment and improve outcomes.

The result: A large government agency ready and prepared to be proactive and strategic on behalf of its taxpayers and clients. FCDJFS now has the tools and a detailed plan to improve operations within their child care departments. FCDJFS is implementing and tracking the progress of a strategy to prepare Type B Home Providers to transition into Ohio’s quality rating and improvement system, Step Up To Quality.


  • In-depth report with recommendations regarding strategy and tactics related to child care structure, youth contracting, and related internal and external communication.
  • Developed communication collateral to compliment internal and external  activity regarding these areas
  • Guidance that assisted FCDJFS in facilitating community conversations to develop a strategy and to track and increase Medicaid enrollment among women of childbearing age as a way to improve women’s health before pregnancy, part of the broader Greater Columbus Infant Mortality Task Force (GCIMTF) Plan.

Learn more about FCDJFS at

Their knowledge of job and family services, early childhood education, urban school districts, and their approach to analyzing community needs is really helping us create a long term strategy that is ultimately going to help us serve this community.”

Anthony S. Trotman

Director, Franklin County Department of Job and Family Services

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Forward Promise

The issue: Removing barriers to success for boys and young men of color.

The barriers to success facing boys and young men of color are well documented in national press. To help change the future for this vulnerable population, ACS was selected by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to provide strategy development services for RWJF’s Forward Promise grantees.

Our approach: Strategy development, communication planning, speaker capacity building/training, qualitative communication research for five Forward Promise grantees.

The result: Grantees have tools, approaches, and strategies to sustain local efforts to help break the school to prison pipeline.

ACS assisted five grantees to improve outcomes for boys and young men of color by:

  • building a foundation for their collective impact initiatives,
  • strengthening their collaboratives,
  • communicating clearly about their collaborative to critical stakeholders,
  • leading on restorative justice issues in their community, and
  • building sustainable programs.


  • Conducted a coaching session at the RWJF grantee conference on building successful coalitions.
  • Developed advocacy and communication work plans with grantees to increase awareness and support of their initiatives and issues.
  • Guided all grantees in how to work with partners to communicate with one voice about who they are and the issues about which they care.
  • Provided guidance on how to leverage the work of partners to support their own successes.
  • Developed communication plans to publicly launch initiatives and increase awareness of restorative justice and boys and men of color.
  • Conducted research on promising practices in the areas of mentorship, parent engagement, student participation retention, and communication to help grantees develop successful, accountable, and sustainable programming.
  • Increased sustainability of the grantee’s work by developing processes and strategies for sustainable leadership and funding.


The Issue: Increasing the access to and quality of high-quality preschool for Cleveland’s three and four year olds.

The Approach: In a three-pronged approach, ACS planned and facilitated the development and guided the implmentation of PRE4CLE.

1. Planned and facilitated the development of PRE4CLE. The ACS team led and facilitated nine separate working groups, consisting of a total of more than sixty participants, to delve deeply into aspects ranging from finance to teacher quality to transportation.

2. Increased awareness about PRE4CLE. Once the plan was approved, ACS led developed and implemented a multi-faceted communication plan and materials, including media relations, website content development, social media strategy, and development of print collateral materials. With assistance from foundations, business, and community leaders, ACS developed and drafted materials and secured media attention to showcase increased local financial investment in PRE4CLE.

3. Raised the profile of PRE4CLE across the state. ACS also created the guiding strategy for PRE4CLE’s local, state and federal advocacy efforts, coordinated activities for all PRE4CLE partners and took the lead on direct lobbying to raise awareness, funding and policy support for the city’s ambitious pre-K vision.

The Result: Developed and increase dsupport for a universal voluntary pre-kindergarten program for all 4-year-olds, then 3-year-olds, throughout Cleveland. Increased public awareness and support for the implementation of the program.


ACS' limited client list allowed them to focus on our policy priorities and maintain the daily contact necessary in a fast-paced political process.”

Katie Kelly

Director, PRE4CLE

National Association for the Education of Young Children

The Issue: Make early childhood education a priority in elections across the nation through local, state, and federal advocacy.

The Approach: Capacity building/training, communication planning and strategy development, and communication materials development.

ACS assisted NAEYC on two levels:

1. Capacity building for local affiliates (chapters)

2. Strategic communication planning for NAEYC leadership. This work includes but is not limited to proactive and reactive media relations, communication collateral development, major media event strategy development for National Week of the Young Child, and internal communication infrastructure evaluation.

The Result:
NAEYC affiliates have the tools they need to advocate and build relationships with policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels on behalf of early childhood.

NAEYC staff have the strategy and materials to effectively communicate.


  • Established baseline for communication databases, activity and expectations for NAEYC staff.
  • Supported the effort to build a stronger connection between national office and local affiliates.
  • Conducted electoral advocacy training and provided guidance for three NAEYC state affiliates.
  • Conducted “Advocacy 101” training at NAEYC public policy forum for 100 NAEYC members.
  • Supported the development of NAEYC’s Call to Action which outlines NAEYC’s commitment to guaranteeing that all young children thrive in learn in a society that is dedicated to ensuring they reach their full potential. The Call to Action encourages NAEYC affiliates to support the organization’s efforts to ensure that children birth through age 9 have equitable access to developmentally appropriate and high quality early learning, and that the early childhood education profession exemplifies excellence and is recognized as a vital and critical role in our communities.
  • Provided technical assistance to 14 state affiliates around NAEYC’s Early Ed for President campaign to support NAEYC’s goal of ensuring that early learning and the early childhood profession is a priority issue for all presidential candidates during the 2016 campaign season.


The issue: Expanding a national business into a new service area in Ohio.
Our approach: Navigating the procurement process during a time of state organizational transition.
The result: HMS wins a significant new contract that knocks out a 15 year incumbent that raises its national profile and deepens its state relationship.


Since 2009 has helped secure in excess of $20 million in State contracts for:

  • Third Party Liability recovery services for Ohio Medicaid
  • Hospital Utilization Management Program for Ohio Medicaid
  • Mental Health Utilization Review for Ohio’s Department of Mental Health
  • Program to help verify Medicaid applicants’ assets included in the revamp of Ohio’s 30-year-old Medicaid/health and human services eligibility systems.

When HMS Holdings Corp. set out to build on a 12-year relationship with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to win more contracts in the state, it turned to ACS for insight and guidance. “ACS has been our boots on the ground in Columbus, representing us before Ohio’s Medicaid agency, Office of Health Transformation, the legislature and other stakeholders,” says Kristen Ballantine, State Government Relations Director for HMS. “They’ve been a key component of our business development agenda.” When a new bidding opportunity was clouded by reorganization, ACS provided HMS with the understanding and connections it needed to navigate the waters. As a result, HMS secured its first contract with the state’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, opening a new window to opportunity in Ohio and beyond. Learn more about HMS at

Port of Cleveland

The Issue: Communicating economic impact to strengthen community partnerships.

Our Approach: The Port of Cleveland turned to ACS to develop a three year strategic communication and outreach plan to guide the organization through shaping its future communication.  ACS conducted a national scan of communication strategies, goals, and community outreach efforts of eight Port Authorities across the country and a full communication and media audit of the Port of Cleveland to better understand the Port’s strengths, challenges, and opportunities for more successful and strategic communication methods.

The Result: This research provided a foundation for the strategic communication goals and strategies that prioritized the Port’s efforts, audiences, community outreach, and messaging, allowing the Port to effectively communicate with stakeholders and the community in an intentional and relevant way. The plan was completed in September 2013.


  • A messaging platform that included a tag line, core messages, audience-specific messages, an elevator speech, and a boilerplate message that allowed the Port to ensure its staff, leadership, and external communication consistently conveyed the value of the Port to all audiences.
  • An internal organizational communication structure, process, and set of protocols to allow the Port to communicate transparently to stakeholders and the public, engage collaboratively with regional economic development stakeholders, and provide accountability through regular public reporting on performance.
  • A proactive media engagement plan to shift the current media tone about the Port from negative to positive, and establish consistent messaging about who the Port of Cleveland is, what the Port does, and why it matters to the community.  This media plan resulted in positive local, statewide, and national media attention in industry specific and traditional media.
  • A social media plan that allowed the Port to maximize its social media outreach and create a platform that consistently engages related industries, stakeholders, community leaders, and the public in all segments of the Port’s operations.
  • A community outreach plan that allowed the Port to elevate its visibility and recognition as a valuable partner in restoring the vitality of the region, and strengthen relationships between the Port of Cleveland and the surrounding community.

groundWork™ Ohio

The issue: How much does it really cost to increase quality in school-based and private early care and education settings?

Our approach: Facilitate feedback and information meetings with early care and education providers from across the state to create accurate calculations.

The result: The feedback groundWork™ received from providers at the facilitated sessions helped them adjust their findings substantially, getting them much closer to the real costs of increasing quality in early care and education across the state.

As more and more private and school-based early childhood education providers considered efforts to increase their quality through Ohio’s Step Up To Quality program, one question repeatedly arose: How much is this going to cost? To help answer this question, groundWork™ Ohio launched a one-year project in early 2014 to estimate baseline and increasing costs providers. groundWork™ turned to ACS to help facilitate meetings across the state with early care and education providers to gather information and validate preliminary findings. Accurate baseline information and estimates of quality enhancements will give groundWork™ powerful information to advocate for the additional funding providers will need to reduce class sizes, hire and pay teachers with the appropriate education, and other measures that ensure young children start school ready to learn. Learn more about groundWork™ at

Prevent Childhood Abuse Arizona

The issue: Position child abuse prevention as a lead strategy in Arizona’s statewide child safety system.

In just six years (2009-2014), Arizona saw a 44% increase in the number of reported cases of child abuse and neglect; today there are over 18,000 children living in foster care in Arizona, and thousands more cases that have been left unclosed or uninvestigated. The threat of child abuse and neglect for Arizona’s children and families is of great magnitude, and as Prevent Child Abuse Arizona seeks (PCA Arizona) to elevate prevention as a solution to that threat, the number of reported child abuse and neglect cases and the number of children living in foster care in Arizona, continue to grow.

The ACS approach: In 2015, ACS assisted PCA Arizona to develop a two-year advocacy strategy to further their goal to position prevention as the lead approach in the child safety system in Arizona. This strategy includes:

  1. Communication
    • Messaging: ACS helped PCA Arizona develop a comprehensive messaging framework that consists of core messages, audience-specific messages (media and policymakers), an elevator speech (quick version of the core messages), and a boilerplate message document (that could act as a basis for additional audience messaging). Messaging for the media focused on positioning child abuse prevention alongside remediation in the discussion and coverage of child safety issues. Messaging for policymakers positions the topic of prevention within the statewide child safety conversation and proposes prevention as a solution to the current child safety emergency in Arizona. These core and audience-specific messaging help set the foundation and acted as a guide for PCA Arizona leadership, staff, and board members.
    • Influencing the Media: ACS assisted PCA Arizona in building a media engagement strategy, and developed ready-to-use tools to allow PCA Arizona to be successful in their efforts. These tools included a local, state, and national press list, a template Op-Ed, a template Letter to the Editor, and specific direction on how to develop press kits, convene editorial boards, and build strategic relationships with the media. Combined with the messaging documents, PCA Arizona had the ability to start their work immediately.
  2. External Capacity Building: ACS helped PCA Arizona expand its capacity for engagement with the media and the state government through a champion engagement strategy. This strategy includes a targeted effort for PCA Arizona to develop and leverage a core group of champions to enhance its media outreach and advocacy efforts. Specifically, identifying what organization could help to advance and/or buttress their ultimate goal of shifting the conversation to the issue of prevention.
  3. Advocacy: ACS worked with PCA Arizona leadership to determine the best approach to direct advocacy with the child safety leadership within the Executive branch via the Governor’s office and the Department of Child Safety (DCS), and the Arizona state legislature. While prevention is slowly becoming a priority in the statewide conversation among the media, this advocacy strategy will help PCA Arizona work with both branches of their state government to position prevention as the long-term solution to the current crisis the state is facing.

The result: A two-year advocacy strategy document has allowed PCA Arizona to be efficient in its effort to elevate the conversation of prevention and leverage its internal and external staff capacity, resources and partners to begin to change the dialogue about and related to prevention in Arizona among the media and state legislators.

Specific Future Outcomes:


When PCA Arizona implements messaging fully it will achieve the following outcomes:

  • All staff and PCA Arizona leadership talk about prevention and PCA Arizona in a clear and consistent way.
  • Prevention messaging to the media is consistent and relevant to the statewide context.
  • Prevention messaging to policymakers is consistent and relevant to the statewide context.

In conjunction with the messaging, the media outreach strategy will allow PCA Arizona to achieve the following outcomes:

  1. Major statewide publications will begin talking about prevention in discussions of child safety.
  2. The topic of prevention and the work of PCA Arizona will become well known among key members of the media.
  3. As the media begins to talk about prevention more, policymakers and other statewide leaders will begin to consider the impact of prevention and consider prevention as the primary solution to overcome challenges within the state’s child welfare system.

External Capacity Building

When PCA Arizona develops and leverages a core group of champions to leverage its media outreach and advocacy efforts, it will achieve the following outcomes:

  • Multiple people and organizations will be talking about prevention in the media.
  • The media will begin covering prevention alongside child safety issues.
  • The media will begin reaching out to PCA Arizona and its’ partners as a trusted source of information about child abuse prevention and Arizona’s statewide child safety strategy.
  • The topic of prevention will be elevated in the statewide conversation.


As PCA Arizona builds relationships at these various levels within the Arizona state government, statewide political leaders begin to realize the following outcomes:

  • Prevention will become part of the conversation on strategies to decrease the amount of children in foster care in Arizona.
  • Policymakers will consider continuing and expanded support for evidence-based programs like Healthy Families AZ.
  • PCA Arizona will develop relationships within the Arizona government that can withstand the instability of agency leadership.

Learn more about PCA Arizona at

Little Rock Master Plan

The issue: To hone youth prevention, intervention, and treatment investments to deliver more targeted, specific, positive outcomes: to enhance youth’s skills and abilities; increase graduation rates and academic proficiency; and reduce youth crime, school suspensions, and youth violence.

Our approach: Strategy development, research, community engagement, and facilitation

The result: A three-year Master Plan for Children, Youth, and Families provides a clear roadmap for a coordinated, city-wide approach that is relevant to the needs and desires of the population. Its citizens have clear expectations about the future of youth programming in Little Rock and how to engage in those programs. And a result, the City fully expects to create safer and healthier communities for families, and increase educational, employment, and wellness opportunities for children and youth.

The City of Little Rock turned to ACS to develop the city’s first ever three-year Master Plan for Children, Youth, and Families in February 2015. ACS, through a partnership with the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and the Social Justice Institute at Philander Smith College, worked to gather input and guide stakeholders in a way that will ensure the effort takes into account national promising practices and integrate local needs. ACS guided city staff and local stakeholders to recommendations that engage families and youth where they are at a grassroots level, and make sure they are getting the services they need, work with funded programs to raise the bar for services, and ensure Little Rock’s children, youth, and families are able to thrive. The plan was completed in June 2016 and can be found here and here.


  • Served as project manager for the project.
  • Facilitated advisory group meetings, including agenda setting and summaries.
  • Developed and guided a process for workgroup meetings to complete work between advisory committee meetings.
  • Conducted interviews with key stakeholders in the community to gather information.
  • Guided a community engagement process.
  • Used its expertise in strategy development, facilitation, and capacity building to design a comprehensive, inclusive planning process for Little Rock.
  • Synthesized local data about children, youth, and families in the city of Little Rock.
  • Scanned the city of Little Rock for programs and services related to children, youth, and families and developed a process for ongoing scans so it may be continually updated.
  • Synthesized promising practices and successful approaches from across the country that would be relevant to the Little Rock community and that would support the city’s new vision for children, youth, and families.
  • Provided recommendations for ongoing communication about the planning process to internal and external stakeholders.
  • Wrote the Master Plan for Children, Youth, and Families.

Based on evidence and community feedback, the Master Plan is the guiding document for the Department of Community Programs, to serve as leaders, conveners, and partners to help children, youth, and families in Little Rock succeed.”

Bruce Moore

City of Little Rock