CAMPAIGNS: Classic-era tours recapture storied past of train travel

PR Team: Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell (Orlando, Fla.) Campaign: Reliving the Golden Era of Rail Travel Time Frame: May 1, 2002-ongoing Budget: $84,000 annually

PR Team: Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell (Orlando, Fla.) Campaign: Reliving the Golden Era of Rail Travel Time Frame: May 1, 2002-ongoing Budget: $84,000 annually

The American Orient Express, a refurbished classic-era passenger train that offers scenic trips around the US, enjoyed some PR success in the late '90s after it was bought by current owner Oregon Rail Holdings. But those early stories focused on the novelty of a train trip, and were done by relatively broad-based media like PBS. While that wave of coverage produced inquiries, it did not achieve a satisfactory level of customer conversions. What's more, after an initial flurry of coverage, media attention waned. "We were not as new and newsworthy as before," recalls Peter Boese, EVP of the American Orient Express Railway Co. (AOE), the Downers Grove, IL-based company that operates the train for parent company Oregon Rail. AOE wanted a new round of media coverage in targeted publications that would reach both its key demographic and key geographic markets. With tours ranging in cost from $2,800 to $5,000 a week, the prime targets were affluent retirees and those with an income of $100,000, Boese notes. The company hired Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell because of its background in the leisure travel market. Strategy The campaign positioned AOE as a cruise on rails, recalling the golden era of train travel. Other key message points included the ability that rail travel gives consumers to get away from traffic-filled highways and truly see the scenic beauty of America. Also, in a post-September 11 atmosphere of concern about foreign travel, Americans were looking for new vacation alternatives closer to home. "We jumped on the bandwagon of 'See America,'" says Mary Jane Kolassa, a VP at YPB&R. Tactics The agency built a media list that was very specific to the key market segments that AOE wanted to reach. It searched out area publications in regions where large numbers of retirees live. It also looked for publications that appealed to "an older, more affluent, well-traveled individual," says Kolassa. Print and broadcast outlets in AOE's top 10 regions for past customers were also targeted. Because the company decided to expand its trips into regions such as New England, publications in those areas were also targeted. As a result, the media list for the campaign grew to more than 500. Rather than sending mass e-mails to the press, the agency concentrated on one-on-one contact, targeting its pitches to individual writers and their publications. Journalists were also invited to ride the train. More than 100 did so in the first year of the campaign. "No journalist worth their salt is going to be able to develop a multi-page feature without experiencing it," says Kolassa. A 10-minute b-roll was created and distributed to about a dozen broadcast outlets, while a library of high-resolution still images was expanded for use by the media. Results A variety of cable outlets, including A&E and the History Channel, featured AOE. In addition, the Travel Channel created a one-hour program, with plans to air it three times during the year. Print coverage ranged from national publications such as USA Today to newspapers such as the Chicago Sun-Times to regional magazines like Sun Life, which circulates among retirees in the Southwest. Monthly print impressions reached an average of 5 million. At a time when the economy and worldwide terrorism concerns hurt the travel business, AOE revenues jumped 33% in 2002. The company attributed 25% of its increase to PR efforts. Conversion rates of inquiries to paying customers grew thanks to more targeted media play. Future Seeking to further expand its market, AOE is planning theme trips such as jazz, Civil War, and murder mystery. PR will seek publications that appeal to audiences interested in those themes.

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