CAMPAIGNS: RTF project gains a river of support

PR Team: The Pittsburgh Riverlife Task Force and Skutski & Oltmanns (Pittsburgh) Campaign: Three Rivers Park Time Frame: June-October 2001 Budget: Approximately $300,000

PR Team: The Pittsburgh Riverlife Task Force and Skutski & Oltmanns (Pittsburgh) Campaign: Three Rivers Park Time Frame: June-October 2001 Budget: Approximately $300,000

Members of Pittsburgh's business community realized that their city's commercially barren riverfront presented both an opportunity and a challenge. Some of these leaders joined together to form The Pittsburgh Riverlife Task Force (RTF), a nonprofit organization whose mission became the strategic planning, design, and development of Pittsburgh's 30 miles of riverfronts. Among the founders of the task force is current US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who had been the CEO of aluminum giant Alcoa, one of the largest corporations in Pittsburgh. Until very recently, the city's riverfront had been used mostly for industrial transport purposes. But as Pittsburgh's economy began transitioning away from its industrial roots, it became time for the city to reconsider how it thought about the riverfront. "When Paul O'Neill was the CEO of Alcoa, he oversaw the building of a beautiful state-of-the-art building on the riverfront," says Bob Oltmanns, president Skutski & Oltmanns (S&O). "It was on the basis of that structure that people began to realize what a tremendous untapped resource the riverfront is from both a cultural and commercial perspective." The RTF decided it was time to create a world-class urban waterfront, which would leverage the economic and cultural benefits of Pittsburgh's most valuable natural resource: the famous confluence of its three major rivers. After lots of community input, one of the nation's premier architectural design firms was hired to develop a vision plan. The task force knew community support was essential to the success of the project, and therefore the announcement of a plan had to garner positive public opinion to create the momentum necessary to further the initiative. Strategy The RTF retained S&O in May 2001 to develop a communications strategy to introduce the plan. The agency felt the plan needed to be introduced in a way that would grab significant public attention, and highlight the importance of the project to the community's future. Ideally, the campaign would make the riverfront project a paramount concern in the mind of the broader public. The targeted audiences included the entire Western Pennsylvania community, corporate leaders, special-interest groups, community organizations, landowners, and local, state, and federal government officials. Tactics The primary components of the campaign were a major announcement, a media relations and publicity program, and an advertorial insert in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the region's largest newspaper, as well as a concept video and corresponding b-roll footage that would bring to life the proposed riverfront development. "The video included animation that was shot from an aerial view, and showed part of the riverfront transformed through computer animation into what the vision plan was suggesting could be done there," says Oltmanns. "We did that at about five or six different parts of the riverfronts, and it gave people a graphic and easy-to-grasp demonstration of the kinds of concepts that were being proposed." The plan for Three Rivers Park was announced at a press conference aboard a riverboat in downtown Pittsburgh. More than 120 people, including members of the local media, community leaders, and government representatives attended the announcement. Task Force officials played host to the event, which also included remarks by Pittsburgh's Mayor Tom Murphy, along with other civic leaders. Media packets included the video, the complete vision plan, an informational handbook, and a CD of the plan's images. S&O also developed a 24-page publication, supported entirely by advertising placements secured by S&O from RTF board members, property owners, and Pittsburgh corporations. In October 2001, the supplement was distributed to the nearly 250,000 readers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Sunday edition. Results The initiative received blanket media coverage. Furthermore, thought leaders referenced aspects of the campaign during the public discourse of the plan. For instance, Mayor Murphy used the media materials at government meetings, and some community organizations used the video for community events. But more importantly, in May 2002, the Pittsburgh City Council and the Pittsburgh Planning Commission endorsed the proposal to create Three Rivers Park, as it was unveiled in the vision plan. "Our goal was to get everyone talking and thinking about the riverfront in a different way than they had before," says Oltmanns. "And now the community is talking about the waterfront development in a manner that mostly reflects the ideas that were put forth by the task force." Future The RTF continues to accumulate widespread support. Private business owners are developing the shores of Three Rivers Park, and government bodies are passing legislation to support implementation of the plan. Materials developed by S&O for the project continue to be used at public meetings and hearings.

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