Campaigns: Public Affairs - Gridlock study flows smoothly

This is the story of a group intent on avoiding PR gridlock in its efforts to publicize its study on gridlock - the driving kind.

This is the story of a group intent on avoiding PR gridlock in its efforts to publicize its study on gridlock - the driving kind.

This is the story of a group intent on avoiding PR gridlock in its

efforts to publicize its study on gridlock - the driving kind.

The American Highway Users Alliance, a group that includes truckers,

automakers and the American Automobile Association, wanted to get

maximum exposure for a study it was doing on the worst traffic

bottlenecks in the country.

The alliance hoped the study would prompt various government authorities

to take action on such bottlenecks and also to look at measures to

prevent future highway congestion problems. The group’s planned study

was to not only examine present traffic conditions but project traffic

issues 20 years into the future.

The alliance had expected to release results of its study

at a conference in November. To craft a campaign that would gain maximum

media exposure for the report, it turned to Strat@comm, a Washington, DC

firm with expertise in transportation, environmental and healthcare PR,

as well as public affairs.


Strat@comm first suggested that the release date of the report be

changed to just

in advance of the busy Thanksgiving travel weekend. It advised that a

story regarding highway travel problems would get major play from a wide

range of media outlets focusing on Thanksgiving travel stories. It hoped

to make the study the story of the day just as millions of Americans

were preparing for holiday travel.

The agency worked with the alliance to create at-a-glance summaries of

the one-inch-plus-thick report, ranking highway bottlenecks nationally

and listing them by state - in effect, localizing the story. Press kits

were developed for 20 major media markets. ’Anytime you can localize,

you have that much better’ chance of coverage, notes Ron DeFore, a

Strat@comm principal.

Strat@comm decided to work with four major media outlets that would be

allowed to do advance stories on the study the Tuesday before


The agency targeted Tuesday because it felt that by Wednesday, ’you’ve

lost a third of the people’ who are already traveling for Thanksgiving,

DeFore said. Monday was ruled out for fear a weekend story might

overshadow the study.


USA Today was one of the four outlets given advances, but DeFore would

not name the others for fear of offending their journalistic


’When you do that (give advances), it’s a very delicate balance,’ DeFore

says. Media do not want to feel as though they are being used to promote

a client, yet they will be interested in a legitimate story that appeals

to their audience, he adds: ’USA Today wants a story that is of



Strat@comm developed localized press kits for 20 major media markets and

local press conferences in each of those markets. The agency also

notified local television stations of a planned press conference in

Washington, DC, advising them to get footage of that event from their

network affiliate services operation. Of that tactic, he said, ’You’ve

just made it easy for them’ to blend in national coverage with their

local story.


USA Today ran the study as its cover story on Tuesday, Nov. 23. The

nightly news broadcasts of the three major networks all either led with

it or featured it among their top stories of the evening. David

Letterman mentioned the study and the client’s name in his top 10


Local newspapers, radio and TV news operations did hundreds of stories

on the report.


Strat@comm wants to keep working with the alliance to build on the

successful coverage garnered by the study and continue advancing the

group’s agenda. DeFore would not, however, discuss specifics about

future PR efforts.

Client: American Highway Users Alliance (Washington, DC)

PR Team: Strat@comm (Washington, DC)

Campaign: Study on traffic bottlenecks

Time Frame: October to November 1999

Budget: Under dollars 50,000

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