Florida voters had approved funding for a high-speed rail project in 2000, but by the fall of 2003, the Florida High Speed Rail Authority (FHSRA) had yet to select the company that would get the multibillion-dollar contract.Compounding the issue was that in the intervening years, the mood of residents had changed, and many, including the governor and several state legislators, were openly wondering if high-speed rail service was too expensive to fund.
After being named one of the two finalists for the project, Bombardier Transportation, makers of the jetTrain technology, turned to the Washington, DC, office of Stanton Communications for a public and media awareness campaign to help sway that final decision.
One of the first challenges facing Stanton was a very short time frame. Though the agency had worked with Bombardier in the past, it wasn't brought on board for this project until early September, a scant seven weeks before the FHSRA was set to make its decision.
Using background material that Stanton and Bombardier had developed for an earlier presentation, the agency worked quickly to come up with a campaign that would bring the 150-mph jetTrain to life for Florida residents by showcasing the locomotive during a weeklong, three-city tour.
"High-speed rail is an abstract concept for most people there," explains Amy Calhoun, managing director of Stanton's Washington office. "And while there was a fair amount of public debate over the route that the train would take, as far as the locomotive technology itself, there wasn't that much knowledge. So we decided the people needed a true hands-on sense of what the jetTrain was all about."
Stanton employees traveled to Florida to directly handle media outreach in the days before the tour began, and the company created storyboards and take-away materials that explained the advantages of the Bombardier technology. Bombardier VP Lecia Stewart says many of those messages were designed to directly address the potential concerns consumers might have about the project. "We were able to show how it uses 40% less fuel and generates 40% less greenhouse gas than either cars or planes," she says. "And we addressed the neighborhood concerns about noise by showing that the jetTrain going by had fewer decibels than the sound of a shout or a noisy restaurant."
The events in Tampa, Miami, and Orlando attracted thousands of residents, some of whom waited in line for hours for a tour of the train. Included in those groups were schoolchildren, all of whom received age-specific information. The tour was covered by 11 TV stations, as well as such print outlets as The Miami Herald, Tampa Tribune, St. Petersburg Times, and the Associated Press.
Most important, on October 27, the FHSRA awarded the high-speed rail contract to Bombardier. "It was the largest single contract ever awarded in the history of our company in North America, and the total value of it is estimated at $4.3 billion," Stewart says. "It put Bombardier on the ground floor of North American high-speed rail."
With high-speed rail service now being considered by several regions in the US and Canada, Bombardier is moving to position itself as a solution for those areas, as well. Stewart indicated that Stanton Communications would be getting strong consideration to handle PR for those projects, as well. "I know from the highest levels our company was very pleased with Stanton," she says. "We're just now awaiting regulatory approval for another initiative, and Stanton is already our approved partner to work on it. So it's not a question of if we're going to work together again, it's when."
PR team: Bombardier Transportation (Montreal, Canada) and Stanton Communications (Washington, DC)
Campaign: jetTrain's Florida Tour
Time frame: September through October 2003