US High Speed Rail Association taps H&K as AOR

WASHINGTON: The US High Speed Rail Association (USHSR) hired Hill & Knowlton to lead a public affairs and communications effort in support of a high-speed rail system in the US.

WASHINGTON: The US High Speed Rail Association (USHSR) hired Hill & Knowlton to lead a public affairs and communications effort in support of a high-speed rail system in the US.

Part of the effort will focus on raising visibility for a high-speed rail system, which was included as an $8 billion initiative in President Barack Obama's economic stimulus package, said Michael Kehs, head of US public affairs and GM of the Washington office for Hill & Knowlton.

“We are driving advocacy for high-speed rail systems into the marketplace,” he said. “Ultimately, what we're going to do is define high-speed rail and the vision for high-speed rail in the US.”

The association was created in early 2009, said Thomas Hart, VP of government relations for USHSR. Its membership includes DLA Piper, Balfour Beatty, Amtrak, and US-Japan High Speed Rail.

Hart noted that as membership has increased, the organization saw a need for communications and hired Hill & Knowlton as its communications AOR in February. The organization does not have an internal communications team.

USHSR plans to launch a large-scale campaign in 2010 to raise awareness with its b-to-b audience, which could include real estate developers, construction and technology companies, and engineers.

“They need to understand what the opportunity is, what the vision is, and how to get behind it,” said Kehs. “That's in part to drive the public affairs side to ensure we bring the appropriate public-private partnerships in terms of public engagement as well as private sector investment.”

Other audiences include people in states that were awarded the high-speed rail stimulus money in January, such as Florida, California, Texas, Washington, and New York, as well as the general public, which may be a challenge to communicate with because no US companies make high-speed trains, he added. Instead, a number of foreign companies stand to gain from the lucrative contracts, which presents a communications challenge.

“We're going to have to get the public to understand and accept a level of foreign ownership and engagement that they will not have seen,” said Kehs. “We need to frame high-speed rail on our own terms rather than allow others to frame it for us.”

Hart declined to provide the budget but said it was "substantial."

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