Caltrans to award tmdgroup $9m marcomms pact

SACRAMENTO, CA: The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) plans to assign tmdgroup a $9 million, three-year contract to implement a PR and advertising campaign promoting ridership.

SACRAMENTO, CA: The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) plans to assign tmdgroup a $9 million, three-year contract to implement a PR and advertising campaign promoting ridership, according to an intent-to-award notice.

The ultimate goal of the work will be to boost revenue from Amtrak lines in the state.

Matt Rocco, public affairs chief at Caltrans, said tmd was selected because it scored the highest in the review process.

Tmdgroup will also be responsible for developing a statewide rail-safety program with the slogan “Be Track Smart” to reduce avoidable rail-related trespassing incidents, injuries, and fatalities in California.

Caltrans funds Amtrak California, but the state agency works with the national Amtrak office on daily operation and maintenance. A Business, Transportation, and Housing Agency spokesperson said via email that "the advertising increases readership and revenue for the state-supported rail system."

Tmdgroup, a social marketing firm, will team up with Olmstead Williams Communications to implement the PR components of the contract, according to Patricia Costanza, president of tmdgroup.

“We're thrilled to get this contract. We've gone after Amtrak California three times; that's nine years of effort,” Costanza said.

The long-time incumbent was Glass House, an advertising firm. It used Merlot Marketing for PR-related work on the contract.

“A change in leadership at Caltrans' division of rail brought about many creative differences,” Glass House president Amber Williams said via email. “We wish them well.”

The specific rail lines to be promoted under the contract are the Pacific Surfliner, the second-busiest rail corridor in the nation running from San Diego through Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo. The other is the San Joaquin line, with ridership that ranks fifth in the nation. Its route runs from the Bay Area to Sacramento and Bakersfield. Ridership on both lines has dipped, according to the RFP for the contract.

The PR work will include awareness campaigns, special events such as press conferences, media events, station dedications, and inaugural service celebrations. The firm will also write press releases, talking points, and media advisories.

The contract also requests that tmd actively monitor, maintain, and manage Amtrak California's presence on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube and recommend future social media sites that Amtrak California should use.

Amtrak California is also planning to launch the “Be Track Smart” campaign each September, which is “Rail Safety Month.” The initiative and related activities will last nine months in an effort to educate students, especially in areas where homes and schools are adjacent to passenger or freight railroad tracks, according the RFP for the contract.

The award notice comes just two months after California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) cancelled a contract between Caltrans and agency Words Pictures Ideas worth nearly $10 million to promote major bridgework in the Bay Area through digital and community relations. He called the contract an unnecessary use of taxpayer money.

After that, the administration released a memo that said the transportation agency must run any PR contract worth more than $100,000 by the agency's acting secretary.

Costanza said that procedure was followed in this case, noting that the contract underwent a two-month review before the intent-to-award notice was posted.

Caltrans did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the tmd contract.

This story was updated on February 14 with comment from a state spokesperson. 

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