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Advantage SCI Counterterrorism Expert Elsa Lee
Client since 2003

“Terror On The Tracks – Homeland Security”

Objectives: To produce a news release, media kit and campaign that would help create a media buzz surrounding the release of the Orange North-American Trade Rail Access Corridor (OnTrac) Homeland Security Study on threats to our rail system. The study was commissioned and published in cooperation with OnTrac and the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC), both MAYO Communications clients. The study was completed as part of the environmental review process for the Alameda Corridor East strategic rail system that passes through Placentia, California. It was reviewed by Rand Corporation with contributions from Counterterrorism Expert Elsa Lee. Our clients wanted to send word to the White House that the LA basin rail corridor for the Los Angeles and Long Beach Ports to the East Coast are vulnerable to terrorist attacks and more security is needed to guard the $250 billion route. Another objective was to inform and pique the interest of Congress on the national significance of rail system protection and its importance when it comes to homeland security. We needed to show how critical it is to allocate more federal funds to secure our rail system. And our final objective was to show Congress, the media and the public the economic impact the Los Angeles/Long Beach ports have on every congressional district in the country.

Target Audiences: Our primary audience was the print, TV and radio media in Orange County where OnTrac is based, Southern California and the rest of the country. Our secondary audience was the public, California legislature, Congress and committee members overseeing transportation funds in Sacramento and Washington DC. Another audience would also be the large and small businesses economically impacted by Homeland Security rail threats.

Implementation: Several weeks before the two-year anniversary of 9/11, MAYO Communications was called by its client, Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) to get the message out about the relationship between rail corridors, ports, the economy and the nation’s first Homeland Security study involving threats to the rail system. MAYO produced a press release, media kit and full campaign to communicate OnTrac’s, the Rand Corporation’s, Counterterrorism Expert Elsa Lee’s and LAEDC’s position to Congress and federal transportation officials, hoping to influence the transportation decision-making process. Of the four agencies involved in the study, three were MAYO clients: LAEDC, OnTrac, and Advantage SCI (Elsa Lee, counterterrorism expert) of Redondo Beach, CA. We also posted everything on LAEDC’s and MAYO’s websites. We had to work fast because we knew much of the media attention and stories were already focusing on 9/11 anniversary stories in New York, taking most attention away from Los Angeles. A strong, intriguing news release was an essential ingredient to success.

The OnTrac study was complex, chock full of statistics and, at least on the surface, didn’t have the make up for a very “sexy” media story. We pressed on, however, banking on the idea that the West Coast media might be looking for local 9/11 anniversary angles and that our first-time study on threats to the rail system could be the answer. We produced news release focused on homeland security and rail terrorism, backgrounders on OnTrac and an executive summary of the study for the media kits. In order to create interest surrounding the release of the study results, MAYO decided to break the study into hot button issues and attempt to reach our objectives through a terrorism-in-America approach. We posted all announcements on our clients’ and our own websites.

MAYO first issued an advisory announcing the study’s coming availability and that it would be posted on our website. Then we released the Executive Summary of the Homeland Security study results two weeks in advance of the 9/11 anniversary to media that honored embargoes and set up interviews in advance of the release date to secure media placement and beat the competing stories of Michael Jackson, the Laci Peterson murder case, the California wildfires and other disaster stories in California.

We also put the study results in an e-newsletter called The Business Beat News Tip Sheet™ that had a broad reach to nearly 1,000 business editors statewide. MAYO and LAEDC staff worked nonstop for two weeks putting out advisories and news releases announcing the study results’ eminent release. We were on the radio nearly every day.

We learned from our client Counterrorism Expert Elsa Lee that the study was so true-to-form and “frightening” that MAYO and LAEDC should not post the entire study on the Internet, but only an executive summary. The media kits also did not contain the entire study. The fear of terrorism was brought more to light each time the newly formed US Department of Homeland Security’s terrorism threat advisory was raised to a higher security level.

Budget: The budget for the entire campaign was $5,000, which included phone calls, faxes, printing media kits, news advisories and news releases. Because we had a lot materials already printed from previous campaigns, we were able to actually complete the campaign well under budget at $3,600.

Results: What started out as a little media and public buzz in Orange County to communicate the significance of OnTrac’s Homeland Security Study and rail system project mushroomed into something much larger. Interest picked up right before September 11th. On the night before and the day of the embargoed study release the mellow buzz quickly spun into full-fledged media frenzy with great media placement. These results could be directly linked to how we capitalized on the high-profile events at the LA/Long Beach ports and localized a story that was considered mainly a New York story. The story continued to get legs again six months later when Spain experienced its deadliest terrorist attack ever with a train bomb injuring more than 1,000 people and killing 200. Again we used the news release and media kits from our original 9/11 release.

The overwhelming results surprised everyone from the White House to lawmakers in California and even LA City Hall, where there was a move to draw attention to its newly formed Homeland Security Department. Not only did we receive inquiries from every major newspaper in California, but major publications nationwide such as the Washington Post, Journal Commerce, and Engineering News in Washington DC. Just days after the Spain bombings all eyes, including those of Congress, began to examine the vulnerability of America’s rail system.

Our phones rang off the hook. The wire services and others distributed the story to newspapers nationwide. Copley News Service, Knight-Ridder and other media outlets generated expanded coverage. We were even able to capture the interest of President Bush and more members of Congress. LAEDC and OnTrac received positive calls from the legislature and California’s Congressional delegation saying the economic impact study was the talk of the town and had influenced several transportation decision makers to take a closer look at the OnTrac Homeland Security Study and review the significance of import/export relationships between rail corridors, ports and the economy. Much of the information in the study was used as a guide to write new legislation on Homeland Security.

All were pleased that the news release brought incredible coverage and effectiveness of the news release and project, and proud of the fact that we were able to perform so successfully well under budget for our clients, which included LAEDC, OnTrac and Advantage SCI and Counterterrorism Expert Lee.


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