Producing the Iconic Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest

Producing the Iconic Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest

San Francisco Municipal Railway’s (Muni’s) best of the best cable car operators compete for the title of best bell ringer in the biz. Among the most traditional and highest-profile events hosted by San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), I had the honor and challenge of producing the 52nd and 53rd annual bell ringing showdown.

This event is pure San Francisco – traditional yet flashy, community-oriented yet featuring local celebrities, offering live music and lunchtime entertainment. And, of course, topped off with an actual  cable car parked in the middle of downtown’s Union Square. It’s a feat of logistics that pulls a crowd, generates a flurry of media coverage and reminds everyone of our shared appreciation for the few and the proud San Francisco cable car operators.

52nd Cable Car Bell Ringing Competition on July 9, 2015. R to L: Ed Cobean, Cable Car Sr. Operations Manager, Kristin Smith, Marketing Manager, Byron Cobb, bell ringing champ, Staci Morrison, Marketing Associate. 52nd Cable Car Bell Ringing Competition on July 9, 2015 in Union Square. R to L: Ed Cobean, Cable Car Sr. Operations Manager, Kristin Smith, Marketing Manager, Byron Cobb, bell ringing champ, Staci Morrison (me!), Marketing Associate.

Community support, merchant sponsorship and cross-divisional agency teamwork is crucial. Outreach to sponsors and local merchants in the Union Square area began as early as the start of the year (the event is in the summer). I was central to outreach, managing a growing list of prospective sponsors, levels of support, in-kind benefits, securing said benefits, organizing donated prizes and overseeing fulfillment of all sponsor perks. I was also responsible for the entire event layout – tenting, seating, audio/visual, staging of cable car, permitting – you name it!

(Fun fact: Union Square has a parking garage under it, and the SFMTA cable car is technically too heavy to park over said garage. Balancing (quite literally) the event centerpiece with great street-level visual staging and solid safety protocol was a challenge!)

Additional to the event logistics, the transit operators and the entire cable car division must be part of and sign off all the plans. After all, the event celebrates them! At the same time, they have important work to do on the rails. I setup weekly meetings with the division superintendent and labor rep to keep everyone talking, sharing ideas and staying up-to-date with the technical, mechanical and aesthetic needs for the big show. The cable car division is notoriously terrific to work with. It’s really no wonder the SFMTA continues this monstrous event year after year.

And, on top of the team calls, sponsor outreach and fulfillment, I was marketing lead for all promotional material: printed collateral, digital copy and graphics, on-site signage, handouts for on-street volunteer ambassadors, wayfinding for attendees and participants, and of course, the event script!

It’s a bear of an event in the context of public transportation agency. But when in San Francisco, and especially when talkin’ cable cars…this event cannot be too small.

To visualize the fun from the 52nd year’s event, peek at a few of the news clips. The contest garnered great media coverage at the local and national level:

Read more about the event lineup, sponsors and contestants on the SFMTA event page at sfmta.com/bellringing.

Stay tuned for an update from the 2016 contest coming soon!

Greeting "Elvis" one of the amateur ringers at the 53rd Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest on July 7, 2016.

Greeting “Elvis” one of the amateur ringers at the 53rd Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest on July 7, 2016.

Conducting Media Field Tours

Conducting Media Field Tours

Public service is not without its field trips and crisis communications.

While working public affairs for a California state department with an arm of regulation, I organized field tours to illustrate first hand the regulation work in progress at a privately-owned energy field. Though about 3,000 feet above sea level on rocky terrain awash with active heavy machinery, and some 390 miles away from my office, I outlined a flurry of field tours: one for media, one community members, and a third for local elected officials (Senators, city officials) and staff.

The challenges were many:

  • Remotely managing plans with three separate participating organizations
  • Develop airtight and repeatable schedule that incorporates multiple field stops, safety training, demonstrations, FAQ session.
  • Facilitate productive discussion/jump in as PR spokesperson in a packed 12-person van  bounced around in the rain
  • Corral a hordes of press through high-security areas
  • Rolling with delays and inclement weather
  • Stay on schedule, on point despite delays, manage confrontational groups and tense question/answer sessions while supporting proactive outreach and engagement
  • Translate heavily technical information and process into concise, accessible language
  • Maintain good working relationships with all organizations represented while owning the tour outcome.

We were successful.

The tours opened the otherwise private field to select groups in an open by carefully crafted experience, showcasing our department’s commitment to transparency, safety and communication about the ongoing regulations. The level of detail in my run of show plans conveyed how committed our team was to hitting all the key talking points and seeing the most visual examples of the organization’s work. It also gave our very tiny team (of about three) the advantage of knowing the tour schedule, talking points and exact time estimated to drive from point A to B (up to point Z).

Representing the organization in front of three separate groups of 25-30 concerned, often confrontational media members, citizens and elected officials was daunting, of course, but armed with a clear, well-rehearsed plan, proper safety gear and our talking points, we ended up having a good experience and a positive outcome.

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In the field

Blog piece: Art on Muni Returns: Seeking Bay Area Artists to Brighten Commutes

Blog piece: Art on Muni Returns: Seeking Bay Area Artists to Brighten Commutes

*Re-posted from original piece on MovingSF
by Staci Morrison

Thursday, May 5, 2016

We’re calling all Bay Area artists to once again create awe-inspiring art for over 700,000 daily Muni riders.

The SFMTA, in partnership with San Francisco Beautiful, is excited to announce the second annual Muni Art Project. This time, Muni will celebrate local artists by displaying art on twice as many buses – 100 instead of 50.

Fresh artwork from five selected artists will grace Muni buses next January through April. The deadline for submissions is June 17 (more details below).

The return of Muni Art reignites a beautiful relationship between local art and local transit. It’s not just easy on the eyes – this is one way we’re helping make transit and public spaces more attractive and engage with our diverse communities.

A display panel on a Muni bus features Philip Hua’s artwork.

Philip Hua and four other artists had their work displayed on Muni buses last fall. Hua’s project, “Unified Portraits of A Divided San Francisco,” combined digital portraits of San Franciscans to highlight the city’s diversity. Photo: Phillip Hua, Handout

[read more at sfmta.com]

Launching a smartphone transit app with the help of the Mayor’s Office

Launching a smartphone transit app with the help of the Mayor’s Office

In the tech capital of the nation, how does San Francisco’s humble public transportation agency make a splash with its first mobile ticketing app? Well…aside from working with proven pros in the transit ticketing space, and ensuring the app illustrations were disarmingly adorable, you have a media event.

Not just any media event. One in a busy subway station. At the morning commute hour. With the Mayor’s Office.

Throw in a few custom decorations, a few matching t-shirts and a swarm of energetic ambassadors and you’ve got yourself a public agency app launch.

I was responsible for organizing the launch event, coordinating look and feel, setting up temporary signage, collaborating with local SF Travel Visitor Information Center on partner promo through their network, organizing a swarm of on-street ambassadors, overseeing talking points and helping the public navigate the app in the meantime.

Also coined the centerpiece slogan, “City by the Bay. Transit by the App,” you see in that wall-sized custom backdrop and conceived the handy dandy acronym-instructions of “It’s Easy as B-U-S (Buy, Use, Show).”

Read the corresponding blog post here. Also drafted the copy on the MuniMobile page here.

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 9.06.21

Launch of MuniMobile Mobile Phone Ticketing for Muni Fares | November 16, 2015. Photo by SFMTA Photography Department.
Launch of MuniMobile Mobile Phone Ticketing for Muni Fares | November 16, 2015. Photo by SFMTA Photography Department.

 

Event Sponsorship: San Francisco’s Chinese New Year Parade

Event Sponsorship: San Francisco’s Chinese New Year Parade

Unlike other high-profile events, the The Southwest Chinese New Year Parade is an occasion in which the SFMTA is purely a participant. Nonetheless, it’s an event of strategic Agency representation within the largest celebration of Asian culture outside of Asia. The Southwest Chinese New Year Parade is also considered one of the top 10 parades in the world.

I oversaw the organization, recruitment and activation of the company parade contingent. This include cross-divisional organization to secure a vehicle and solicit parade participants, and often heavy negotiations with the parade organizers to allow said vehicle into the parade!

Specific achievements include

  • Manage cross-divisional logistics such as:
    • Executive approval of vintage vehicle use and promotional signage
    • Transit approval in securing of vintage vehicle – plus preparing it mechanically and operationally to enter temporary service
    • Transit labor union support to sign off on bus operator and featuring the year’s champion Cable Car Bell Ringer as guest of honor
    • Central Subway team support to serve as outreach ambassadors for that project’s major impacts to Chinatown and be front-row representatives of the SFMTA
    • Communications & media affairs support to live tweet the event, push promo materials and share event details throughout the organization.
  • Negotiate contingent parade placement including in-kind sponsor partnership based on $10,000 advertising space with exposure to San Francisco’s 300,000 daily subway riders.
  • Manage top to bottom plan for parade including development of promotional messaging (print, TV script, parade website, owned social channels and alerts).
  • Oversee design concepts and delivery for themed contingent and historic vehicle decoration, approving production and ensuring deadlines are met in time for event.
  • Facilitate in-reach to staff to participate; coordinate theme and adherence to strict parade behavior standards; ensure accessibility for all individuals of all ages.
  • Serve as make-sure-everyone-is-having-fun ambassador!
Chinese Lunar New Year Parade | March 7, 2015. Photo by SFMTA Photography Department.
Chinese Lunar New Year Parade | March 7, 2015. Photo by SFMTA Photography Department.
Chinese New Year Parade | February 20, 2016. Photo by SFMTA Photography Department.
Chinese New Year Parade | February 20, 2016. Photo by SFMTA Photography Department.
Event Activation & Media Sponsorship: San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade

Event Activation & Media Sponsorship: San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade

Served as contact for the annual media sponsorship of one of the nation’s largest LGBT celebrations (arguably the second largest LGBT celebration in the world).

The goal of this partnership was beyond marketing the SFMTA as a strong ally of the LGBTQ community and offering staff a fun way to participate; support of this major, super high-profile event also offered the transit agency direct access to strategic transportation-related messaging across all SF Pride materials, mitigating frustrating and potentially unsafe transit and city street overcrowding, informing visitors of safe pedestrian and bicycle behavior and how to prepare for travel delays.

As events/sponsorship lead for the agency, my included the major deliverables of:

  • Negotiation of media sponsorship valued at up to $35,000
  • Content development for all event publications:
    • Social media development for owned and partner channels
    • SF Pride publications
    • Digital copy for agency pages and sfpride.org
  • Wayfinding directions that incorporate a promotional language for the Agency’s new mobile transit app
  • Oveseeing design development (parade banner, subway station A-frame signage, subway station banners, publication ads online and in print)
  • Ensuring all collateral and copy was finalized on schedule
  • Coordinate in-reach for staff participation of parade
  • Negotiation with vendors for marketing materials and decor for motorized cable car
  • Coordination with Transit division on securing and preparing motorized cable car, operator, route and schedule.

 

2016 SF Pride
2016 SF Pride
SFMTA Group in Pride Parade | June 26, 2016. Photo by SFMTA Photography Department.
SFMTA Group in Pride Parade | June 26, 2016. Photo by SFMTA Photography Department.
SFMTA Contingent in the Pride Parade | June 28, 2015. Photo by SFMTA Photography Department.
SFMTA Contingent in the Pride Parade | June 28, 2015. Photo by SFMTA Photography Department.

 

Blog piece: Want to Win a Piece of History? Snap & Share #MuniHeritage This Week!

*Re-posted from original piece on MovingSF

by Staci Morrison
Monday, September 21, 2015

Colorful street scene of Chinatown in 1972 with a maroon and yellow Muni bus crossing the street.

For the fourth annual Muni Heritage Weekend taking place Sept. 26-27, the SFMTA is kicking off a photo contest to capture Muni’s history in motion through the eyes of photography-minded riders.

Here’s how to participate:

  1. Snap a photo that captures the essence of #MuniHeritage
  2. Share it on social media (FacebookTwitter or Instagram) now through Sunday (remember the hashtag!)
  3. Five lucky history lovers will win a limited edition poster photo reprint from the SFMTA Photo Archive and be mentioned here on the SFMTA blog!

Muni’s most photogenic vehicles will grace the streets this weekend at Market Street Railway Museum and along The Embarcadero – and they’re ready for their close-ups.

Share a favorite image from the “galleries on wheels” — buses installed with vintage photographs. Or show off the sweet skyline view aboard one of the famous 1934 open-air boat trams from Blackpool, England. If you chance upon one of Muni’s newly christened hybrid electric trolley coaches in action for the first time this weekend that works, too.

After snapping your picture-perfect #MuniHeritage scene, be sure to share the photo via TwitterInstagram or Facebook to enter the contest. Tag the SFMTA, and your post may be re-shared, too.

Five winners will be selected at random for prizes but all images may be featured in a contest roundup, so get out there and get creative!

Colorful historic streetcars in yellow, green and orange, sit on The Embarcadero with a blue sky overhead.

San Francisco provides the beautiful backdrop, SFMTA provides the vintage vehicles – all that’s missing is you (and the #MuniHeritage hashtag).

The contest opens today and closes upon conclusion of Muni Heritage Weekend on September 27. Full details outlined here. Muni Heritage Weekend runs from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. on September 26-27 at Market Street Railway in front of the Ferry Building.

For more information on Muni Heritage Weekend sights and rides, visit the event webpage.

And remember Saturday, September 26, is also the start of another wave of Muni Forward service increases so it will be a weekend of extra vehicles both new and old out serving the public and vying for that perfect shot.

Market Street, west of New Montgomery, in the first half of the 20th century.
Enter the contest to win a limited edition poster reprint of this photo or another historic gem from our archive.