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

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 400 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 hordes of press through high-security areas
  • Rolling with delays and inclement weather
  • Stay on schedule, on message 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 but 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

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

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

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.

 

Website Optimization

This is an example of how I used a client web presence to overhaul and strengthen the overall brand, streamline messaging, integrate with multimedia and new media communication/outreach tools and revitalize the business’ social presence and transactional capabilities.

Client: Fit Chick Fitness, an indoor women’s boot camp offered by Aura Lee, owner and personal trainer at Incite Livermore

Goals for new website:

1. Optimize web presence to drive business.
2. Support online shopping.
3. Integrate with existing online presence of Incite Livermore.
4. Revitalize image of Fit Chick Fitness to match the high-energy boot camp program offered.
5. Simplify day-to-day website maintenance for business owners.

Fit Chick Fitness – Before: 

Incite website_before
Screenshot of original website for Fit Chick Fitness, a personal training boot camp service offered by Incite Livermore.

ORIGINAL WEBSITE – KEY ISSUES:

  • Overly technical, coding-focused hosting platform prevented quick, timely content updates.
  • Fixed design and graphic elements. Client did not have the skill, time, desire to re-code.
  • No traffic measurement or monitoring
  • Not optimized for search engines or mobile platforms
  • Lack of branding
  • Stale imagery
  • Sloppy design

Fit Chick Fitness – After:   

FitChickFitness website_after
Screenshot of Fit Chick Fitness webpage after 2014 relaunch, featuring color scheme to complement brand and updated, sliding images.

RELAUNCH – KEY IMPROVEMENTS:

  • Clean, compelling imagery conveys professionalism
  • Streamlined navigation
  • Soft color palate of business & logo
  • Features images of actual clients in action
  • New web host with simplistic WYSIWYG design options
  • Intuitive editing for color palate, layout, images, content. Multiple predesigned layouts are also available for quick overhauls.
  • Direct integration with MailChimp, the email marketing software used by Fit Chick Fitness.
  • Attractive page & thumbnail sharing via social media
  • Mobile optimized to work with multiple devices
  • Built-in integration with Google Apps such as Analytics, AdWords
  • Integrated with PayPal for online purchases

Measurement of Client Goal Success:

1. Optimize web presence to drive business?
YES: I selected Wix.com as  the new webpage host for Fit Chick Fitness. The software of Wix is optimal for business owners with minimal website backend/coding experience, focusing on the What You See is What You Get (WYSIWYG) presentation of webpage updating. The coding is built-in, and step-by-step updates are provided within Wix as necessary.

2. Support online shopping?
YES: Integration with PayPal for one-click purchasing and online billing.

3. Integrate with existing online presence of Incite Livermore?
YES: Linked seamlessly to Incite Livermore’s Facebook Page, Twitter account, and business contact information.

4. Revitalize image of Fit Chick Fitness to match the high-energy boot camp program offered?
YES: New website management host enables WYSIWYG image editing, access to regularly updated royalty-free stock photos, pre-designed and customizable theme templates and color schemes.

5. Simplify day-to-day website maintenance for business owners?
YES: Wix offers basic website management for free. Customers can add-on services as needed, an a la carte model to replace the previous comprehensive website management package. This eliminates unnecessary overly technical features and functions and saves the business money by cutting excess fees for unused services.

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.

Blog piece: Art Buses on the Street Mark the Start of Muni Art Week

Re-posted from original piece on MovingSF

Monday, September 28, 2015
by Staci Morrison

Artwork by Reynaldo R. Cayetano Jr
Artwork like this piece by Reynaldo R. Cayetano Jr. will grace the streets aboard Muni buses starting this week.

After many months of preparation, public participation and creative development, today Muni Art makes its citywide public debut. Through grants and collaboration from San Francisco Beautiful, this project supports local artists while beautifying commutes around the city.

SFMTA’s dressed-to-impress art buses hit the streets in tandem with the systemwide improvements of Muni Forward, also kicking off this week.

Because more service is literally a beautiful thing.

Actually, it is 50 beautiful things. That’s how many buses now boast the handiwork of artists Ariel Dunitz-Johnson, Phillip Hua, Reynaldo R. Cayeteno Jr., Andria Lo and Todd Berman. This elite collection of creatives rose to the top of over 130 Bay Area artists vying for a Muni bus to call their own. For their efforts, each artist was granted the full interior advertising space in 10 buses to replace with their designs.

Artwork by Andria Lo
Artist Andria Lo honors the beauty and enriching presence of San Francisco’s urban gardens and greening with her project An Urban Garden Portrait.

Each work captures the spirit of San Francisco, translating it into interior car panels so it could ride alongside passengers, the vast landscapes of the City by the Bay bottled into a Muni bus.

Another goal of the project was to spread the dressed buses throughout the City so as many riders as possible would have the opportunity to commute in a moving art gallery. You won’t see the artwork until you step aboard, so if you catch one of these lucky vehicles, share your find using #SFMuniArt. Art will be in place through the end of the year.

In the meantime, stay tuned to the SFMTA blog as we celebrate the many other ways and places art plus transportation dazzle in San Francisco. Each day this week we’ll feature examples of art to be seen, experienced or visited through Muni.

Research piece: LBS for LGBT? Consideration of Grindr as a Political Mobilizer for Equality in 2012 Election Year.

Grinder-location-based-application

Applications for LBS have been around for years, though the market for mobile LBS is recently gaining momentum. For example, Foursquare, the largest LBS company, attracted 21 million of its 25 million worldwide users in the past two years (“About,” 2012; Van Grove, 2012). Foursquare offers users a database of businesses in a given area, so they can “check in” to the business or restaurant they are visiting. Check-ins allow Foursquare users to crowd source tips or insights on specific businesses from other users, and track the places their friends visit. A similar service is Yelp which brings the Yelp! community of user reviewers mobile, syncing photos, tips and check ins with the main online website. Google has also joined the fray, overlaying Zagat business reviews into Google Maps for a now well-know mobile service called “local guides” within Google Maps.

The LBS market is growing as mobile phone users become more comfortable adding location services into their daily routine. However, it is still an evolving market, flowing with demand and innovation. In 2010, Mashable declared startup business Neer as the most practical of the top five location-based services, a leader for its simplicity. Today, the business is defunct.

Considering the volatility of evolving consumer technology, public relations professionals representing LBS companies must keep several unique characteristics in mind. The greatest PR asset within the industry is access to specific audiences and key behavior information. Users provide basic information such as age, city, gender upon sign-up. They then begin using the location-based functions to specify shopping, dining or entertainment preferences. After regular use, all this LBS data coalesce to provide PR and marketing teams with a cohesive profile of its users. Likewise, the connections between users provide another layer of insight to psychographics and attitudes. This convergence of social networks and LBS does two things for communication professionals in the industry: opportunity to use user data to form partnerships with local businesses and potential for personalized, two way, even realtime, interaction with customers.

Partnerships increase the clout of LBS companies, giving them a “real world” presence and linking an online influence to an enhanced offline experience for users. Foursquare has partnered with American Express to provide discounts to Foursquare users at local businesses, and modernizing the AMEX image for younger demographics. This has also benefited local business in both online and offline contexts, bolstering direct sales and boosting online reputation.

Greater personalization depends on regular data from users and responsibility from the LBS company. PR representatives must be prepared to handle concerns about privacy and how LBS companies are securing the data they collect. There are legal issues with data collection from users under age 13; PR representatives must be familiar with these statutes and how to address them to users or the media. One LBS company, Skout, had to shut down it’s teen community after it service was implicated in several rape charges.

Broadcasting one’s location to the world strikes many people as unsettling. Facebook Places, the mobile LBS application for Facebook, failed to rival Foursquare’s explosion of growth because it was perceived to encourage stalking and unwanted behavior tracking. It is of extreme importance that companies are promoting policies to protect users and that PR professionals convey this fact clearly and openly. Perception may trump technical superiority if the public doesn’t feel it can trust an LBS company.

One company that has found unique success in the LBS market despite these challenges is Grindr. Grindr is a social networking service for gay men. Tuning into the dating scene has been tricky for other LBS companies, in large part due to women’s unwillingness to broadcast their location, fearing they will appear too vulnerable. So far, gay men do not have the same concerns, embracing the capability to broadcast and receive these personal details. Although the company bills itself as the “largest and most popular all-male location-based social network” it’s four million users pales in comparison to mainstream, general interest networks like Foursquare.

Still, four million users is significant in the dating LBS scene, especially one focused on a very specific demographic. Grindr’s success lead to the creation of an application for lesbians (Qrushr), and one for straight users (Blendr) to respond to community demand. However, neither Qrushr nor Blendr have had the widespread adoption of Grindr yet. Part of the allure of Grindr was its acute identification with its user base – it met a need that no other business was addressing. Grindr CEO, Joel Simkhai, is openly gay, and created the company to facilitate how gay, curious and bisexual men connect and socialize. Though much of Grindr’s users found the application through word of mouth, savvy PR has also played a part in bringing this company into the attention of mainstream public. For example, Grindr is struggling secure adoption by women, even on Qrushr and Blendr, so the PR team is altering its messaging. Grindr can be an application for straight women to find gay friends who share their interests or may be in the same mall shopping.

But for Grindr, the core of business is the gay community. Simkhai feels a responsibility to use Grindr as a platform for awareness as well as socializing. During the 2012 presidential campaign, Grindr became a platform of social change through the campaign, “Grindr for Equality.” “We must elect not only a president but representatives and senators who are supportive of our community and our equality,” said Simkhai. He knew that all users of Grindr were of legal voting age because of the requirements of the application. Using other user-specific information, Grindr delivered hundred of tailored messages to encourage users to politically support gay rights. For example, users in Minnesota were alerted to Amendment 1, the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, and encouraged to contact their local representatives.

Successful mobile LBS applications offer companies – and their PR representatives – direct access to a community that can be mobilized to promote a cause or ideal. Grindr is just scratching the surface, but it is possible this tight-knit group of four million was instrumental in voting down Minnesota’s Amendment 1, as well as legalizing gay marriage in Maine, Maryland and Washington. Grindr can capitalize upon these milestones to increase political mobilization, inspiring gay rights activism within the other 191 countries of its users.

Once people embrace a platform in the LBS space, invaluable business and PR outreach opportunities emerge. The future of LBS is engagement, as is the future of new media overall. In LBS, the privacy and adoption stakes are higher but the impact will be more focused, and potentially, more lasting.

 

Sources

“About.” Foursquare. Retrieved from https://foursquare.com/about/.

“Foursquare + AMEX.” American Express. Retrieved from https://sync.americanexpress.com/foursquare/Index?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1.

Goldberg, S. (2010, Aug. 19) New Facebook feature raises more privacy concerns. CNN Tech. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/social.media/08/19/facebook.places.privacy/index.html.

“Grindr for Equality.” Grindr. Retrieved from http://grindr.com/blog/grindr-for-equality-election-2012.

“Learn More.” Grinder. Retrieved from http://grindr.com/learn-more.

“Mobile positioning.” PC Mag Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://www.pcmag.com/encyclopedia_term/0,1237,t=location-based+services&i=47145,00.asp.

Pan, J. (2012, Sept. 8). Grindr CEO: 100 Percent of My Audience Does Not Have Equality. Mashable. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2012/09/08/grindr-ceo-equality/.

Pepitone, J. (2012, Jun. 13). Skout suspends teen community after child-rape charges. CNN Money. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2012/06/13/technology/skout/index.htm.

Shapiro, L. (2012, Nov, 7).Gay Marriage Victory In Maine, Maryland; Minnesota Votes Down ‘Traditional’ Amendment (UPDATE). Huffington Post Gay Voices. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/07/gay-marriage-victory_n_2085900.html.

Van Grove, J. (2010, Oct. 27). Top 5 Location-Based Services [MASHABLE AWARDS]. Mashable. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2010/10/27/best-location-based-services.