In early 2002, TT-Line Company Pty Ltd, a Tasmanian Government-owned business, announced it would replace the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Bass Strait passenger and passenger vehicle vessels Spirit of Tasmania and Devil Cat with two new monohull vessels at a cost of $290 million.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
The overall objective of this program was to maximise positive publicity for the announcement and subsequent publicity of the purchase of the ferries.
A comprehensive consultation and communications program was implemented involving four stages, with the second stage being the announcement of the purchase of the vessels.
Media coverage from the announcement was overwhelmingly positive.
Importantly, the glowing coverage countered any potential for political fallout given TT-Line and the Tasmanian Government had bought two vessels from overseas rather than supporting a Tasmanian-owned business.
As a result of the careful management of the issues and the announcement itself, there is now a heightened and positive expectation in the community about the significant impact the new vessels will have on the states economy, and the opportunities they are going to present for the tourism industry.
On 8 March 2002, TT-Line Company Pty Ltd announced the replacement of its existing <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Bass Strait vessels Spirit of Tasmania and Devil Cat with two new monohull vessels.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
It was recognised that the 15-year-old Spirit of Tasmania was unable to meet full demand throughout the peak summer period, even with an increased sailing schedule.
In addition, the Devil Cat service was regarded by the public as unreliable due to its inability to operate during adverse weather conditions, which was exacerbated by cancellations because of mechanical problems.
As the Spirit of Tasmania is one of Tasmanias biggest single infrastructure investments, the introduction of new vessels to Bass Strait would need to be carefully communicated to all key stakeholders to maximise support and enthusiasm for the new service.
It was also important to minimise the impact of any potential negative issues from adversely affected stakeholder groups, particularly the Tasmanian-based catamaran construction company, InCat, which built Devil Cat. The companys high profile Chairman, Bob Clifford, had strongly advocated that a bigger catamaran would be a reliable and viable option for Bass Strait. This was also the view of the Tasmanian Liberal Opposition.
Another important stakeholder was the George Town community, where the Devil Cat was based during the summer months. The removal of the service from the northern Tasmanian town would obviously adversely impact on local business.
The option to purchase two fast monohull vessels was recommended following extensive research of passengers, travel agents and freight users and an exhaustive examination of available vessels in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Australia and overseas.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
The research indicated that a daily service was overwhelmingly well-received by Tasmanian passengers who welcomed the greater capacity the vessels would provide (ie people would not need to book so far in advance to travel onboard).
A later daily departure time was also welcomed, particularly by people who work and / or have children (ie new vessels would depart at 9pm instead of 6pm).
Travel agents reacted very favourably to the two fast overnight monohull vessels option as they it would provide greater frequency with the resultant significant increase in tourist numbers.
This scenario was also the standout option for freight users both clients and non-clients of the company who were keen to utilise a daily service that offered a later departure time and earlier arrival time along with the added bonus of significant increase in freight capacity through the simultaneous use of two vessels.
Key stakeholder groups, as listed below, were identified to maximise support for the new service and to facilitate a sense of anticipation and support. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
- Federal and State Government
- Tourists / Passengers
- Local Communities
- Freight Clients
- Tourism Industry
- Port authorities
- Contractors and suppliers
Communicating with TT-Line employees was a priority. This was a challenge as TT-Line was operating two vessels at the time of the announcement and three terminals.
It was also important to minimise potential damage from stakeholders who may have felt that they would be negatively affected by the announcement.
The following stakeholder groups were identified:
- <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />George Town community (the Devil Cat operated between Station Pier, Port Melbourne, and George Town)
- Port Welshpool and Stony Point communities (there was an expectation among these communities that a Bass Strait passenger service should operate between Tasmania and their town)
- InCat (a major Tasmanian employer suffering financial difficulties which strongly lobbyied for an InCat-built catamaran to operate on Bass Strait)
- Freight carriers
Issues relevant to each group were identified and prioritised as part of the communications strategy.
To achieve the goals and objectives outlined in this document, the consultancy devised a four-stage communications strategy.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
- Planning - producing communication tools, setting up internal processes, issuing invitations, organising events, identifying issues, formulating positions and establishing feedback systems.
- Announcement - informing stakeholders and beginning process of consultation and engagement as well as managing issues.
- Publicity/Promotion - reinforcing key messages and building support through a variety of channels.
- Post announcement - updating and maintaining stakeholder interest and monitoring.
This approach was designed to ensure that any momentum achieved as a result of the initial announcement could be maintained in the period leading up to launch in September 2002. Similarly it also provided an opportunity for the consultancy to identify potential issues and address them before the launch of the new service.
Phase One (Planning)<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
The following materials were prepared:
- Powerpoint presentations (15 versions)
Prepared for all levels of management and delivered to employees, customers, government agencies and bureaucrats, travel agents and unions. Spokespeople were also briefed on presentation skills.
Prepared for contractors, suppliers and affiliated companies / individuals. In total, 6,000 letters were distributed on the day of the announcement.
- Comprehensive briefing kits
Approximately 10,000 information kits were prepared and distributed to all identified stakeholders. These kits included a specific letter addressed to the recipient, relevant Q&A documents, information sheets and media releases.
- 1800 Telephone Hotline
Tourism <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Tasmanias call centre operators were briefed by TT-Line on the day of the announcement and fielded calls in the days immediately following. All questions and answers were recorded and forwarded to the company for the modification of future messages.
- Media releases
Media releases were prepared as required.
- Interview opportunity letters
Letters were prepared and distributed to radio stations throughout Australia offering TT-Line spokespeople for interviews.
- Purchased editorials / advertorials
- Editorial / advertorial was prepared for placement in Australian tourist publications and travel supplements in metropolitan newspapers.
- Regular tourist industry / stakeholder updates
- TT-Line prepared two newsletters for distribution on the day of the announcement one to travel agents and the second to the travel industry.
- Third party endorsements
- Key messages for third party endorsements were prepared and forwarded to TT-Line supporters for independent release.
- TT-Line Web site
- The TT-Line Web site was updated immediately following the announcement (and continues to be updated as necessary).
Phase Two and Three (Announcement and publicity / promotion)
The following activities were undertaken on the day of the announcement:
- Victorian television chiefs-of-staff were contacted and given an information kit with betacam vision. It was also suggested that their Tasmanian affiliates be contacted for vision from the joint TT-Line/State Governments media conference.
- The announcement media release was distributed by MediaNet to major metropolitan television stations in New South Wales, ACT, Queensland and South Australia.
- media interview opportunity alert was prepared and distributed via MediaNet to TT-Lines key market regions.
- Information kits, which included a media release, editorial, backgrounders, a transparency and a caption, were prepared and distributed to travel and other speciality media.
- Staff briefings were undertaken on board both Spirit of Tasmania and Devil Cat and at TT-Line terminals. All key contractors and suppliers were personally contacted, as were major travel agents and freight customers.
- 12 Tasmanian travel publications received Tasmanian media release and information kits.
- 26 national travel publications received the Victorian media release and information kits. This included all cruise columns in major metropolitan papers.
- Three kits and betacam tapes were distributed to national travel television programs including Getaway, The Great Outdoors and Postcards.
The announcement media release was also sent to TravMedia to upload on the Australian Society of Travel Writers website.
Approximately 300 media/information kits were distributed to:
- Major newspapers in most capital cities.
- Victorian and New South Wales regional newspapers.
- Melbourne suburban newspapers.
- · Long lead time magazines
Phase Four Post announcement
Following the announcement, Corporate Communications negotiated the publication of a monthly column in The Advocate to keep north west coast residents informed of developments associated with the ships.
The consultancy also prepared monthly newsletters for the states tourist industry which were distributed electronically by Tourism Tasmania.
Weekly public relations meetings (in person and by telephone hook-up) were convened with Tourism Tasmania and the Tasmanian Governments Director of Communications to prioritise positive publicity opportunities and identify potential negative issues.
Immediately after the announcement, the states three metropolitan newspapers regularly published Letters to the Editor. Each letter was responded to on the day of publication.
Despite the potential for political fallout, for example that TT-Line and the Tasmanian Government had purchased two vessels from overseas rather than supporting a Tasmanian-owned business, media coverage of the announcement was overwhelmingly positive. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
As a result of the careful management of the issues and the announcement itself, there is a heightened and positive expectation in the community about the positive impact of the new vessels on the states economy, and the opportunities they will present for the tourism industry.
All these are indicators that the industry in general is optimistic about the future of tourism in the state following the announcement of the decision to buy the two monohulls.
Television coverage of the announcement was received as follows:
- Southern Cross
Updates throughout the evening of 8 March were also broadcast.
In <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Victoria, a story about the new vessel was broadcast on:
- ABC Channel 2
- Channel Seven
- Channel Nine
- Channel Ten
Front-page coverage, including photographs, was secured in all three Tasmanian daily newspapers on Saturday 9 March with extensive coverage published in EGN pages for all three papers.
Further coverage was received on Sunday 10 March and again on Monday 11 March.
TT-Line recorded interviews with:
- ABC Radio in Victoria
- Radio 3AW
- Radio 3LO
Radio coverage was received on:
- FOX FM/TRIPLE MMM
- Radio 7ZR 33 interviews/news stories
- Radio HOFM 14 interviews/news stories
- Radio 7NT 25 interviews/news stories
Media clippings were sourced through Media Monitors and the TT-Line Devonport office.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
The consultancy received the monitoring on a daily basis and distributed it to members of the management team weekly. Important issues were addressed daily.
A review of the monitoring indicates overwhelming support for the new service among Tasmanian media, the tourist industry and the general community.
An important evaluating indicator was the decision by the three major daily newspapers to run positive, unsolicited editorials on the announcement.
The decision has also prompted a number of subsequent announcements by Tasmanian tourism operators who are expanding or investing in new ventures in anticipation of greatly increased visitor numbers.
For example, Federal Hotels has announced the purchase of Strahan Village, a new resort at Coles Bay and the redeveloped Abt Railway, Grand Central Management, managers of the Hotel Grand Chancellor Hobart, has taken over the management of the Chancellor Inn in Hobart (formerly MidCity) and the Savoy The Chancellor, as well as purchased the former Burnie Town House now the Chancellor Inn Burnie with plans for another property in Launceston.