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A Prescription For (Disaster) Success

Client: 

Olympic Roads and Transport Authority (ORTA)

PR Company: 

Olympic Roads and Transport Authority (ORTA)

Award Category: 

Award Type: 

Call Number: 

1999 A 11

Year: 

1999

Executive Summary: 

Re-writing the prescription

To use the vernacular, I think its fair to say that a cock up is with us... a shemozzle and a shambles ... a prescription for disaster Alan Jones, 2UE, 17 March 1998<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

In the wake of the celebrated transport difficulties at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, almost everyone agreed with Alan Joness assessment of Olympic transport planning and its chances of success.

The Olympic Roads and Transport Authority (ORTA) was established solely to tackle what is acknowledged as one of the biggest challenges associated with hosting the Olympic Games.

A small team within ORTA has worked for 18 months to establish and foster public confidence in Sydneys Olympic transport preparations.

It has steered a public course for an entirely new transport system to an almost unknown and unvisited site, it has progressively announced complex Olympic transport information in easily understood forms and it has taken the terror out of unpalatable measures needed for the Games.

In combining extensive news media activity, advertising and grass roots community information, ORTA has painted a coherent, consistent and convincing picture of transport for the Sydney Olympic Games.

ORTA is writing a prescription for Olympic transport success, and even Alan Jones accepts it now.

Its a phenomenal triumph to cart 80,000 people by public transport. Thats a fantastic achievement and a great compliment by the public transport system. Alan Jones, 2UE, 8 March 1999

 

Situation Analysis: 

The Olympic Roads and Transport Authority (ORTA) was established in mid 1997 to coordinate transport for the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

In the wake of the 1996 Atlanta Games, ORTA inherited not only massive logistical transport tasks but an almost universal scepticism about its ability to meet those challenges. ORTA had to attempt to change that perspective. While realising this would ultimately be resolved by the Games themselves, ORTA also faced significant immediate and medium-term public relations challenges. It had to:

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  • Overcome strident criticism of its early proposals and activities;
  • Run communication campaigns relating to transport for specific events, giving each an individual identity in its own right but never losing sight of the Olympic transport big picture;
  • Communicate diverse, and sometimes contentious, messages to many different groups; and
  • Deal with intense media interest on all levels metropolitan, suburban, regional, national and international.

ORTA was designed as a small, primarily operational transport organisation. It began 1998 with the first of a series of major Olympic transport test events (the 1998 Royal Easter Show) imminent and communication firmly identified as one of the most critical factors in the events success or failure. ORTA had not only to convince the public to travel to a totally new site, but to abandon their cars in unprecedented numbers for an untested public transport system.

Despite the enormous nature of the communication challenge, ORTA began 1998 with a name but no public identity and having appointed only two communications staff.

Notwithstanding success in 1998, ORTA began 1999 with new challenges and renewed threats of failure and public criticism. It faced the first transport operations to Stadium Australia and a communications workload which was significantly and suddenly increased. Initially provided only two major operations for the whole of 1999, ORTA was given responsibility at short notice for four other events in less than five months, each requiring a significant communication campaign.

Two over-riding considerations further complicated matters:

  • In the increasingly sensitive lead up to a State election, ORTA was a Government agency responsible for the always contentious area of public transport, the Olympic Games increasingly becoming a political issue; and

ORTA knew that even after a series of successful operations, one bad mistake could seriously derail its entire strategy.

 

Research: 

ORTAs community research has included studies of likely travel patterns of people planning to attend the first Royal Easter Show at Homebush Bay, interviews with people after these events, tracking the developing views of the community on Olympic transport preparations and assessments of travel behaviour likely during the Games. Extensive information research has been conducted for individual publicity activities, including into transport for the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games and activities in Atlanta in 1996.

 

Target Policies: 

ORTA has had a very wide range of target publics, including:

Commentators, opinion leaders and specialist journalists: These have been a vital audience for ORTA because of the combination of their interest in Olympic transport and their ability to shape public opinion.

People attending events at Homebush Bay: A diverse range of people have needed direct knowledge of transport services to Homebush Bay those attending attractions such as the Show, those drawn to landmark identity of the site, and different groups of sports fans.

Sydneys business community: The business community has an intense interest in the impacts of Olympic transport from shopkeepers needing to know how to continue to function during the Games to major multinational corporations having to dramatically change workforce arrangements.

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Sydneys residents: Residents have needed information about local impacts of Olympic transport arrangements.

 

Communication Strategy: 

Key strategies have included:

Under-promising: A central and recurring strategy has been to under-promise and over-deliver. In the lead up to major transport activities, ORTA has been careful to stress the difficulties to be faced and the need for public cooperation and patience. After these events, it has resisted the temptation to boast about success, labeling outcomes as encouraging but far from indicating Olympic transport problems have been solved.

Focusing on the big picture: ORTA realised from the outset that while transport operations for individual events needed to have an identity in their own right, each needed to contribute to the development of a much bigger picture. This has led to a deliberate strategy of always ensuring individual communication campaigns complement and reinforce each other, then moving to link these activities with the corresponding, and much bigger, task required during the Olympic Games.

Tailoring information: ORTA has had a strategy of carefully targeted communication, resisting the temptation to provide one size fits all information. This has involved many variations to accommodate different media from talkback radio hosts dealing with headlines to specialist reporters closely following developments; from suburban media with intense interest in comparatively minor issues to international media interested only in the big picture.

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Shaping judgments: ORTA has had a deliberate strategy of shaping judgments by fostering a public and media conclusion that its not as I thought it would be. The announcement of Olympic arrangements for the Sydney CBD provides a recent example: ORTAs announcement of the removal of street parking and a series of road closures was generally accepted because of a longstanding expectation/fear, subtly encouraged by ORTA, of much more draconian measures, including the banning of cars from the CBD.

 

Implementation: 

News media activity

Since the beginning of 1998, ORTA has issued more than 150 media releases and responded to a wide range of media enquiries. It has participated in live crosses to television news reports, field queries from talkback radio callers, and participated in panel discussions. However, its major news media activity has been a series of set-piece announcements, each self-contained but designed to collectively provide a consistent and coherent picture of Olympic transport arrangements. Some of these have been:

Royal Easter Show transport, 18 March 1998: The launch of the transport arrangements for the first major event at Homebush Bay involved the debut of the green and golden bell frog, a formerly endangered resident of Homebush Bay, as the spearhead of ORTAs transport campaigns, along with the slogan: hop on a train or hop on a bus and get to the Show without any fuss. The event, complete with a transport showbag for attendees, effectively began the enormously successful relocation of the Show to its new home.

Olympic buses, 12 June 1998: The event announced the process by which ORTA would establish Australias biggest ever bus fleet. ORTA choreographed 46 buses from 29 companies to form a 120-metre long 2000 at the Sydney Showground, Homebush Bay. (In an ironic major complication, ORTA was advised less than 2 hours before the event that the Minister for the Olympics could not officiate because he had been injured when his car had been hit by a bus. The Minister for Transport was hastily arranged as a stand-in, with a potentially embarrassing situation averted when he happily delivered the line: People have often wondered what would happen if Michael Knight were hit by a bus)

Olympic cars, 19 October 1998: The event announced that 2000 cars would operate for 33 days during the Olympic Games, with 6000 volunteer drivers. ORTA discovered a woman volunteer car driver from the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games to participate. A number plate from one of the 1956 cars and a backdrop photo of a 1956 Olympic car and driver was organised for a launch at the Sydney Motor Show.

Olympic routes, 6 May 1999: For the announcement of 28 Olympic road routes, the media, the Minister for the Olympics and Australian of the Year Mark Taylor travelled on the Olympic transport to the Olympic Velodrome. The event involved production of a 48-page booklet containing 31 maps and full route details.

Advertising and other paid media activity

ORTA has advertised widely to complement its news media activity. This has included television and radio campaigns for every ORTA event at Homebush Bay, complemented by significant localised placements in suburban newspapers. Central features of the adverting have included the green and golden bell frog, and a consistent and easily adaptable style.

ORTA has worked closely with News Ltd to develop major lift-out supplements in The Daily Telegraph for major sporting events at Stadium Australia. These have provided detailed transport information in an easily accessible tabloid format.


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Brochures and other printed material

ORTA has printed and distributed a wide range of brochures and other printed material. In addition to its Olympic Routes and Olympic City booklets, these have included two brochures providing overviews of transport arrangements for the Royal Easter Show and localised maps and bus timetables letterboxed to 900,000 Sydney homes.

Community communication

Despite the level of mainstream media interest in Olympic transport, ORTA has not relied on the media to communicate information to local communities.

  • For the announcement of the first Olympic road route (linking the CBD with Homebush Bay), ORTA letterboxed every property along the route.
  • For the announcement of the major package of Olympic road routes, ORTA complemented the detailed route booklet with localised brochures for distribution through councils, complemented by displays in prominent suburban locations.
  • ORTA has pursued an ongoing program of grass roots community communication, including presentations to local chambers of commerce, residents groups and council committees.

 

 

Results: 

Bums on seats

At Moore Park, about 40 per cent of people attending the Show travelled by public transport.

In the wake of ORTAs public relations campaign for the first Show at Homebush Bay (April 1998), the figure more than doubled to more than 85 per cent (easily surpassing even the most optimistic predictions and ORTAs target of 70 per cent.

Encouraged by continuing campaigns and information, more than 2.3 million people have now travelled to Homebush Bay on its new public transport system.

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Commentary

In the wake of ORTAs communication activities, media commentators have moved from scepticism at best (and outright hostility at worst) to strong support and endorsement. To cite just a few examples:

Before:

  • The people want to drive to the Show They dont want to spend hours on hot and stuffy buses and trains What a balls up! John Laws, 2UE, 23 March 1998
  • Big teething problems for transport to the Easter Show National Nine News, 3 April 1998

After:

  • Royal Show transport running like a well oiled machine National Nine News, 4 April 1998
  • I was wrong John Laws, 2UE, 8 April 1998
  • The day was a triumph, too, for the Olympic Roads and Transport Authority. Editorial, The Daily Telegraph, 8 March 1999
No news is good news

Despite the positive nature of the two areas discussed above, one of the most encouraging results achieved by ORTA has been a relative absence of negative publicity. In an area of Olympic operation with few immediate positives and many contentious issues, ORTA has been very successful in averting an expected avalanche of negative suburban and metropolitan coverage.

 

 

Evaluation: 

ORTA conducts continuing and detailed evaluation of its public relations activities. This has occurred on a range of levels, including:

  • Reviews of public relations activities as part of analyses of each ORTA transport operation (see attached document);
  • Continuing feedback to and from other Olympic agencies; and
  • Using the outcomes of public relations activities to shape the major elements of Olympic communication planning which are still underway.

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We could write a couple of thousand words about it but we dont have the space.