The Train Has Left the Station

Posted: July 6, 2018 by Kiku Gross

Morning Express Train to Sacramento

No traffic. No hassle. Get to Sacramento before 8am and get home by dinner on our new Morning Express Train to Sacramento. Book your tickets now for May 7 and beyond! #OnTrackToSac

Posted by Amtrak San Joaquins on Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Good things, as it turns out, do not come to those who wait…they come to those who work their aah—

All aboard!

In this case, the “good thing” was launching the Amtrak San Joaquins Morning Express train to Sacramento. And even though this train can take you halfway across the state and back in one day, it took us months of research, strategizing and planning to prepare for its sendoff.

The new service gets you from Fresno to Sacramento by 8 a.m.—so you can make your morning business meeting—and be home by 5 p.m., just in time for dinner. It’s unique because it’s something Central Valley communities (especially business travelers commuting to the capital) have wanted and needed for years. However, wanted and needed doesn’t mean it came without challenges. The first being a 4:25 a.m. start time in Fresno. Another challenge was to find a creative way to convince people to get out of their cars.

Where did we start? Research. We conducted over 500 quantitative surveys, numerous qualitative focus groups, and social media questionnaires. We probed peoples’ brains for reasons why they weren’t riding the train and their biggest frustrations with commuting.

Our research led us to two clear answers: 1.) It’s universal: people hate traffic. It’s worse than the automatic flushers in public restrooms. And 2.) The ability to be productive on the train (answer emails, make phone calls and work on your laptop because, heck yeah, free WiFi) is a huge pro.

This meant creative had to do double duty: educate people about the service (while stressing the productivity factor), and remind people that traffic is torture. Based on this, we created messaging, which we tested in (yes, more) focus groups. This process eventually led us to the line: “Get to Sacramento before 8 a.m. and be home by dinner.” Turns out people really like spending time with their families. And, after tossing out all kinds of creative messaging, it was clear that a direct approach was best.

Now, we finally had messaging for the mass market. But we still needed to launch the darn thing.

Our goals were to tell as many people as possible about the new service and sell tickets for the inaugural train ride while getting as much exposure as possible. And getting tons of media exposure is where good relationships come in. How exactly do they come in, you may ask? They helped us get op-eds in The Business Journal, The Sacramento Bee and the Fresno Bee, along with interviews that ran in print, and on TV and radio. Plus, they enabled us to secure interviews on Channel 30 and get over 100 people riding the train—but not just anybody. We knew business leaders and politicians who spend a lot of time in both Fresno and Sacramento would benefit the most from the Morning Express train. So, naturally, we invited them to our launch event on May 7th.

The morning of, we organized a press event and conducted a Channel 30 interview about the new service. We arranged for all the passengers to get coffee and muffins as a “Thank You!” before getting on the train (food and caffeine really make 4 a.m. feel better). Riders also received a golden ticket as a commemorative piece designed by our Art Director extraordinaire Duran (gold foil doesn’t hurt either).

And on the train, JSA leveraged every. Single. Opportunity. To increase value and create content for JPA. We photographed people and collected quotes from them authentically saying why they love the train and the service for our “Look who’s riding” campaign. We also did a video shoot featuring elected officials, senators, mayors and councilmen and women. And of course, there was a huge social component. We created the hashtag #OnTrackToSac and brought our social team out to share the whole day on Facebook and Instagram.

We hustled, fam. And we got content for social, digital, television, cable and radio. (CAN I GET A HALLELUJAH?) Hallelujah.

Then, when we got to Sacramento, we held another press event at the recently refurbished historic Sacramento Valley Station, where more than 200 people attended. And we couldn’t just leave people with nothing to do in Sacramento while waiting for the train back. So, we put together several scheduled tours including:
– A Golden One Tour
– A tour of the historic Sacramento Valley Station
– And everyone’s favorite grade school throwback: A State Capitol tour

The tours were a hit. And after three hours in Sacramento—enough time to eat, explore and enjoy each other’s company—we all got back on the train. We hustled some more. We tied up our interviews and took a bunch more photographs. And finally, we got back into Fresno (around 3:30), where we had a third, follow up press conference thanking media for attending.

PHEW. Aren’t you tired just reading that? Can you believe that we did all that?

It’s like they say. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Overall, this event was a huge, collective effort that was months in the making. From writers to coordinators to PR Directors, it took nearly the whole building to make sure everything went as smoothly as it did.

It was a major success and that’s our favorite thing. So, if you have a service or product or brand that needs launching, who you gonna call?

Yeah. This guy.

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