Sound Transit's ad campaign draws fire - $1.1 million: Critics see it as effort to buff tarnished

David Quigg; The News Tribune

Posted 7/18/02 -

Sound Transit budgeted $581,250 for advertising and marketing last
year.  More than half of it went unspent.  This year, under a new
communications plan, the three-county agency expects to spend $1.1
million - $800,000 of it to publicize Sound Transit, in general, and its
mix of transportation ventures.

It's not the spending spike itself that concerns Dave Enslow, a Sound
Transit board member, Sumner city councilman and candidate for Pierce
County Council.  He just questions the type of ads the taxpayer-funded
agency is buying.

"I think the advertising needs to be focused on what can Sound Transit
do for you, as opposed to this warm and fuzzy kind of stuff," Enslow
said of a campaign devised by Copacino Creative, an ad firm renowned for
its whimsical Seattle Mariners commercials.  Enslow was mid-sentence,
explaining his worry that certain Sound Transit ads could be construed
as attempts to buff the agency's budget-tarnished image, when it
occurred to him that the other side deserves to be heard.

"If you want this program justified, all you have to do is call Ric
Ilgenfritz," he said.  Ilgenfritz, a former National Marine Fisheries
Service official and top aide to U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, became Sound
Transit's chief communications officer last year.  He joined up five
months after the agency triggered its worst PR ever by admitting it
underestimated by more than $1 billion what Seattle-area light rail
would cost.

"Most of the people who know about Sound Transit know about it because
of the (light rail) issues," Ilgenfritz said, citing poll data that
helped shape his overhaul of the agency's communications strategy.  He
briefed board members last October on his plans for advertising.

A document prepared for that briefing described the agency's public
relations challenge:  "Present levels of awareness are driven largely by
media coverage.  "Although Sound Transit has been deliberate and
proactive in attempting to deliver messages to the media, the agency's
messages are not consistently being picked up in news stories.  The
agency therefore cannot rely on the news media alone to reach the
public."  So Ilgenfritz's new communications strategy, as detailed in
Sound Transit's 2002 budget, included the following goals:

* "Redefine Sound Transit and Re-Engage the Community."
* "'Brand' Sound Transit within the regional communications market as a
reliable service provider."

It's the word "brand" that bothers Bob Gogerty.  He's the political
consultant who persuaded voters in Pierce, King and Snohomish counties
to create Sound Transit in 1996, by passing a $4 billion ballot
measure.  He definitely wants the agency to use ads to keep the public
informed.

But he said, "Polishing the image is not going to help them.  They're
not going to make Sound Transit a household word that people feel good
about ... until they are up and running and people can see they've done
something positive."

Ilgenfritz would say Gogerty's critique proves his point.  After all,
from Ilgenfritz's vantage point inside the agency, Sound Transit is up
and running and has "done something positive."  Ads play a key role in
making sure citizens realize commuters are using Sound Transit services
every day, he said.

"It's getting back to the people, letting them know what we're doing
with their money," Ilgenfritz said.  Ads touting the agency's ST Express
buses and Sounder commuter trains are needed to attract riders, he
said.  King County Councilman Rob McKenna (R-Bellevue), a prominent
light-rail critic, doesn't buy it.

"Sounder is full," he said.  "So the last thing we need to do is
encourage more people to ride it.  These are image ads."

Ilgenfritz rejected that description.  But he acknowledged McKenna's
point about full Sounder trains sounds logical.  So logical, in fact,
that Sounder officials stopped advertising, he said.  Ridership dipped,
he said.  "We're a start-up. We don't have an established customer
base," he said.  So Sound Transit advertises.

Quarter-page ads in the region's major Sunday newspapers.  TV
traffic-report sponsorships.  Public-radio sponsorships.  Radio ads on a
slew of commercial stations.  "Just about everywhere except KVI because
the board forbade us from advertising on KVI," Ilgenfritz said,
referring to Seattle's conservative talk-radio station.

Tim Eyman, the anti-tax activist whose latest ballot measure aims to cut
off about 20 percent of Sound Transit's revenue, tried to get the
state's Public Disclosure Commission to stop Sound Transit's ads.  In a
Jan. 11 letter, Eyman wrote, "Since our filing of I-776 today, Sound
Transit's expenditures for television, radio and print advertising are
now unfair, illegal, taxpayer-funded political advertising and should be
stopped until I-776 is resolved by the voters in November, 2002."

A Jan. 30 reply from the PDC asked Eyman to provide evidence that Sound
Transit's ads were something other than "advertising related to
planning, construction, or operation of its systems."

Within a week, the PDC was investigating Eyman, after he confessed to
surreptitiously using campaign donations to pay himself a salary.  The
state has taken Eyman to court.  Ilgenfritz denies that Sound Transit's
ads are about politics or elections - either this November's or some
future trip to the ballot, when Sound Transit would ask Pierce, King and
Snohomish voters to fund more projects.

David Quigg: 206-467-9845 david.quigg@mail.tribnet.com

'Image ad' or information for taxpayers?  Critics call them "image
ads."  But Sound Transit insists the three-county agency's advertising -
such as the following radio spot - is geared toward attracting riders
and informing taxpayers:

Sound effect of a rapid heartbeat for several seconds.

ANNOUNCER:  Not only have we taken thousands of drivers off the road,
Sound effect of rapid heartbeat slowing.

ANNOUNCER:  We've lowered their blood pressure.  Upbeat music.

ANNOUNCER:  We're Sound Transit and we're moving forward to create
alternatives to congested freeways.  Take a look at our progress.  In
1999, we launched ST Express, replacing thousands of freeway car trips
every day.  ST Express carries 500,000 riders a month on routes
extending from Everett to Tacoma.  In 2000, we introduced Sounder, a
commuter rail system which connects Seattle to Tacoma.  Today, 22,000
commuters take Sounder or ST Express every workday.  Dozens of capital
projects and improvements are also under way. We've improved HOV access.
Constructed transit centers.  And built new and expanded Park & Ride
lots.  All of which is good news for your commute and your health.  To
learn how we can make your commute easier, go to soundtransit.org.
Sound Transit.  Moving forward.  Source: Radio script provided by Sound
Transit.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

And here's the letter that was sent to the Public Disclosure Commission
in January:

January 7th, 2002

Vicki Rippie
Public Disclosure Commission
PO Box 40908
Olympia, WA  98504

Dear Vicki:

 Because of our filing today of Initiative 776, The Right to Vote on
Higher Vehicle Taxes, as an initiative to the people, Sound Transit
should discontinue all television, radio, and print advertising as these
expenditures now constitute taxpayer funds being used to illegally
oppose I-776.

 Initiative 776 will require license tab fees for motor vehicles and
light trucks to be $30 per year and will repeal motor vehicle excise
taxes and fees imposed on motor vehicles.

 One of the excise taxes that I-776 repeals is the local motor vehicle
excise tax that provides 20% of the funding for Sound Transit's
multi-BILLION-dollar boondoggle light rail.  Light rail is a
BILLION-dollar black hole which is sucking taxpayers dry from Spokane to
Seattle. This "train to nowhere" is radically different from the project
that was presented to voters in 1996.  Voters were offered red but were
given blue.  We will be arguing throughout the campaign for Initiative
776 that taxpayers are flushing billions of taxpayer dollars down the
toilet on a project that taxpayers no longer support.

 Sound Transit should not be allowed to illegally spend taxpayer dollars
for a multi-MILLION-dollar political campaign opposing I-776.  Since our
filing of I-776 today, Sound Transit's expenditures for television,
radio, and print advertising are now unfair, illegal, taxpayer-funded
political advertising and should be stopped until the fate of I-776 is
resolved by voters in November, 2002.

 I ask that you to notify Sound Transit that they need to set up, as we
have, a political action committee to raise private funds if they wish
to oppose I-776.  I further ask that you inform them that it is illegal
to spend taxpayer dollars to oppose ballot measures which their current
television, radio, and print advertising clearly does.

 Finally, as of today, any taxpayer dollars illegally spent to promote
Sound Transit, and thus to oppose I-776, should be properly reported as
an in-kind contribution to the soon-to-be-formed NO 776 committee.

 Please contact me with any questions.

Best Regards, Tim Eyman, Sponsor of I-776, and head of Permanent
Offense, a grassroots taxpayer organization

cc:  Attorney General
cc:  Secretary of State

Paid for by Permanent Offense    PO Box 1641    Mukilteo    WA
98275
Ph:  425-493-8707    FAX:  425-493-1027
www.permanent-offense.org    email:  info@permanent-offense.org



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