Inside Report for June 11, 2013

CATS trying to rebrand its public image

The Capital Area Transit System has an image problem.

In years past, the public lamented the bus system’s unreliable and slow service.

This year, criticism about management became intense enough to lead to the resignation of Chief Executive Officer Brian Marshall.

In an attempt to rehabilitate the agency’s image, CATS officials have been working since mid-December with public relations specialist Clay Young.

His contract was recently extended until Oct. 31 for an amount not to exceed $32,000. He earns $120 per hour.

The contract calls for Young to help position CATS as “one of the nation’s most customer friendly transit systems.”

The expectations for Young outlined in the contract include creating a “Why CATS Matters” marketing campaign to “highlight the importance of CATS to the Greater Baton Rouge Area.”

The contract also requires Young to schedule interviews with local media and provide “talking points” and press releases.

Before the CATS tax passed last April, the bare-bones agency had no funds for media relations.

But Isaiah Marshall, CATS board president, says public relations is an essential function.

“Public relations for CATS has always been important,” Marshall said. “Especially for as much attention as we receive, it’s important that we are able to structure the message and be able to communicate to the public what is going on as it relates to CATS.”

Young said he’s encouraging CATS officials to be open and transparent with the media and the public.

In recent months, CATS officials — under Young’s guidance — have initiated meetings with the media to improve their working relationship and offer information about upcoming changes.

So far, Young has billed CATS for $19,000, which his invoices show includes about $5,000 for unveiling the bus tracking software made available to the public.

In March, CATS spent $15,400 on an ad with television station WAFB promoting the new GPS smart phone technology.

But since the launch, the Route Shout software has been panned by the public as inaccurate and useless. CATS officials have backed off the campaign, saying the software needs more time for adjustments.

The initial ads and banners branded the software with the acronym “AVL,” or Automatic Vehicle Locator. CATS has since opted for more familiar language like “bus tracking.”

CATS has also done some general advertising in an attempt to rebrand itself.

In March, CATS purchased a $6,419 full-color ad with The Advocate featuring the new green-and-blue CATS logo with the words “New logo. New Vision. A whole new transit system.”

CATS purchased similar ads with Baton Rouge Business Report and television station WBRZ.

Young also oversaw the production of a 10-minute video featuring CATS employees talking about the future of the agency.

The $1,680 video, titled “New CATS Promotion,” can be found on Youtube.com but not on the CATS website — brcats.com — perhaps because the video heavily features former CEO Brian Marshall.

Isaiah Marshall, the board president, says that once Young’s contract expires, CATS will likely use an inhouse hire to handle public relations with some outside contracted help.

Rebekah Allen, who covers East Baton Rouge city-parish government for The Advocate, can be reached at rallen@theadvocate.com or you can follow her on Twitter @rebekahallen.