TTC's subway car launch takes top spot in Public Relations report card

TORONTO, Jan. 16, 2012 /CNW/ - The Toronto Transit Commission's (TTC) Launch of the New Toronto Rocket exemplified impressive communications planning and execution, according to a 2011 Report Card released by the Toronto Chapter of the International Association of Business Communications (IABC).

"The launch of their new line of subway cars came at a time of uncertainty for the TTC," said Trell Huether, President of IABC/Toronto. "Consistent communications, creativity and the use of messaging tailored to their target audience saw the TTC benefit greatly from the launch."

IABC/Toronto's second annual Communications Year in Review - Report Card on Toronto's Top Newsmakers of 2011 evaluated the effectiveness of communications of four significant public relations efforts initiated in the Greater Toronto Area. The four campaigns were: TTC Launches Toronto Rocket, Councillor Doug Ford vs. Libraries, BIXI Toronto Launch and Mayor Ford's Waterfront Plans

"Communicating in clear, honest and creative ways can have a significant impact on the success or failure of an initiative. Understanding your audience and communicating accordingly can give any organization an important advantage," said Huether. "The TTC targeted riders with powerful messages delivered in interesting ways."

The TTC launch scored consistently well across the Report Card's five main evaluation criteria: strategy, messaging, spokespeople, execution and outcome.

The launch of BIXI bikes in Toronto received moderate marks in the report card grading scale with a variety of well-prepared spokespeople but fell short due to poor timing and failure to capitalize on certain opportunities. Councillor Doug Ford's campaign to cut library funding struggled with poor organization and planning but picked up some marks for consistent messaging. Ford's initiative to gain control of Toronto's Port Lands with his brother, Mayor Rob Ford, struggled due to lack of strategy and failure to foresee and prepare for key points of contention.

The importance of strategic and effective communications was strongly highlighted in the evaluated campaigns.

Report Card Grading Breakdown

Ford vs.
Grading Scale
Strategy 3 1.5 2 2 1 - Poor
Messaging 4.5 3.5 3 3 2 - Inadequate
Spokespeople 4 3.5 4 3 3 - Adequate
Execution 3 4 4 1 4 - Good
Outcome 4 3.5 3 3 5 - Excellent
Total 18.5 16 16 12  

Top Marks: TTC Launches Toronto Rocket

The Toronto Transit Commission's launch of its new fleet of subway trains received consistently strong marks across the report card's grading scale. The launch came at a difficult time for the TTC, with Mayor Rob Ford having cancelled the Transit City initiative and requested spending reductions from the TTC only months before. These issues compounded frequent rider concerns about service quality and fare increases.

The launch targeted Toronto residents, but specifically TTC riders as its primary audience and reached them through a series of creative communications tactics. The TTC's messaging around the new trains was designed to resonate with their target audience, focusing on improved service and comfort.

The timing of the campaign was instrumental in its success. The trains had initially been unveiled in October 2010 but faced delays. The strategy of holding a media event to unveil the trains in May 2011, followed by the public events a few days later, served to re-ignite a buzz about the trains. At the media event, journalists were given a full tour of the trains and had access to engineers and subway operators who could answer technical questions. By inviting media to view the trains before the public, the TTC was able to benefit from positive media reviews.

The TTC capitalized on the event Door's Open Toronto, allowing riders to get a sneak peek before the launch. The trains were also put on display at the Canadian National Exhibition and Davisville Subway Station. This open access helped build excitement for the new trains.

At the events, spokesperson Karen Stintz was fully available for media and displayed poise and genuine excitement. However, Mayor Rob Ford, the other primary spokesperson, lacked the same enthusiasm displayed by Stintz. During the media scrum at the event, Ford was bombarded by questions about other political issues such as library funding and organizers failed to effectively refocus the discussion.

The TTC maintained momentum by posting advertisements throughout the TTC system celebrating the new trains. Comprehensive information highlighting benefits to rider comfort and service were included on the TTC's website. The TTC's Twitter accounts also helped fuel enthusiasm by tweeting updates on the location of the new trains so that interested riders could track them down. The tweets helped increase engagement among a mobile audience; spotting the trains became a trend as transit riders tweeted and posted pictures when they saw a train.

Other Campaigns Reviewed:

Councillor Ford vs. Libraries/Margaret Atwood

Toronto Councillor Doug Ford set his sights on libraries as a potential target for cost cutting in July 2011 in response to an auditor's report. Noted Canadian literary icon, Margaret Atwood, came to the public defence of libraries. When asked to comment on Atwood's position, Ford claimed that he was unaware of her, leading to heated debate through various media channels.


  • Proactive approach in stating his position helped set the stage for a public debate
  • Messaging regarding the need to reduce costs and look at all possible solutions to balance Toronto's budget was consistent and was proven popular by Rob Ford's successful mayoral campaign
  • Statements were powerful, easy to understand and relatable
  • While no libraries were closed, cuts for libraries were incorporated into Toronto's 2012 budget


  • Misrepresentation of facts harmed credibility
  • Lack of clear strategic direction
  • Lack of preparation for questioning, as shown by having no knowledge of Margaret Atwood and her vocal stance on the library issue
  • Instead of using a structured campaign, Ford attempted to gain public support through passionate media interviews

BIXI - Toronto Launch

In May 2011, BIXI, a public bike sharing company founded in Montréal, launched its operations in Toronto. Much anticipated by bike enthusiasts and environmentalists, BIXI founded 80 bike stations with more than 1,000 bikes in Toronto. The launch was strongly supported by BIXI Toronto's key partners, Telus, Desjardins and the City of Toronto.


  • Solid, consistent and resonating messages focused on bike sharing being economical, convenient, and complimentary to public transit
  • Compelling launch event involving numerous important community partners
  • Interesting variety of spokespeople with representation from the City of Toronto, BIXI, Telus, Desjardins, and the Toronto Cycling Union
  • Spokespeople were well prepared and each provided unique perspectives on the launch
  • Strong variety of communications channels including traditional press releases and the use of online mediums including website content supported by social media and RSS feeds


  • Poor timing of launch event, the day after the Canadian federal election, severely limited the potential to make it a major news item
  • Did not fully capitalize on health as a key benefit to using BIXI
  • Chosen spokesperson Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong actually voted against a city loan for BIXI one year before was exploited by several media outlets covering the launch

Ford Waterfront Plans

In August 2011, Mayor Rob Ford and Councillor Doug Ford filed a staff report to Toronto's executive committee to consider seizing control of the Port Lands, a large piece of Toronto's waterfront that was presently the subject of a revitalization project, led by Waterfront Toronto. The Fords claimed that Waterfront Toronto had mismanaged the project and proposed a grander plan for the area which included hotels, a mega-mall, sporting facilities, a monorail and the world's largest Ferris wheel.


  • Presented an imaginative plan with strong newsworthiness
  • Clear and powerful messaging around project delays and the need for a grander vision
  • Though they failed to secure takeover of the Port Lands, they did succeed in getting Waterfront Toronto to agree to accelerated timelines


  • Failed to provide evidence to support many of their claims, including that retail initiatives could attract American retailers
  • Lack of message consistency after council voted down the takeover. Mayor Ford called the agreement a "win-win" for Toronto, despite not achieving the grander vision for Toronto he had touted
  • The Fords, acting as the spokespeople, did not anticipate reaction from the media and public asking for concrete plans and proof that their vision was realistic
  • Lack of communications with constituents represented a missed opportunity to gain public support for plans when launching the campaign


To complete the report card, Communicators from IABC/Toronto's Marketing Communications Team carefully researched and evaluated each campaign based on the designated criteria. The team explored publically available examples of written communications, media coverage, commentary and social and multi-media. Through facilitated discussion the team examined each campaign from a communications perspective, and based on member expertise, assigned number grades accordingly.

About IABC/Toronto 

With more than 1,700 members, IABC/Toronto is the largest IABC chapter in the world. The organization provides these members with multidisciplinary resources and a global network of more than 16,500 business communication professionals, in 70 countries, working in diverse industries and disciplines to identify, share and apply the world's most effective communications practices. Website:


For further information:

Scott Fry
Director - Marketing Communications

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