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Being in the trenches of construction details every day, nothing re-invigorates me more than hearing the “oos” and “ahhs” as a new group of people watches the transformation of Doyle Drive into Presidio Parkway with our project animation videos . Our team was delighted to accept the invitation from Metropolitan Transportation Commission Public Information Officer John Goodwin to present at the San Francisco Public Relations Round Table’s (SFPRRT) monthly program on May 24th. Founded in 1939, SFPRRT is one of the oldest public relations organizations in the county, and what a fun and engaging group! Mary Currie from the Golden Gate Bridge Highway & Transportation District provided an eloquent introduction complimenting Circlepoint’s our outreach efforts on Doyle Drive, as well as our work on a previous project under her management, the Golden Gate Bridge Suicide Barrier Study.

Keeping in mind what would most interest private and agency communications experts about our highway project, we quickly focused the presentation on the evolution of our communication strategy from the environmental phase into construction, as well as our unique media challenges and opportunities.

After ten years of following strictly delineated outreach procedures during the environmental phase, we were able to launch a brand new communications program once construction commenced in 2009, enabling us to promote the benefits of this transformative project. And what better way to move from procedure to promotion than through rebranding? Or, er, branding. It’s hard to claim the project’s old orange and white color scheme used during the environmental phase actually qualified as a brand.

At the start of construction, the project team welcomed the opportunity to do away with the text block logo and put forth something that truly communicates what this project is about—integrating a major highway into a national park setting. Such a unique and exciting project begged for a graphic identity to match. Out of the team’s new branding effort came a beautiful and identifiable project logo, website and even a friendly pelican mascot . Showing a “before and after” slide of the two logos, I must say, the SFPRRT group was impressed.

The project’s wide range of stakeholders also produced a variety of interesting media opportunities and challenges, one of which cropped up shortly after construction began. A thought-to-be-extinct plant was found directly in the path of construction. This Franciscan manzanita was, as project spokeswoman Molly Graham joked to the group, “the dodo bird of the plant world” and threatened to halt construction. But after extensive coordination with the many agencies involved in the project, the plant was able to be transplanted to a new, safe home. Phew.

On the other end of the media spectrum, the public outreach team recently had the opportunity to promote an exciting new information tool: a transportation simulator that allows the public to take a spin on the final Presidio Parkway virtually, years before construction is complete. Now this was a fun one! See mom, video games ARE educational.

All in all, it was great to share our communication strategies, triumphs and challenges (to date!) with a group who understands better than anyone. It was also gratifying for the project team to see how far we’ve come since those first days doing outreach for the environmental phase of this historic project. A big thank you to SFPRRT for the invitation to present to our communication peers!

About the Presidio Parkway Project

Doyle Drive has been re-envisioned as the Presidio Parkway—a roadway tucked into the natural contours of the Presidio of San Francisco and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, one of the nation’s largest urban parks. The Presidio Parkway will create a spectacular regional gateway between the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and the city of San Francisco. Construction of the Presidio Parkway began in December 2009 and is expected to be complete in 2014.

Since construction began in late 2009, Caltrans has made quick progress on Phase I of the Presidio Parkway. Phase I consists of construction of a replacement bridge north of the MacArthur Tunnel, a new southbound bridge east of the Highway 1/101 interchange, the first of four tunnels and a temporary bypass.

Doyle Drive will be closed for an extended weekend in late 2011 in order to transfer traffic from the existing Doyle Drive onto the temporary bypass and completed southbound structures. During the closure, the connection between the Golden Gate Bridge and Park Presidio Boulevard/Highway 1 will remain open. After the extended weekend closure, drivers will be traveling on a roadway that meets today’s seismic and safety standards.

About the San Francisco Public Relations Round Table

Founded in 1939 by the titans of PR in San Francisco’s bustling business community, the San Francisco Public Relations Round Table serves senior-level public relations practitioners who meet regularly to hear fascinating speakers, share information, stay on top of trends in industry, business, and the media, and enjoy the company of colleagues with similar interests.


Visit www.PresidioParkway.org
Visit www.sfprrt.org.
Learn more about the transportation simulator
View the SFPRRT presentation

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I’ve been working on environmental documents – EISs, EIRs, MNDs, you name it – for well over a decade. Usually the release of an environmental report barely garners a paragraph in a local newspaper. If it’s a really large or highly controversial project, maybe a bit more splash.

DesertXpress press conference

DesertXpress press conference

So it was a very surprising and professionally satisfying experience last week to see no less than a sitting US Senator and the United States Secretary of Transportation announce – before a bank of TV cameras, I might add – the release of the Final EIS for the DesertXpress High-Speed Passenger Rail project.
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I have these friends, Bob and Ingrid, who for years have been taking trips to the desert to enjoy the landscape. The few times I have been with them on a hike, their knowledge and enthusiasm for plant life has been infectious. Not the type to be naturally inclined toward botany, when I’m with Bob and Ingrid, I’m sucked in, and it all seems exciting and fascinating.

A few years ago, Bob told me that a large solar electric generating plant was planned for an area of the desert that they frequent. There are many types of solar projects, Bob told me. This one is a 600-foot tower with reflectors that concentrate the sun’s power, turning some receptive chemical into steam that is used to turn an electrical generator. So simple, so elegant, so practical, so clean, so necessary.
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What did I learn from 2010? Humility.
What am I looking forward to in 2011? Leaving 2010 in the dust!

For me, 2010 was a year in which I truly learned my limitations and blind spots. I’m sure I have more to discover and learn from, but please, can I find them at a slower pace in years to come?

So why was 2010 so hard? Well, I’ll tell you.

What became painfully clear in 2010 is that running a business—any business—is hard.

After 22 years in business, you become accustomed to a certain way of doing things. We’d been in the top 200 fastest growing companies in our sector for several years; things were going well. But, as with most companies, when the work started to slow down in early 2010, things began to look slightly grim.
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I get a call a few months back from a potential client asking if we prepare environmental documents for data centers. A few days later I get a similar inquiry; and the next day, some more calls. By the end of that month, we were contracted to prepare several environmental documents for various data center applications wanting to reside within the San Francisco Bay Area.

Much of the daily material exchanged through our computers is now decentralized and outsourced to some unseen network. These unseen networks are increasingly large, powerful, energy-intensive, always-on and essentially out-of-sight data centers. These centers house enormous computer systems and associated components such as telecommunication and storage systems for major users including Yahoo, Facebook and Google. Data centers, also known as “clouds,” have increasingly become the nerve center for businesses and our society; and the demand continues to grow.
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“You know Carlos, the way I see it, there are two kinds of people: piñata breakers and tamal makers.” Those are some deep words to live by, but probably don’t mean much without some context. So allow me to explain.

Several months ago I was conducting a series of key-stakeholder interviews as research for a social marketing project in Placer County that included outreach to various multicultural groups. As part of this research, I interviewed Emilio Vaca, executive director of North Tahoe Family Resource Center in Kings Beach—a group heavily involved in working with Latino families in the Tahoe area.

It was during this Spanglish-infused conversation about how to effectively reach out to Latino families in Kings Beach that Emilio dropped those pearls of wisdom. He must have noticed the confused look on my face, because he quickly proceeded to elaborate on his statement.
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Last week I received the Droid 2 I ordered. I have decided it does too many things and if I was anyone else, I would have to quit my day job to master even the basics. As luck would have it, I work in communications at Circlepoint.

I know this dates me, but when I graduated from college, I had to have a PC, a 286, which I built myself after researching and ordering the best brands for each component. I ordered one for the office too, one of the first in our building, along with a 300 dpi laser printer. Everyone came to see it.

The evolution of communications is incredible and exciting. Today the communications teams at Circlepoint are integrating visual simulation, text messaging, Smartphone applications, online games, online collaboration and other new tools and approaches into the communications strategies we develop and deliver for our clients.
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The Presidio Parkway project will transform the south access to the Golden Gate Bridge, built in 1936 by the military, into a beautiful parkway. This replacement plan for Doyle Drive could not be a more exciting improvement to San Francisco’s waterfront. From using the largest–of–its-kind drilling machine to protecting a pet cemetery to relocating a (thought to be) extinct plant, this story has it all. Naturally, the public will be engaged in learning every detail. Or will they?

A project can be knock-your-socks-off amazing, yet still struggle to get the public’s time, attention and interest. This is a competition, and as outreach professionals, we want to win it.

Sure, the residents and businesses in the project area and interested stakeholders are easy to engage, but what about the general public? Whether it’s the family in the Sunset District or the couple in Marin, they know the project is underway, but the details? No time and no clue.
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This past weekend I spoke at ICLEI’s Local Action Summit in Washington D.C. The event brings together government staff and elected officials who are advancing climate protection and sustainability at the local level. It was great to share successes and struggles with conference attendees while we learned and partied sustainably.

My panel was called Strategic Sustainability Partnerships for Small Communities, and I spoke about my experience working with the Sustainable Jersey program, which has centralized, incentivized and guided the process of transforming the New Jersey’s 566 municipalities, many at different stages of going green, into a network of sustainable communities.
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Challenging economic times, like the ones we’re experiencing now, invariably lead to arguments against large-scale infrastructure investments because “we just can’t afford it right now.”

The calculation for infrastructure opponents is very simple. Limited funds, tough economic circumstances, depleted public coffers and an atmosphere of “no new taxes” is not the time to invest. Essential services and saving should be the focus. Simply stated, there aren’t enough discretionary funds available to fund big projects.

This is a position often taken when other avenues of opposition have been exhausted, such as arguments associated with environmental and other impacts, the wisdom of certain project alternatives, and the like.

In an age of multi-billion dollar projects it’s no wonder people become overwhelmed by the enormity of these investments: tens of millions for interchanges, hundreds of millions for tunnels and billions for bridges. Rail projects are no different. Even bus and BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) projects can be extremely costly.

However, the argument that “we just can’t afford it right now” flies in the face of reason – and history.

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