Another Avenue to Reach Policy Makers: Taxicabs

Source: By ASHLEY PARKER, New York Times • Posted: Thursday, July 31, 2014

An ad by the Partnership for a New American Economy appears in District of Columbia taxis.

WASHINGTON — The epiphany hit Jeremy Robbins, appropriately enough, while he was riding in a taxi in the nation’s capital.

Mr. Robbins, the executive director of thePartnership for a New American Economy, a group devoted to immigration overhaul, was finishing up a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill when he began thinking about where to place his group’s latest ad — a playful commercial showing how immigrants have played an important role in American innovation.

“I saw a TV in the back of the cab, and I didn’t see any ads related to politics,” he said. “That seemed like a way to put an ad where no one else is doing it, and take advantage of all the right eyes being there.”

Now, the group’s ad runs about every 15 minutes in 1,300 Washington taxis. “I probably get three emails a week from people I know that say: ‘I just saw your ad in the back of a D.C. taxi. It feels like you’re microtargeting me,’ ” Mr. Robbins said.

And that is exactly the point.

“If you’re going to reach people who are making decisions for the country, you’re probably going to reach them in D.C. taxis rather than anywhere else, and it’s a little more targeted,” said Peter Sullivan, the Northeast sales manager for Creative Mobile Technologies, a main vendor of the consoles, which include a credit card reader.

Or, as Ron Linton, the chairman of the Taxicab Commission, put it, “There is a market here for reaching the minds and eyeballs of people who are involved in these policy issues.”

The potential viewership, Mr. Linton added, is huge, with the city’s roughly 5,700 active taxis providing 18 million to 20 million rides each year.

DC Vote, an organization that advocates full voting representation in Congress for the district, is also running two 15-second ads in the back of Washington taxis. One features Julian Bond, the civil rights leader, and the other features Kimberly Perry, the group’s executive director, both of whom talk about how the people of the city are “second-class citizens” with no vote in Congress.

“The people who ultimately decide our future as to whether or not we’re going to be fully enfranchised Americans work on Capitol Hill, and we know the people who work on Capitol Hill — staff as well as members — use cabs, and the people who influence those people use cabs,” said James Jones, the communications director for DC Vote. “So we think it’s an incredible investment, because those are the people who hold our future.”

Unlike the Partnership for a New American Economy, which pays about $7,000 per month for a 30-second ad, DC Vote gets its airtime from the Taxicab Commission at no charge, as part of a handful of public service announcements it can provide at no cost.

The city’s taxi fleet, however, is not the only place where advocacy and issue groups are targeting Washington. The Partnership for a New American Economy is also placing pro-immigration ads on the CNN channel in terminals and some of the lounges at Dulles International Airport and Ronald Reagan National Airport.

And the Metro transit system similarly hosts print ads. Jodi Senese, the chief marketing officer at CBS Outdoor, which has an exclusive agreement with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, said that about 25 percent of its Metro ads came from issue or advocacy groups.

Prices can vary. Ms. Senese said that some groups had placed posters in a key Metro station for four weeks for less than $1,000, and that other groups had spent as much as $200,000 in a month.

This summer, the Air Line Pilots Association placed ads on buses and in the Farragut North Metro station, near the White House and the lobbyist stronghold of K Street, as part of a campaign to raise awareness about problems it was having with a foreign airline.

“The advantage to running the Metro ads in D.C. was we would reach key influencers and we would also reach the general public, who would be motivated to take grass-roots action,” said Michael Robbins, the managing director for government and public affairs at the association.

The Sierra Club also has a history of zeroing in on the Metro station that makes the most sense for its current mission. When the State Department was considering the Keystone XL pipeline, the group placed ads in the Foggy Bottom station, near the department’s headquarters. When the House was holding up a bill on a tax credit for wind energy, the group ran ads in the Capitol South station, on the House side of the hill.

“We’re bringing our message directly to where the decision makers, to where the influential, are,” said Melinda Pierce, the legislative director of the Sierra Club.

So, will the Sierra Club be showing ads in the back of taxis anytime soon?

“Of course, we enviros are hoping half of those folks are also taking Metro,” Ms. Pierce joked.