Joanna Newton, Sr. Project manager, AAA Auto Club South
Jessica Brady, Public Relations Manager and Spokesperson, AAA Auto Club South
Tow to Go, once a program that was at risk for being canceled, is now opening new doors for both AAA Auto Club and its co-owner Budweiser. With the introduction of innovative media strategies, it has proven its value and worth as a tool to reach new audiences with preventative messages. Tow to Go is an ideal example of how an organization can truly leverage unique partnerships – when its purpose is authentic – and provide needed public service.
Tow to Go is designed to protect our roadways, because it removes both the intoxicated driver and his or her vehicle for free on major holidays throughout the year. Since its inception in 1998, Tow to Go has safely removed more than 13,600 drink drivers from the road.
When Joanna Newton was assigned to the Tow to Go program, it was an older little-known program in her region with little hope for a future. Management had several perceived issues with the program, such as:
• It was not available in every U.S. market;
• There were possible insurance costs that would need to be passed on to partners;
• Some members may not support the program;
• Partnering with an alcohol company many be perceived as negative for media/members;and
• The call volume was trending downward.
Saving the Program
Joanna fought for and saved the program using the following arguments:
• Since the program was developed, AAA Auto Club South removed more than 5,512 drunk drivers from roads as of October 2006;
• The service was utilized during a traditionally slow time for drivers as most calls are late into the evening and do not impact member services;
• The program provided an excellent example of strategic corporate philanthropy;
• Members actively support the program in testimonials;
• Several AAA Clubs offered the program already throughout the country;
• The financial commitment was minimal, since the partner pays all expenses over AAA’s cap;
• The program provided opportunities to work with local police departments in preparation of “no drinking and driving” campaigns;
• Partnering with Budweiser enabled AAA to effectively target most at-risk drivers for overdrinking;
• It was positioned as a program of last resort to control unnecessary call volume; and
• The program provided tracked media value.
Once the program was approved to continue, the team looked at how to leverage partnerships by looking at what their partners goals were and how there may be a cross over with AAA. The organization found that event organizers needed a service to help people find their cars, get help with locked keys, provide rides home after drinking, etc. Out of this observation, AAA formed the Green Response Team, which visited events such as the Super Bowl to provide roadside assistance to motorists on Segway Personal Transporters.
The Green Response Team provided motorists with free roadside assistance on auto lockouts, flat tires, car start issues and other services as needed throughout the stadium. Since crowds were large, the team used Segways to easily maneuver through the crowds instead of trucks.
Because this was a service needed by the event planners, AAA received this exposure at no cost. The Green Response Team took on a personality as well, with a choreographed Segway Cha Cha that was a favorite of fans and a parade appearance.
From the Tow and Go program, AAA reinvented the program for a different audience, teens. On prom night, as we know, many teens drink and drive. Most programs preach, “Don’t Drink” or “Don’t Drink and Drive,” but if youth decide to drink anyway, AAA wanted to provide an alternative.
The organization developed the AAA PROMise, which like the Tow and Go program, provided all teens a safe alternative to arriving home safely with a tow program, but youth must contact their parents before contacting AAA. This program provided AAA an opportunity to introduce teens to AAA, while also providing another community service.
Why didn’t AAA call this the new program Tow and Go? Since Budweiser was a partner in the Tow and Go program, a new name was needed. Budweiser would not make an appropriate sponsor for this program, because of the youth targeted audience.
Research included meeting with local high school students to determine if they would use the service. Many students said they dreaded riding with their parents twice after drinking … home from the evening and then back the next morning to pick up the car, so they would use the service. They also appreciated that AAA was not talking down to them.
AAA promoted the program by sending kits that included windshield decals for students and magnets for parents with the AAA phone number to media, high schools (principals and PIOs), fire rescue and police. They followed up this mailing with phone calls.
From there AAA found student ambassadors that helped get the message into school groups. The program was such a success that groups took it over and provided decals with prom tickets. AAA received numerous calls for more decals.
AAA also held a prom-like event at the AAA headquarters to promote the event, with a DJ and youth speaking about the program.
The pilot was a success and AAA will now roll out in five markets in 2012. AAA plans to test different methods in each of the five markets, since staff is not available to roll it out at the level it was rolled out in the Tampa market. For example, the team will promote a schools in one market, via police in another, etc. The hope is to see which group runs with the program and provides the most publicity.
AAA is also training managers to speak on behalf of the program at all locations.
• AAA uses VOCUS and Critical Mention to measure results.
• Always pick up the phone and call the reporter back, especially on holidays and after hours. This helps build relationships by helping them with stories during slow times.
• Leverage partnerships by looking at key partners and seeing what their goals are and how there may be a cross over.
• Look at other key offerings in your organization and find connections where appropriate.
• Find something in your job that you really care about, make it happen and have fun with it.
• AAA conducts PR for PR, an internal program that shows management and staff how hard the PR team works (since we often make it look so easy). The team video records a showcase that shows just how much work goes into a project.