Tulsa Public Relations Case Study: Tulsa’s “Fix Our Streets” Street Improvements Campaign

Background.

In fall 2007, the City of Tulsa appointed a citizens panel to extensively study the issue of Tulsa’s rapidly declining streets and make recommendations on how Tulsa could best repair them. The panel reported its findings, and then the Tulsa City Council held weekly committee meetings and launched a series of town hall meetings throughout the city to listen to what citizens had to say.

In July/August 2008, the Tulsa City Council considered putting two comprehensive streets plans on the Nov. 4 ballot: the five-year, $451 million streets plan and a 12-year streets plan costing $2 billion. (An August 2008 poll showed that 47% of respondents favored the five-year streets plan compared to 26% who favored the 12-year streets plan. Approximately 17% said they would vote AGAINST both plans.)

Using residents’ input from these town hall meetings, and with additional input from several city officials and the Public Works Department, this five-year streets plan was submitted to the City Council. It was ultimately approved and placed on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Because of legal reasons, the plan was required to appear on the ballot in two parts – Propositions 1 and 2. Proposition 1 provided $166 million in funding primarily for arterial streets, and Proposition 2 – which included a new tax – provided $285 million primarily toward non-arterial (neighborhood) streets. BOTH parts had to pass by a simple majority for the five-year plan and its projects to be fully implemented.

Waller & Company’s work.

Waller & Company was brought in to handle all aspects of the massive public relations effort to educate Tulsa County residents about the benefits of passing both propositions so that meaningful infrastructure work could be initiated.

We developed and oversaw a wide variety of public affairs, media relations and community relations efforts as part of this campaign – from conducting focus groups and pitching a wide range of stories about the streets plan to holding press conferences and arranging editorial board meetings for Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor and Tulsa Public Works officials. We also created numerous information pieces to “simplify” the plan so that residents could understand the different components and not be scared by the project’s overall price tag.

A September 2008 poll showed that 57% of respondents were FOR Proposition 1. However, 56% were AGAINST Proposition 2. After extensive PR efforts and working with other team members in a concerted effort that included grassroots efforts, a campaign website and advertising, the five-year streets plan passed Nov. 4 with 61% of Tulsa voters supporting Proposition 1 and 60% supporting Proposition 2. More than 158,000 votes were cast on the issue.

City leaders were extremely appreciative of Waller’s efforts and the work we accomplished to educate Tulsa County residents about the street improvements plan. Our firm worked on the “Fix Our Streets” campaign from approximately July 21 to Nov. 4, 2008 and during those 107 days the five year-streets plan received 166 “trackable” media hits: 71 online media hits, 44 print media hits and 51 TV and radio hits.