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MassPort “Wastes” $10k on Direct Air PR Campaign

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Massachusetts Port Authority’s (MassPort) damage control after Direct Air went bust cost the quasi-state authority $10,000. Through a records request, GoLocalWorcester found out that MassPort spent $10,042.20 of public dollars on a full-page advertisement in the Telegram & Gazette. The goal was to explain why Worcester Regional Airport will be a success with or without Direct Air.

This full page ad came 15 days after GoLocalWorcester first broke the story that the only commercial airline at Worcester Regional Airport was stopping service due to financial problems. It also followed hundreds of news reports relating to Direct Air and Worcester Regional Airport explaining the situation.

Richard Walsh, Assistant Director of Communications & Marketing for the MassPort, said, “The media did a fine job covering Direct Air. I believe GoLocal broke the story. MassPort wanted to get its message out that regardless of Direct Air suspending service, that MassPort stays committed to Worcester Regional Airport as a transportation asset to Central Massachusetts.”

Walsh said the media move was also for prospective airlines, “We need to show airlines that there are numbers we can show that there’s a market to sustain the airport.”

David Mackey, interim CEO & Executive Director of MassPort wrote the full page advertisement where he addressed how the passenger traffic has doubled in the last three years from 50,000 in 2009 to 100,000 in 2011.

Mackey said Direct Air suspending service to all 17 of its markets was not connected to its business in Worcester.

An irate reader sent GoLocalWorcester the full-page ad from the Telegram

Hundreds of media outlets reported Direct Air filed for bankruptcy.

Mackey let its customers know in the ad how MassPort assisted stranded travelers by setting up a dedicated email and phone line for Direct Air passengers. Mackey wrote, “The loyalty of Central Massachusetts passengers and the impressive growth Direct Air experienced after it arrived in 2008 proved what we have said about Worcester all along, that a viable market for commercial service does exist in Central Massachusetts and justifies continued support by the Commonwealth, Massport and the local community.”

Walsh said, “We wanted to make sure the message was made clear, Direct Air failing had nothing to do with Worcester airport.” 

Mackey said in the letter, “Further, Worcester has a proven track record when it comes to commercial carriers.”

Public Relations Failure?

Susan Wagner, a GoLocalWorcester contributor and Public Relations specialist said if MassPort was her client she would not have advised them to allocate their money this way.

Wagner said, “There’s been such a history of failure at the airport. Every airline that has been brought in has failed. My feeling is that at this point they are trying to be very clear and let people know they have an agenda. They want to shore up some credibility. It has become such a frustration for people who live here.”

Despite recent events, Mackey did try to drive his point home that, “Worcester has a proven track record when it comes to commercial carriers.”

Wagner seems to disagree. “We have the second largest city in New England and there’s such a failure of commercial air service. There seems to be one direction the airport is going in, which is not forward. We have dealt with this issue for 22 years. At some point there needs to be some reassurance that MassPort will take successful action.”

Wagner explained the approach MassPort should implement: “Taking out an ad in the Telegram is not what I would have advised them to do. They should have done a PR campaign and create a vision, articulate it to the public and then actually have a plan for success.”

Another local PR expert, Joe Giacobbe, General Manager of Palley Advertising also thought the ad was the wrong approach. Giacobbe said, “My initial thoughts would be they did it to try to calm the situation and create some goodwill. It also could be because the ad contains specific information about Direct Air it wanted to communicate but that is an expensive way to do it. If they were my client, I would not have done the ad as I think people will question why they spent the money to do it. They could have easily done morning talk radio and reached the same audience as T&G.”

Waste of Public Dollars

Worcester Republican activist, Chris Pinto does not believe this is a good use of public dollars. Pinto said, “There are so many constitutional office holders that should be looking into this wasteful spending, but for pedantic reasons we can list them here: Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Treasurer and Auditor.”

Pinto’s concerns go beyond wasted public dollars. He said, “It is well known that newspapers curry favors to their advertisers. When I hear this news I can not help but wonder what stories about the MBTA will NOT get covered by the T&G going forward as a result of such a huge ad spend.”

MassPort doesn’t receive money from Massachusetts’ taxpayers, but instead collects fees from airlines, parking at the airports, plus food and concession fees.  


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