For nearly a decade, McNeely Pigott & Fox Public Relations has provided government relations, media relations and crisis communications counsel to CSX Transportation, which owns one of the largest rail networks in the United States. For the last six years, CSX has tasked MP&F with providing media relations and logistics support for its biggest community relations event of the year: the Santa Train.
The Santa Train is a cherished tradition in Appalachia. Grandparents, parents and children gather along a 110-mile route on the Saturday before Thanksgiving to wave at Santa and receive gifts handed out by the train’s crew. On Nov. 21, 2009, the train made its way through rural Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee for the 67th time. Volunteers and staff from the event’s three sponsors, CSX, Food City Grocers and the Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce, distributed more than 15 tons of toys and gifts to thousands along the train route.
Logistically, the event is particularly challenging. MP&F is responsible for coordinating interviews and assisting up to 20 members of the media on the train as well as securing a topnotch celebrity guest to volunteer their time to ride the train.
In 2009, MP&F raised the bar on both the media and celebrity fronts. Country music icon Wynonna Judd was secured as “Santa’s helper,” and crews from GAC, Fox News Channel, and several regional and local outlets attended the event.
Additionally, MP&F spearheaded social media efforts that resulted in 2,300 fans on Facebook and a growing presence on Twitter and YouTube, placed a regional ad buy, and coordinated CSX’s communications with the event’s two other sponsors.
In 2009, the Santa Train garnered more than 370 media hits, a more than 100 percent increase from 2008.