Industry Research

NLA Plans To Take TNC Offensive To Media Big Leagues

Martin Romjue
Posted on October 29, 2014
(L to R): NLA executive director Philip Jagiela, NLA attorney Manesh Rath, NLA President Gary Buffo, NLA board director Scott Solombrino and NLA lobbyist Gregory McDonald participate in a TNC State of the Industry Panel on Oct. 19, 2014 at the opening of LCT-NLA Show East in Atlantic City, N.J. Photo by Tim Crowley/LCT

(L to R): NLA executive director Philip Jagiela, NLA attorney Manesh Rath, NLA President Gary Buffo, NLA board director Scott Solombrino and NLA lobbyist Gregory McDonald participate in a TNC State of the Industry Panel on Oct. 19, 2014 at the opening of LCT-NLA Show East in Atlantic City, N.J. Photo by Tim Crowley/LCT

(L to R): NLA executive director Philip Jagiela, NLA attorney Manesh Rath, NLA President Gary Buffo, NLA board director Scott Solombrino and NLA lobbyist Gregory McDonald participate in a TNC State of the Industry Panel on Oct. 19, 2014 at the opening of LCT-NLA Show East in Atlantic City, N.J. Photo by Tim Crowley/LCT
(L to R): NLA executive director Philip Jagiela, NLA attorney Manesh Rath, NLA President Gary Buffo, NLA board director Scott Solombrino and NLA lobbyist Gregory McDonald participate in a TNC State of the Industry Panel on Oct. 19, 2014 at the opening of LCT-NLA Show East in Atlantic City, N.J. Photo by Tim Crowley/LCT

MARLTON, N.J. — The National Limousine Association is about to ink a major deal with the Evins public relations and branding firm for a sweeping media and publicity strategy designed to counter the aggressive marketing by Transportation Network Companies such as Uber and advance limousine operators as the legal and legitimate sources of safe, reliable and quality chauffeured transportation.

The landmark, unprecedented move for the 30-year-old trade association would place its positions into the mainstream media and provide an organized, consistent flow of industry information across the vast multi-media spectrum, including cable TV news channels, newspapers, websites, social media and public relations/press release outlets. Evins, based in New York, also would designate official NLA spokespeople to present a unified public message.

The contract, deemed by the NLA as a done deal, still must be formally signed. The estimated $400,000 annual contract would be funded from the NLA’s $1.2 million reserve fund. The NLA, which now has 2,000-plus members, projects that part of the cost would be offset with an increase in membership dues revenue as limousine operators see more visible, tangible value to NLA membership.  Contract Goals

NLA President Gary Buffo hosts the opening session of LCT-NLA Show East at Caesars Atlantic City, Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. Photo by LCT
NLA President Gary Buffo hosts the opening session of LCT-NLA Show East at Caesars Atlantic City, Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. Photo by LCT

NLA board directors unanimously approved the contact during their Oct. 18 quarterly board meeting in Atlantic City, N.J., just before the start of LCT-NLA Show East. At an NLA-hosted opening panel discussion the next day, NLA President Gary Buffo announced the contract to attendees.

“We narrowed down the P.R. firms to one that we felt understood the direction we have to take,” Buffo said. “They were more furious than we were about what is happening in our market. This firm will take us to the level we need to go to protect our industry and give consumers the facts behind the cars they are getting into.”

“We have to be ready,” he added. “The best thing TNCs have done is make consumers realize they don’t need a car.”

The NLA’s public relations contract follows the release of its six-page position paper on TNCs on Aug. 20. With a P.R. firm, the NLA will push positions that extend beyond the fairness argument being circulated throughout the industry, which asserts TNCs should either be regulated like limousine companies or limousine companies should be de-regulated to the level of TNCs.

“Our argument is that the rules you have to comply with are there for good reasons,” said Manesh Rath, a trial and appellate attorney with the Washington, D.C. law firm Keller & Heckman, who is the NLA’s legal counsel. “The ‘level playing field’ is not the most sympathetic argument. But when [focusing on] the reasons for rules as to why, the answer to the next question becomes self-evident: Why aren’t TNCs being held up to the same rigorous process? This is a factual recitation, a message that has to be a driving force behind all initiatives of the association.”

Contract Goals
According to the Oct. 18 presentation by Evins, the media/public relations program would cover five primary goals:

  • Position the NLA as the authority and voice for chauffeured transportation, in regards to the rise of Transportation Network Companies/on-demand car services, and in general.
  • Develop, implement and promote NLA’s official position and strategy regarding TNCs/on-demand car services.
  • Increase conversation and preference among consumers and influencers for chauffeured transportation.
  • Develop and implement a strategic media and digital/ social media program, underscoring the NLA’s role and responsibility to promote and protect the interests of chauffeured transportation.
  • Cultivate relationships for NLA with appropriate influencer media in order to garner impactful media coverage.

In addition to Buffo and Rath, the Oct. 19 panel during which the contract was announced included NLA board director and Dav El/BostonCoach CEO Scott Solombrino, NLA lobbyist Gregory J. McDonald of Cornerstone Government Affairs in Washington, D.C., and NLA executive director Philip Jagiela.

In a pugnacious, passionate rhetorical flourish, NLA board director Scott Solombrino decimated Transportation Network Companies, such as Uber, during the panel discussion.
In a pugnacious, passionate rhetorical flourish, NLA board director Scott Solombrino decimated Transportation Network Companies, such as Uber, during the panel discussion.

With vigorous hand gestures and pointed fingers, Solombrino exhorted the industry to fight TNCs and outlined the high stakes for limousine operators. His fiery oratory, reminiscent of an evangelist, spelled out the new NLA strategy in stark language:

“Why are we taking these steps? To put into simple terms, the TNCs are a scourge on the entire industry. They have come in here with no regard for rules, insurance, or [safety] regulations. They are horrendous people. They don’t play by rules.”

A key component of the NLA message strategy will be to highlight the safety drawbacks of TNCs, evident in a spate of headlines this year about criminal behavior by TNC drivers toward passengers amid other service failures. That message needs to be brought to corporations that procure business travel services, said Solombrino, elaborating on Rath’s comments.

“We as a sector have to go out and find the advantage. Corporations do not want to use companies that do not have proper training, safety, and background checks because it causes a duty-of-care problem. That says if you get up and go to work for a corporation, you are under the duty of care of the corporation you work for. If you are on a business trip, you are on duty of care 24 hours per day. They are liable, insure you, protect you and pay for you to be fixed. We are going to corporate compliance departments and telling them, ‘Wait, these are rule breakers. You don’t know if the driver is a rapist, a murderer, a pedophile, a lunatic. Nowhere does it say TNCs take responsibility for employees. They have no liability. You are using their product at your own risk.’”

The NLA also will need to be vigilant at the federal level, since Uber and TNCs likely will push Congress to approve federal exemptions to transportation regulations. Uber’s hiring of former Obama campaign strategist David Plouffe underscores this effort, said NLA lobbyist McDonald, who also warned that TNCs are trying to cultivate support among Democrats and Republicans.

“It does suggest that TNCs have shifted their focus from a city-by-city fight to seek a federal solution,” McDonald said. “I’m not sure what that would be. Would the TNCs follow the model of de-regulating phone companies? David Plouffe managed a campaign to take on an entrenched incumbent, Hillary Clinton. They motivated young people and harnessed a ton of data. That is the Uber model in government affairs and public campaigns. But elected officials do go in the direction of public opinion and listen to it. Once we engage with national and local media outlets, we’ll see how local and federal officials respond.”

Rath reminded attendees that public and political opinion is susceptible to change. “TNCs are not inevitable. Uber is a lot like file-sharing and other online business models. Regulators stopped paying attention to finer points of legality. But it is conceivable to change consumer behavior in the passenger transportation industry, just like with Napster. The gap in consumer perception can be bridged, but that takes a huge effort.”

In the meantime, limousine operators should embrace technological changes and improve service levels, Solombrino said. “Everyone needs to stop whining about TNCs, and start competing against them. Get aggressive, get an app to compete. Punch them in the face. They will not own the market. They invested in a better mousetrap, so go out there and [create] an even better mousetrap and compete.”

Related Topics: communications, Gary Buffo, handling the media, LCT-NLA Show East, lobbying, Manesh Rath, marketing/promotions, National Limousine Association, NLA board of directors, Philip Jagiela, public relations, Scott Solombrino

Martin Romjue Editor
Comments ( 6 )
  • SDUberdriver

     | about 4 years ago

    Question. If an Uber driver,such as myself. Has a TCP Permit from the CA PUC,Commercial Insurance and I am in the CA DMV Pull Program. And I have a CA Commercial License Class B with Air and Passenger Endorsements. Including 24 years driving commercial vehicles AND 18 years in the limousine field. That includes being an owner as well as driving all sizes of limousines and SUV limos. Am I still operating illegally as an Uber driver?

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