Uber Goes Big (And Small) In Messaging Effort Leading Up to Key Ride-Share Vote

OK, so now they’ll vote.

After delaying the decision two weeks to make sure it got it right, the City Council’s Committee on Taxi, For-Hire and Limousine Regulations is set to officially weigh in today on a set of regulations that ride share companies in Seattle say would kill their operations. Mike O’Brien, Bruce Harrell and Chair Sally Clark – the three members of the Seattle’s taxi committee – having studied, debated, listened and pondered the decision for nearly a year. The vote today, which may include all nine council members by the time things are said and done, is “expected to endorse restricting the number of driver permits to 300 in a two-year pilot that would allow the city to further assess how the ride services, which use phone apps to dispatch drivers, should operate safely in the city, while giving existing taxi and for-hire companies a chance to catch up technologically with their own app,” according to the Seattle Times’ Alexa Vaughn.

The cap on driver permits is the main item of contention within the proposed regulations, which also cover safety and insurance concerns. According to Uber Seattle General Manager Brooke Steger, the rules Seattle’s taxi committee seems poised to impose “are some of the most devastating” the company has seen proposed in any market. “Being from here, and thinking about how open-minded and progressive this city can be,” Steger says of the proposal, “to me it’s shocking.”

Steger’s message mirrors one featured in an ad her company purchased in the Stranger this week, and it’s just one arm of what has developed into a mix of orchestrated and organic support for UberX and its fellow ride share companies in the lead-up to today’s vote. In addition to the ad, Uber has gone old-school with the distribution of flyers and magnets to help get the pro-ride share message out. The company has also upped its game with the hiring of Gallatin Public Affairs, a Northwest-based PR firm with clients ranging from Nike, Facebook and Monsanto to the Badger Region Volleyball Association. As the Seattle PI’s Joel Connelly highlighted in 2012, Gallatin has also worked for Millennium Bulk Terminals, a Longview coal export facility. Now it can claim Seattle Uber as one of its varied clients.

“One-hundred percent of the things that we do are driven by Uber,” says Steger of the messaging effort and her company’s deal with Gallatin. “We just sometimes need a little bit of support and manpower in the city.”

While plenty of Uber’s message has been delivered by the company, which has a 10-person team based in Seattle, still more of it has apparently spread organically. Seahawks Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and Sidney Rice have tweeted their support for Uber, free of charge, according to Steger, as has Seattle mega-star Macklemore (who, we’re told, has loved ride share since before pre-k).

Steger says the “Seahawks have been wildly supportive of us,” and that many of the players utilize Uber’s services. Of Macklemore’s endorsement, she says the Grammy winner reached out to the company to see how he could help, and that all the support he’s provided on social media has been of his own mind. Macklemore’s pro-Uber messages were “generated with him,” Steger says, indicating that the company’s involvement has largely been only in “providing him the link” to post to Twitter or Facebook.

“We’ve been very transparent,” says Steger of Uber’s messaging efforts and who the company is working with. “We’re not going to pay someone to post something.”

With its message effectively out, the question now for Uber and Seattle’s other ride share outfits is how effective the rallying will be. We’ll see this afternoon at City Hall. While today’s vote- assuming it doesn’t get delayed again - will simply move the regulations out of committee and to a vote of the full council as early as March 10, all council members are allowed to attend any committee meeting, and vote, when they see fit. An aide to Councilmember Mike O’Brien tells Seattle Weekly that all of Seattle City Council members are expected to vote today, meaning the decision will likely be sealed.

“I can’t say how effective it’s actually going to be,” Steger says of Uber’s PR efforts. “Just based on what I’ve seen, we have the support of the people.”

The Council, however, may be a different story.

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