Interview with 2019 Gold Quill Award winner Alain Legault

Published on November 30, 2019
Expert advice, Member spotlight By Sada Reddy

A seasoned, bilingual communicator, Alain Legault is director of corporate communications and public relations for the Société de transport de Montréal (STM), Montréal’s transit authority. His experience includes director of communications, public affairs and government relations at Cégep Édouard-Montpetit, chief of staff for the director at the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) and teaching media relations at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM).  He joined the IABC Montréal chapter board in 2010 and was president from 2013 to 2015 before joining IABC’s international executive board as a director in 2016 and serving as IABC treasurer in 2018.

Alain and his team won a 2019 IABC Gold Quill Award of Excellence in the Communication, Skills – Special and Experiential Events category for the “Thanks MR-63” project. IABC Montréal spoke to Alain about his winning project, how the team handled the many emotional components of the project and advice he has for others who are wondering if they should submit a project.

What was the “Thanks MR-63” about?

“Thanks MR-63” was the farewell tour of the first metro train in Montréal before the model was retired. The purpose of the project was to give Montrealers a chance to “thank” the old train for its service and ride on it one last time before the model was retired. The STM decided to have the car make a tour of every line of the metro network. After the tour, all MR-63s, except for a few, were to be dismantled.

The tour started on June 21, 2018, and had a huge impact on customers and employees; both are very attached to the old train.

The old metro trains are near and dear to the hearts of Montrealers…what tactics were used to respect and highlight this emotional component of the project?

We wanted to make sure everyone had a chance to see the train…this was the reason for the tour. It was not easy because the network is tightly scheduled, and the tour had to fit into the regular STM schedule…it was a logistical challenge.

We built a communication platform that leveraged social media to support the tour, so customers knew where the train was at any given time. We also wanted customers to understand why the MR-63 was on tour.

The STM already had a huge social media following, so it was easy to use Twitter and Facebook to make sure people were aware of “Thanks MR-63”. There was still an element of surprise when they found out where the trains were. A high level of engagement with STM followers was one of the keys to success – Montrealers would post pictures when they saw the MR-63 and employees followed up on social media posts.

For employees we had a robust internal communication component

We made sure the rail car stood out when compared to today’s cars. There was an “Au Revoir” sign on the outside of the train. The interior had photos and the history of the car, as well as the purpose of the “Thanks MR-63” project. The train conductor was dressed as he would have been when the train was introduced. It was fun for the customers.

What kind of support did you receive from your organization before, during, and after the project?

In order for the project to be a success the communication team had to work very closely with the operations team.  All team members were proud of the project upon completion.

We did a press release and recognized the whole team after winning the Gold Quill.  When the award was presented in Vancouver, we posted to our social media channels to make sure every STM employee knew about it. This was great recognition of the comms team because peer acknowledgement is encouraging. It boosts the reputation of the group inside the organization. The STM is very good about making sure employees are made aware of external recognition given to internal teams.

When did you start thinking about submitting “Thanks MR-63” for a Gold Quill?

Whenever the comms team is involved in a project, we always look at the “prize” prospects. I have staff dedicated to submitting our projects for international recognition. Last year we entered approximately 17 contests and we won 15. Specifically, for “Thanks MR-63”, we entered four or five contests and we won all of them.  

We always make sure the metrics are in place before starting the work so that we can use them if we need to. If we do this, we have the data and can easily prepare this for a Gold Quill award.

Our biggest challenge comes with the translation…everything must be in English when we submit to IABC. We need to make sure the emotion we put into the communications comes through when our work is translated from French into English. We strive to ensure the translation does not come across like a translation, but rather original work. Emotion is not easy to translate. In addition, the translation adds a few more steps to the submission process. We start thinking about putting the Gold Quill documentation together two months in advance.

And what about now?

We held a contest for groups to submit a project to re-use the retired MR-63s for another purpose.  Two MR-63 wagons are set to become part of a public square at the corner of Peel and Ottawa streets that will include a café, a bar and an open terrace complete with micro-brewed beer, art and pop-up design shops.

Another winning project will be with École Polytechnique, where the rail car will promote Montréal heritage and celebrate Montréal engineering. During C2 Montréal, some trains were at the Lachine Canal.  Of course, some trains were sent to the rail museum in Saint-Constant.

In fact, the STM recently won a prize for the way the trains were dismantled. As many of the parts as possible will be re-used or sent to recycling facilities. Part of the project was that even after the MR-63s were retired, they would still useful; they would not end up in a scrapyard.

What advice would you give other IABC members thinking of submitting their work for a Gold Quill?

I would say that they should think about the Gold Quill submission before the project starts so the metrics in place. Documenting goals and measurable metrics are a good practice for all professionals. Try to do something original that will give people the incentive to go further than they might on a normal project.

One of the most important aspects of the Gold Quill is the recognition from around the world since IABC is a global organization.  The lift the team gets from winning a prize like this is priceless. Winning is also a great way to show how much value the communication team adds to the organization.