How Metra Ruined Its Best Community Engagement Tool

For more than 25 years, Metra, the commuter railroad in the Chicagoland area, has had a wonderful newsletter called On the Bi-Level. It used to be a fantastic tool for interacting with riders. The newsletter is printed every month and distributed on each train in the system. The best two parts of the newsletter used to be:
  • "Sounding Board" was a forum for riders to ask Metra questions. Metra would write back with hilarious, sometimes snarky, responses.
  • "Sound Off" was by far the best newsletter feature. Riders would write in to complain about fellow riders. The stories they told were incredibly entertaining. Here's one of my favorite submissions, from an August 2006 letter (featured in the absolutely awesome 25th anniversary issue):
"Today I saw an all-time first. ...A young brunette began fumbling with her purse, pulled out a can of aerosol hair spray and began spraying her hair. The man behind her gagged a bit but no one said a word. Unbelievable! I am never going to complain about cell phones again." 

Sounding Off 
Riders used to love the Metra newsletter. It brought us together. It was our newsletter and a perfect example of how a brand could connect with its community in an engaging way (that's #5 on my list of 5 Marketing Communication Must-Haves outlined in my book).

But everything changed in October 2012. Sounding Board and Sound Off stopped appearing in the newsletter. Over night, the newsletter became just like every other newsletter: self-serving and boring. And now very few people even grab a copy of the newsletter when it comes out. Check out some of the exciting article titles since Sounding Board and Sound Off went away:
  • Metra to add to website to boost transparency (April 2013)
  • Board now using new committee structure (March 2013)
  • 10-ride tickets still convenient (January 2013)
Boring! If riders want to read about these topics, they can go to Metra's website.

I've been writing emails to Metra and tweeting their CEO, Alex Clifford, for months, begging him to bring back our beloved newsletter features. Mr. Clifford wrote me and said Metra was "considering all newsletter content options," but the columns haven't returned.

Alex Clifford was dismissed from his job two weeks ago as CEO and I'm hopeful that under a new leader, Metra will give us back our favorite newsletter columns. Metra riders, please join me in my quest to bring back the Sounding Board and Sound Off. Write to Metra at and ask that they bring them back. Together, we can save a 25-year old Metra tradition.

Thanks for reading. I will let you know if anything changes with On the Bi-Level.

 There's never a lack of ideas.

Popular posts from this blog

How to Advertise Your High School Reunion

Only Old People Choose Butter Pecan Ice Cream

2018 Super Bowl Ads: Match the Celebrity Endorsers