Why Amtrak’s Writer in Residence Program is Brilliant PR


View from our last Amtrak ride on the Capital Corridor
View from our last Amtrak ride on the Capital Corridor

As unabashed sentimentalists, we love riding Amtrak, grinning like a little kid every time the train horn sounds. Whether it’s the cushy seats, free WiFi, dining cars, easy boarding process or generally relaxed passengers who aren’t stressed from shoving gigantic suitcases in crowded overhead bins or irritated from a horrible TSA experience, riding Amtrak is a darn good time for the patient. We’re not going to lie, it definitely takes longer to get from point A to point B but hey, sometimes in life, you have to stop and smell the railroad tracks.

Throughout the years, it goes without saying that train travel has decreased. We’re a “hurry up and go” society and Amtrak is anything but fast. The old-fashioned brand appeared to be getting left behind by the rapid digital world we exist in where quick bursts of Vine clips are the preferred forms of communication.

But Amtrak has embraced digital forms of communication, constantly tweeting and updating the public via its social media platforms. Amtrak is one of the better brands who listen to their fans on Twitter. We’ve tweeted them before and were impressed by how quickly they responded, and how responsive. Clearly, Amtrak has a good grasp of using the digital tools that have obliterated many of the brands Amtrak came up with.

One of the smartest things Amtrak has done recently is listen to their fans’ requests. After writer Jessica Gross tweeted about her enjoyment of writing on trains, she then tweeted that she wished Amtrak had a writer’s residency program. Amtrak did the unthinkable – listened to its customers (gasp!) and actually decided to try it out. It’s one thing for a brand to say “hey, thanks, we’re listening!” and another altogether to say “hey, great idea, let’s do it!”

It’s hard not to admire that. It’s not only adventurous (especially for a brand as old as Amtrak) but it’s smart. Why not listen to the people who pay to keep your business afloat? Amtrak just gained a huge surge in social media buzz and media articles, making an age-old form of transformation relevant and hip again, and not just with sentimentalists.

Amtrak’s promotion of the #AmtrakResidency hashtag has resulted in excitement (just search that hashtag) and massive engagement and, above all, the program (if it goes through) will create endless free content for Amtrak to mine, much like GoPro and its limitless supply of brilliant user-created content. Like GoPro, Amtrak is embracing and showcasing what its customers are doing, rather than ignoring them.

Ultimately, this is a win-win for Amtrak with little downside. They generally don’t sell out all of their seats so they’re not losing revenue by giving away a few free seats. The cost of executing this idea is minimal. The free PR takes care of itself. And if someone doesn’t like the idea, they can blame their fellow riders since it didn’t originate from Amtrak. Win!