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Greetings From Old Orchard Beach Maine!

Bill_Smith_Jan.2015

I’m sitting on the beach with a suitably fruity drink in my hand. Yes, that’s Jimmy Buffett playing in the background. It’s nice to have a little stress-free time, isn’t it?

We all look forward to vacation so we can strip some of the stress from our lives, but it seems to me that we cause a lot of our own stress unnecessarily. One of the ways we do this is to chase every bit of work that presents itself. You’ve all been there: staying at the office late to finish a proposal for work that you aren’t even sure you want to win. Work isn’t always going to be fun (that’s why it’s called work, right?), but we shouldn’t be setting ourselves up for failure by pursuing projects that we don’t want to do or pitching people with whom we don’t want to work.

All too often, though, that’s exactly what we do. At many organizations, the mantra is “any work is good work.”

Rather than pursuing every opportunity that presents itself, parking organizations should seek clients, customers, and strategic partners they want to work with. The best connections are with organizations that share your values. The best customers value what you do and what you stand for—and, by the way, they are more willing to pay a premium for it.

How do you find these ideal customers? Part of the challenge is truly understanding the markets you serve and where the best clients can be found, and then directing your marketing—your personal outreach and networking, public relations, advertising, online marketing, etc.—to those targets, and other organizations like them.

Also, tell your story in your marketing. Who are you? Why do you do what you do? What sets you and your people apart? When you convey these types of messages, you will naturally attract the types of organizations with which you want to work. They will seek you out.

Connecting with the right customers (not just any customer) will dramatically improve your organization. Your organization will be more successful, your customer interactions will be more pleasant, and your stress level (and your staffs’) will drop significantly. It makes work a day at the beach.

Get Ahead Of Local Parking Coverage

Bill_Smith_Jan.2015

During the past five years, thanks in part to IPI’s Parking Matters® national public relations and marketing efforts, positive stories about parking abound. According to IPI’s soon-to-be published Emerging Trends in Parking Survey, nearly 50 percent of parking professionals surveyed think perceptions of parking are improving. But, we all know when local papers run editorials about parking,  the coverage isn’t always fair and parking is often misunderstood. When parking is in the news often there’s a problem—or a perceived problem—with local parking. Unfortunately, it’s a lesson that has been learned by dozens of cities in recent months, from Tampa to Los Angeles.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire right? Actually, no. Sometimes smoke is just smoke.

Unfortunately, when it comes to municipal parking plans and regulations, misunderstandings abound, but a proactive communications program can go a long way in helping educate stakeholders, including the media, so media coverage is balanced. Residents, business owners, and other stakeholders have opinions about how parking should be managed but they typically don’t understand what goes into parking planning and why planning decisions are made. Do parking tickets seem too expensive? There’s probably a planning rationale behind the rates. Do the hours of meter operations seem inconvenient or do parking time limits seem too short? There are planning reasons for these regulations too. The problem is, stakeholders often aren’t aware of why these decisions are made.

Cities and towns typically don’t systematically market their parking operations. Sure, they may do outreach when there’s an issue, but by then it’s too late. They’ve lost control of the context of the discussion when people are complaining and the newspapers are editorializing.

Every city and town should have a strategic communications program designed to keep the public informed about its parking rules and regulations and what the municipal parking plan is designed to accomplish. Such a plan should include:

  • Media outreach: This includes distributing press releases, backgrounders, and other media materials designed to inform the press about key parking policies and the roles they play in public policies. Outreach should also include regular briefings with editors, reporters, and editorial writers to explain parking initiatives and answer questions from the media.
  • Social media: Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, and other social media platforms provide direct access to the public and other stakeholders. Take advantage of these tools to keep the public informed of parking initiatives and what they are accomplishing.
  • Websites: By designing websites to inform the public of parking regulations and initiatives, cities and towns can assure that accurate and timely information is available to the public.
  • Public meetings: Parking administrators should regularly engage business and community leaders to keep them informed of parking plans.

It’s not enough merely to communicate, however. Communications programs must be proactive rather than reactive. In addition to providing valuable information, communications programs should anticipate concerns and grievances and head them off before they become issues.

If you’re looking for examples of positive local parking marketing efforts, read the inspiring case studies of the 16 winners of the Parking Matters Marketing & Communications Awards on the website or in The Parking Professional in July.

Take a proactive approach to informing the public about your parking program. You’ll sleep easier when you don’t have to worry about seeing your name in tomorrow’s editorial.

 

You Really Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

Bill Smith

I’m 51 years old. I don’t know how old that is in dog years, but I do know that I’m not too old to learn. This was reinforced for me during the past six months as I worked with a brilliant team of branding professionals to put together a new website.

Now, right up front, I need to be honest: my old website stunk. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. It was boring. And because I hadn’t updated it since 2008, it was really outdated too. Ever heard about the cobbler’s kids needing new shoes?

The first thing I learned was that as much as branding is about what you know and what you do (and what you’ve done in the past, of course), it’s just as important to build your brand around who you are. What’s important to you (or your organization)? What do you stand for? Why do you do what you do?

Are you trying to revolutionize the ways parkers work with technology? Are you trying to rewrite the rules for how parking facilities are designed? Are you trying to make communities more sustainable through parking planning? These are your stories. Tell them. In a crowded marketplace filled with excellent engineers or planners or technology providers or parking operators, often, it’s who you are that makes you stand out.

The design process taught me something else: it’s not just about getting new customers; it’s about getting the right customers. Letting your personality and values shine throughout your marketing will help you attract customers and partners with whom you want to work.

Redesigning my website was an illuminating experience. It showed me that I may be an old dog, but I can still learn a few tricks.

A Two-Way Street

Bill Smith

Most people think of marketing as selling, and to some extent they are correct. Selling is about the transaction and that’s certainly an important part of marketing. But to me, marketing is much more.Twoway

It’s really about communicating. It’s about letting fellow parking professionals know what’s special about your organization; letting prospective customers know what sets you apart and why they need to work with you; letting potential partners know what value you can bring to a relationship; and letting parking industry stars know why you are a great place to work.

Like all successful communication, marketing is a two-way street. What you learn is just as important as what you say.  Too many organizations make the mistake of thinking that marketing is about controlling the dialogue. They create their messages in a vacuum and then force-feed them to their audiences.

It’s essential to be constantly listening to your audiences so you know what they want when you are developing your products and services and creating sales strategies. Paying close attention to what your audiences are saying also lets you know where you stand so you can adjust your messages.

From a marketing perspective, there are a number of ways to encourage your audiences to engage you. On a micro level, one-on-one communication with customers and influential parking leaders can provide invaluable feedback. Also, pay close attention to industry publications such as The Parking Professional as well as publications in other industries with an interest in parking, to keep up with what your customers and competitors are saying. Parking and other industry conferences also provide valuable opportunities to keep up with the most important issues affecting your customers.

Social media also promotes two-way communication. It allows organizations to engage their audiences and receive direct feedback. LinkedIn and Facebook, for instance, allow readers to respond directly to posts while Twitter permits re-tweets and response tweets. These and other social media platforms have changed the landscape, and you should take advantage of this new dynamic.

Ultimately, marketing, like any other type of communication, requires give and take to be successful. Make sure you are listening as much as you’re talking.

 

 

Are You Prepared For The Phablet Age?

Bill Smith

I’m an early adopter. I love toys, especially electronic ones. For the past few years, my favorites have been made by Apple—my Macbook Pro, iPad, and iPhone. So it should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I’ve already picked up an iPhone 6. I think I showed great restraint by waiting until the second day of release to get one, though!

I’m having a blast playing with my new toy. The bigger screen is easier on this old man’s eyes, and it’s much easier for me to type on. But the thing that stands out mostly for me is how the advent of the phablet (a cross between a smartphone and a tablet) is going to change marketing. Smartphones are nothing more than portable computers, and today’s larger phones with massive screens make them that much more useful for Web browsing and emailing.

If your organization hasn’t adapted to the new world order of phablets, you need to. According to one study, one in three Internet users already does the bulk of his or her surfing via mobile technologies. Organizations that haven’t optimized their online content for mobile users are behind the times and in danger of being left in the dust by their competition.

This is particularly true for parking companies. After all, whose customers are more mobile? Drivers want quick and convenient access to information about parking programs, available parking spaces, and validation—not to mention mobile payment options. But the power of mobile networking goes beyond drivers. City managers, parking owners, and facility operators use their iPads and smart phones to access information about consulting firms, technology companies, and other suppliers.

Desktop computers are so 20th century. If you want to compete in today’s marketplace, your online content needs to be smartphone friendly. Welcome to The Phablet Age!

Get Out Ahead Of Local Parking Coverage

Bill Smith

When local papers are running editorials about parking, it’s generally not a good thing. Typically, it means that there’s a problem—or a perceived problem—with local parking. Unfortunately, it’s a lesson that has been learned by dozens of cities.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire right? Actually, no. Sometimes smoke is just smoke. When you wave it away, there’s nothing there.

Unfortunately, when it comes to municipal parking plans and regulations, misunderstandings abound. Residents, business owners, and other stakeholders have opinions about how parking should be managed, but they might not understand what goes into parking planning and why planning decisions are made. Do parking tickets seem too expensive? There’s probably a planning rationale behind the rates. Do the hours of meter operations seem inconvenient or time limits seem too short? There are reasons for these regulations too. The problem is, stakeholders often aren’t aware of why decisions are made.

Cities and towns typically don’t systematically market their parking operations. Sure, they may do outreach when there’s an issue, but by then it’s too late. They’ve lost control of the context of the discussion when people are complaining and newspapers are editorializing.

Every city and town should have a strategic communications program designed to keep the public informed about parking rules and regulations and what the municipal parking plan is designed to accomplish. Such a plan should include:

  • Media outreach: This includes distributing press releases, backgrounders, and other media materials designed to inform the press about key parking policies and the roles they play in public policies. Outreach should also include regular briefings with editors, reporters, and editorial writers to explain parking initiatives and answer questions from the media. IPI’s Parking Matters® program provides this handy resource on speaking about parking in positive terms.
  • Social media: Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, and other social media platforms provide direct access to the public and other stakeholders. Take advantage of these tools to keep the public informed of parking initiatives and what they are accomplishing.
  • Websites: By creating discrete websites designed to inform the public of parking regulations and initiatives, cities and towns can assure that accurate and timely information is available to the public.
  • Public meetings: Parking administrators should regularly engage business and community leaders to keep them informed of parking plans.

It’s not enough merely to communicate, however. Communications programs must be proactive rather than reactive. In addition to providing valuable information, communications programs should anticipate concerns and grievances and head them off before they become issues. They should also be used to communicate good news—and parking has lots of that to share.

Take a proactive approach to informing the public about your parking program. You’ll sleep easier when you don’t have to worry about seeing your name in tomorrow’s editorial.

Getting Ready For The Big D

Bill Smith

Many of you are preparing for your annual trek to the 2014 IPI Conference & Expo. In just a few days, you’ll be in Texas, reconnecting with old friends and colleagues, checking out the latest products, and engaging in professional development through presentations on the latest trends and best practices.

As someone who specializes in parking and marketing, this is a particularly exciting event. In addition to the usual presentations on parking-related topics, this year will also feature the inaugural presentation of the IPI Parking Matters® Marketing and Communications Awards at the Tuesday morning general session from 8 to 9:30 a.m.. In addition to recognizing excellence in marketing, they also provide an opportunity to share marketing best practices with other parking organizations, demonstrating what works and how organizations have used these best practices to promote not only themselves, but the industry as a whole.

Parking professionals know how their work affects people’s lives every day. Through IPI’s Parking Matters® program and through the marketing programs of individual organizations, the industry has done a terrific job of educating the public about the importance of parking to their lives and exciting new parking developments and trends. But there is still much work to be done when it comes to promoting parking.

It is incumbent upon us to market ourselves, our organizations, and the industry. The IPI Conference & Expo presents a wonderful opportunity for parking professionals to demonstrate their marketing achievements and share ideas and experiences.

As you attend presentations to learn about new tools, management approaches, and trends, think about where communication fits into the lessons you are learning. If you return home with an idea for a new parking initiative for your hometown, think about how you will communicate that initiative to local leaders and citizens. If you decide to implement a new technology that you find at the symposium, plan for how you will educate parkers about the benefits of that technology. If you learn a new management approach, think about how you will educate management and staff about that approach, how it will work, and how it will benefit the organization.

We live in a communication age, and the importance of strategic communication touches on everything we do. So as you attend presentations in Dallas and share ideas with colleagues, think about where communication fits into what you are learning and which communication strategies will be most effective in sharing what you have learned when you return home.

Bill Smith’s presentation, Marketing Matters: Why Your Marketing Is Coming Up Short And How To Fix It will be offered on Tuesday, June 3.

Time to Rethink Your Marketing

Bill Smith

It’s the best time of the year. Ok, it’s the second best time of year—the night my beloved Red Sox won the World Series was the best time of the year. Still, the holiday season is pretty nice.

For many consultants and companies that serve the parking industry, this is also one of the busiest and most important times of the year. That’s because it’s strategic planning time. Corporate leaders are thinking about what new markets they will explore in the coming months, what new products and services they’ll introduce, and how they will continue to meet the needs of current customers. This is the time of year during which the foundation is built for next year’s success—and for success even further down the road.

Yet, as important as this planning season is for companies, most take an incomplete approach. One important area in which organizations fall short is not including marketing in the planning process. Rather than considering marketers important members of the strategy team, most organizations treat them as tacticians tasked merely with selling the organization’s strategic plan.

Your marketing professionals—whether in-house staff or on-call consultants—bring a unique skillset and knowledge base to the table. They are familiar with industry and market trends that revolve around marketing, they know how to make initiatives more marketable, and—most importantly—they understand how your strategic initiatives will impact, and be impacted by, your corporate brand. The fresh perspective your marketing team can bring can help move your organization’s planning process in new, productive directions.

Make a resolution now to focus on one of your most powerful planning resources. Make sure that your marketing team plays a prominent role in your organization’s strategic planning.

 

 

 

Spreading The Word

Bill Smith

I am a parking nerd, which would be a source of merriment for my father if he were still alive. You see, my dad was an engineer and well-known authority on handicap access and historic preservation. When I was young, I used to love to tease him about being, well, a nerd. When we were together, there was never a shortage of pocket protector jokes (which he always accepted with good humor).

If he could see me today he would surely be getting his revenge.

After 20 years of creating public relations programs for parking firms and industry groups, I have genuinely come to love parking. I’m fascinated by the ways it affects our lives, the creative solutions engineers and planners come up with to solve difficult parking challenges, and the cool new technologies that are constantly being introduced. And I love to talk about these things. Being Italian, talking comes naturally to me, and as a public relations (PR) professional, talking is my business.

Over the course of my career I have come to realize that it’s not just marketing or PR professionals who need to be spreading the word about parking. Anyone who works in the parking industry—whether as an owner, operator, consultant, or staff member—needs to be talking about the industry and why it’s important.

In this communication age, everyone is a marketer. Do you talk about your job when you are at parties or after attending church? If so, you are marketing. When you are with friends or colleagues, do you talk about your latest project or the organization where you work? Whenever you do, you are doing PR. Are you active on LinkedIn or other social media sites promoting your career? If so, you are also promoting your organization and profession.

Think about this the next time you are talking about work, your latest project, or what you love about your job. Enthusiasm is infectious, and when you share yours with neighbors, friends, or even strangers, you have an opportunity to help people understand why parking is so interesting and essential. Sharing your passion for parking will benefit you professionally, help promote your company or organization, and bolster the parking industry.

Think about it…and then go spread the word.

 

Bill Smith will present “We Are All ‘Mad Men (and Women)’” at the IPI Conference & Expo General Session on Wednesday, May 22. This session will explain why everyone is a marketer and how promoting individual organizations and the industry itself benefits the careers of parking professionals. For information and to register, visit IPIConference.parking.org.

 

 

 

 

Announcing Change

Bill Smith

If you are a municipal parking manager, you know how daunting it can seem to roll out policy, procedure, or rate changes. No one wants to be the bearer of bad news. These changes aren’t necessarily bad news, however, and you shouldn’t treat them that way. Many municipalities and public organizations don’t have strategies to explain change, and communication is essential to the success of any parking planning initiative.

Here are five tips for assuring a successful roll-out:

  1. Build support first. Policy and procedure changes are made for a reason. Prior to publicly rolling them out, explain them and their benefits to key stakeholders. Listen to—and answer—any concerns they have and ask for their support.
  2. Create a plan to inform the public of the change. This will likely include writing and distributing a news release announcing the change, as well as assembling materials that explain the anticipated benefits. If possible, brief the media before the changes are announced so they are fully informed when they write their stories. Keep in touch with reporters who are covering the story and make yourself available to answer questions and concerns.
  3. Anticipate who won’t support the changes and why. You’ll have a general sense of what kinds of questions and concerns people will have. Have answers ready before you announce changes.
  4. Don’t be afraid of opposition. You will never please everyone. Most people, by nature, don’t like change. Assume you will have to win over the community and that it might not happen overnight. Recognize that opponents may have legitimate concerns that could help to refine and improve the new policy.
  5. Trust yourself and your decision. Policy and procedure changes don’t just happen. They are the result of careful consideration and your knowledge of how parking affects the community. Trust that you made the right decision. If you communicate why and how the decision was made, chances are your community will agree.