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.