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Words Mean Things

Rachel_Yoka 2013

My kids love to explore online and share funny memes—who doesn’t, right? (As an aside, memes are apparently pronounced MEEMS with a long E, like the word “seems.” You can thank me later for that tidbit.)

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

My daughter, Sofia, comes running down the stairs, telling me, “Mom! You have to see this!” She’s got her ever-present iPad with a photo of a parking sign, so of course I am interested. The sign reads “2-hour parking, from 7 to 8 p.m.”. Per my usual response, I tell her, “Words mean things. You have to choose carefully to get them right.” We have a good laugh and start looking up other less-than-effective parking and other signs.

How often do we choose the right words, taking the time to make sure we get them right? And then do we add in a quick grammar check to make sure our written or spoken words get our point across? Signs don’t carry emotion, but our words certainly do. Not only do our words have meaning, but they last—on paper, online, or in memory.

Once we have our words carefully selected and our impeccable grammar verified, it’s often wise to consider our delivery of those words. This has always been a critical element of communication, as so much of our message to others is non-verbal. Joining IPI as a staff member after 12 years of membership has brought this to the forefront for me. Every interaction, every communication, every conversation matters. IPI staff know that every time a member calls or emails, we have an opportunity not only to add value to that person’s day, but also to make it a bit brighter. Parking professionals know that every interaction with staff, the public, and stakeholders will influence those individuals’ perceptions of the parking program and the industry in general.

Maybe that’s the secret—once we have our words, our grammar, and our delivery ready, we can make every day a bit brighter and spread a more hopeful and joyful message. ’Tis the season!

Where Has The Year Gone?

Casey Jones 4x5 (2)

Overheard one recent Sunday morning while sipping coffee and reading the paper at the Jones family dining table:iStock_000022015805_Large

Robyn (my wife): “Hey, did you realize that Christmas is only two months away?”

Me: “Huh? Sorry, for a second I thought you said something about Christmas.”

Robyn: “Yes, it’s only two months away.”

Me: “I wonder how my fantasy team is doing today?”

Robyn: (narrows eyes, appears unamused).

Me: “But don’t we still have Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving to celebrate? And don’t forget National Donut Day …” (muttering in barely audible, defeated husband voice) ”Where has the year gone?”

Later that day at the grocery store:

Me: “Look at the wrapping paper, icicle lights, and fake trees. I guess you’re right, Christmas is just around the corner.”

Robyn: “Silly man. Of course I’m right.” (winks)

You and I might be in denial but the holidays are right around the corner. The good news is that if we start now, we can get the shopping done, lights hung, and meals and travels planned. If we procrastinate, we may still get through the holidays but it might be stressful and unpleasant.

As parking professionals, we have many things to do, whether we provide parking for an airport, downtown, special event venue, commercial district, or university. We must complete scheduling rosters and ensure that our facilities are clean and presentable, and we may need to order de-icer, snow shovels, or umbrellas for our patrons. Another thing we need to do is complete and execute our holiday communications plan. This entails being proactive, pointed, and persistent.

Being proactive requires that we establish relationships with our media partners so we know what they need and how we can deliver it. It also means that we have a well-thought-out plan and the tools and resources to get the job done. Being pointed requires that we have focused our key messages and know exactly what is important to communicate to our public. Being persistent means that we recognize that the parking public receives our message in many different ways and that we explore and utilize each fully.

Soon, I’ll be on a ladder with driving snow at my back as I work to get the Christmas lights on the house and I’ll no doubt have cards to send and presents to buy. But I’m certain I’ll think longingly to the time not long ago that I could have started in on the holiday tasks and avoided cramming everything into the last few weeks, hoping that I don’t miss something important. We can work now to get our holiday communications plan in place for a successful season free of the stress of bad planning and poor execution.

Will You Be My Parking Pen Pal?

Casey Jones 4x5 (2)

I’m reading Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City, a story that parallels the building of the World’s Columbian Exposition (better known as the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893) and a serial-killing physician who lived, worked, and murdered nearby. The Exposition’s architects came from many parts of the country, most notably Chicago and New York. They all seemed to travel extensively while needing to converse constantly about many of the Fair’s details. By the late 19th century, of course, the telegraph made communications that used to take days, weeks, or even months to complete nearly instant. Even so, most people conversed extensively through letters. This no doubt helped them maintain important relationships, shape their opinions through dialogue, gain exposure to experiences they might never actually personally have, and conduct business. Without question, we have these same needs and motivations for conversing today. Oct.15Blog

We’re told that our world is shrinking and by many measures, it certainly is. Globalization is the term we use to describe the process of international integration that arises from the interchange of world views, products, ideas, and other aspects of culture. And, with the Internet, social media, and Google Translate, we now have the means to exchange ideas and perspectives instantly. But do we?

I had the great fortune of being invited to attend and present at the Norwegian Parking Association’s annual conference in Tønsberg, Norway, on behalf of IPI. My presentation was about technology and innovation trends; I believe the organizers were most interested in comparing progress in Norway to that taking place in the U.S. and elsewhere outside. I gave a similar presentation in Sweden last April and have enjoyed the chance to speak with other parking professionals in Ireland, Italy, Brazil, and Australia during the past five years. I’ve learned about parking issues, successes, and challenges, and made friends from around the world, and I’m convinced more than ever of the power of global relationships. We must keep an external perspective to continue making progress in the parking profession. Though not everyone has the opportunity to travel as I have, we all still need to stay as connected as possible and keep an outward focus to grow and innovate. But how can we do this?

What if there was a parking pen-pal program that paired parking professionals from around the globe? Participants with similar positions could discuss in detail their challenges, solutions, and ideas, and the exchange of information could foster important dialogue and build friendships spanning miles, cultures, and backgrounds. IPI has the global span and the relationships already established with peer organizations and the Global Parking Associations Leadership (GPALs) Summit to further such a program. With it, we could go beyond sharing cute cat videos and messages of less than140 characters, and move to something more personally gratifying and potentially impactful.

What do you think?

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.

Are You Communicating Effectively?

Doug Holmes

Communication.  It is a wonderful thing in today’s electronic world … when it works.  It seems that the faster the modes of communication given us by technology, the greater the demand for even faster methods of communication.  Basically, though, it is a pretty simple set-up: a sender, a receiver and a message.

Unfortunately, a lot of interference can crop up between a sender and receiver.  Good communication requires a two-way delivery of information between the parties and understanding the information conveyed in both directions.  Texting or email is especially prey to this problem.  If you can’t see the face of or hear the vocal inflections of the person you are communicating with, a lot of message misinterpretation is possible.

The “reply” key can have a hugely negative effect.  Frequently, people hit reply or “reply all” (even worse) without checking the address field to see to whom the message is being sent.

There is a tendency to assume that once you hit send, the information in a message is immediately in the brain of the recipient.  Immediately. Bad assumption.  Rarely is any thought given to the possibility that the recipient did not check their inbox at all.  Horrors.  Could he have been on vacation?  In an all-day conference or training session?

An email server might send something screaming to your junk folder because it misidentified the message as spam.  I don’t know about you, but I do not go through my junk folder every few hours.

I know a lot of people who would prefer to answer a text message then check their voicemail and return a phone call.   I work the other way–I’ll respond to a voicemail almost immediately.  (I say almost because I am retired and nothing should be assumed to be immediate due to that status.)

What’s the point? If you are sending urgent, time-sensitive information in an electronic format and expect an immediate response, maybe it is better to pick up that old-fashioned device called a telephone and talk to the person on the other end.  Or, at least call to make sure your colleague got your message.