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.

IPI Shows off Park(ing) Day Spirit

Kim Fernandez

A great time was had by all. It’s a cliche, but an appropriate way to describe IPI’s first official foray into Park(ing) Day last Friday, 100_1314when parking spots all around the world were transformed into temporary parks, cafes, libraries, and public spaces (see the August issue of The Parking Professional for more).

A spirited group of IPI staff members joined the design pros at BonoTom Studio (the folks who make The Parking Professional look so good) for lunch in a parklet on Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va. Lining a space with faux grass (after paying the meter, of course) and decorating with everything from garden chairs to fanciful gnomes, we invited passers by to kick back in the sun, enjoy a cookie, and talk about parking. For their part, visitors told us about other Park(ing) Day installations they’d passed during the day and even wished us a happy Park(ing) Day as they drove past.

100_1302We had a great time participating in this event, and would love to hear about your festivities. Comment below, or send your story and a photo or two of your parklet to fernandez@parking.org–we’ll publish them in a future issue of the magazine (also think about entering your Park(ing) Day photos in our contest–visit parking.org/photocontest for information).

See you on the street next year!

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.

 

 

 

 

Shifting the Discussion: An Assignment for Parking Professionals

L. Dennis Burns

I have recently been contacted by several reporters from all over the country asking about a range of parking-related issues ranging from taxes to impact fees to performance-based pricing.

Each call began with questions that had an inherently negative angle. I guess I should be used to that. Recently, however, I have taken a different approach. I have tried to shift the discussion from implicitly negative starting points to something more like, “Yes, you are correct; parking is a critically important area. Are you aware of the many advances made by the parking industry in recent years? Some of these advances involve leveraging new technologies, adopting more progressive urban design approaches and better integrating parking into larger community access and economic development strategies. Others involve creating a range of more sustainable parking and transportation strategies. Have you tried pay-by-cell phone yet? Have you gotten a text message notifying you that your meter is about to expire? Have you gotten an e-coupon on your cell phone from a store around the corner from where you parked and paid with your phone?”

We do (and will continue for decades to come) live in a society where the automobile is the dominant form of personal transportation. In this reality, parking will continue to be a connection point around which many key issues of our times will resonate – economic, social, environmental, equity, and accessibility issues are just a few examples. And as long as that is the case, parking professionals will play key roles in making our communities function.

We have an incredible story of increased connectedness, demonstrated progress, and accelerating advancement to tell. We also share a common challenge: how do we better broadcast this story of industry transformation? If we don’t do it, who will?

IPI published a guide to talking with the media last year–”How to Speak Parking Matters®.” It’s a free download that’s quite helpful when reporters come calling.

If you find yourself, perhaps somewhat defensively, addressing a negative question from a reporter, a customer, a city council member, or anyone else, take that opportunity to shift the discussion to a passionate description of the real and dramatic progress we have made. I think you’ll be surprised at how receptive your audience will be.

 

You Have to Give to Receive (Positive Media Coverage)

Jeff Petry

 

Can you image a newscast beginning with, “Well, you don’t have to go to the library to pick up good fiction. Downtown Eugene now has a very unusual venue for stories–the steps of a [public] parking garage.”

Can you imagine a municipal parking program staging an event that is covered by every local media outlet and involves the mayor, award-winning local writers, and celebrity Slug Queens?

Can you imagine a municipal parking program where getting positive media coverage is considered the norm?

I can because it is happening right here in Eugene, Ore. The City of Eugene’s municipal parking program, Epark Eugene, has garnered many positive news stories and kudos from the community. These stories have focused on projects the parking program has sponsored with community groups throughout downtown.

The quote above was the lead in line for a local news segment on November 30, 2012 for our Step into Stories installation, which displayed original flash fiction pieces (stories of 200 words or less) from local authors on 48” square panels in an internal stairway of our oldest downtown parking garage. During the dedication event, each author read their panels in the stairway (11 total stories) with the media filming and recording the whole experience. It cost $1,400 and returned at least 3 times that amount in positive media broadcast.

You have to give good things to report to receive good media coverage. You can’t just say something; you have to do something. Making visible positive changeand inviting the community to be part of it gives the media something to show and talk about. It also helps to give them something they might not expect.

Good media coverage can change the community conversation about parking and open new possibilities. You start attracting people like a student who wants to display her fiber art project on top of your parking garage, which becomes part your downtown’s First Friday Art Walk. Or, you work with other artists and community members on other large events.

While this is the season of giving, parking professional must think about giving thoughtful gifts back to the community all the time.

 

The Art of Parking

Jeff Petry

Having the “Sunbathing Lady of the Lot” suddenly appear in our parking lot opened my mind to parking art. It also led me down a path of path of parking art that has included Knotty Knitters crafting cozies for meter poles and bike racks, a yearlong partnership with students at nearby Lane Community College to design and fabricate custom bike racks, a North American art competition on the wall of a parking garage that’s run for three years now, poetry installed in the stairway of a parking garage, a poem on the epark Eugene iPhone app, digital art on top of parking garages, and a street artist competition on concrete parking bollards.

We in Eugene have enjoyed a breadcrumb approach to incorporating art into our parking program. It started with the city’s Public Art Plan goal to “incorporate art into everyday objects.” It continued by inserting the word “parking” into this goal and working to “incorporate art into everyday parking objects.”

My first exposure to parking art was an overnight installation by the 12th Avenue Collaborative group that placed a parking space-sized, bikini-clad lady in our lot. I had a choice: trash it or let it stay. The artists made the decision easy by paying for all the parking spaces they used, and the lady attracted a lot of downtown visitors and positive attention, which is great news for any parking program.

Recently, at the Pacific Intermountain Parking & Transportation Association (PITPA) Conference and Tradeshow, keynote speaker Darin Watkins, of Washington State University, asked the audience, “How many of you can say you had three positive media stories  about your program in the last year?” I was able to raise my hand because we have invested in local partnerships that bring creativity to our parking system. This idea, however, is not unique. It could be implemented anywhere. All it takes is a parking professional willing to ask the question. Are you that person?

Step Into [Parking] Poetry

Jeff Petry

In an earlier blog post I talked about our bread crumb approach to partnering with creative people and organizations in our community. Our downtown parking garage display, Step into Poetry, provides a specific example of how simple the process can be for parking professionals.

This project was the result of a passing hallway conversation with an employee who is also a poet. I asked her if she knew any poets that would be interested in having their work displayed in a parking garage. The response was amazing. Within days, I received an email from the local chapter of the Oregon Poetry Association and scheduled a walk through a garage. I expected two or three people to attend, but was surprised by about 12 local writers! We toured the garage, coffee in hand. The poets formed three committees and presented me with three options to add poetry to the garage.

We picked an easy project to complete: panels in the stairs. From there, we moved to the design and poetry submission phases. I asked for help from another department’s graphic artist for the design layout, which incorporated what we learned from Todd Pierce’s “What’s Your Brand?” IPI webinar. The poets asked for submissions and permissions from their membership, and we worked together to select seven poems and a featured poem by Oregon’s Poet Laureate.

The Step into Poetry project is a success. It incorporates art into parking, reinvests parking funds where they are collected, supports local arts and the development of artists in our community, and reinforces the creative, distinctive culture of downtown. We have visitors who park in the garage just to take the stairs! Graffiti and vandalism have dropped to zero in this staircase since installation, and we enjoy many kudos from the community.

How do we build upon this success? We keep writing of course! In September, we will install “Step into Prose” panels that display flash fiction from local writers. We are tying the flash fiction to the city’s 150th birthday party by gathering submissions that look back over our past 150 years as well as looking forward 150 years.

All this took was asking a simple question.

Do you think this program might work in your community? Why or why not? Comment below.