For transportation agencies, whether you communicate about the highways or the buses or the bike lanes you are creating important and highly valuable content. Your customers – the system users – seek the information you have. When will the bus be here? Can I drive the interstate or should I take an alternate route?
But have you thought about how you use that sought after information to grow your audience for your organization’s key message?
Several years ago I was sharing information with my colleagues at the Washington State Department of Transportation about the beleaguered state of traditional media. As the economy took at downward turn, newspapers and TV stations announced layoffs and cutbacks. Radio stations began to rebroadcast content from other markets or just stream national content without any local on-air talent to engage with the local audience.
The significance for our team was in the decreasing opportunity to get our “news” into the shrinking mainstream media. With fewer local reporters, we had fewer local contacts. With less news “hole” to fill, there was more competition for that space and less opportunity for our agency to shine. We wanted to talk about more than traffic jams, but the options for getting agency news were shrinking.
So we did what thousands of organizations have done and what you should be doing too. We began to think of ourselves as the media. We still needed traditional media, but not as much. We began to integrating our key messages into content packages. For instance, instead of only writing a news release about a highway project’s lane closures, we used YouTube videos and design visualizations to let people virtually drive the new route. We started a blog and began to talk about operating and maintaining a transportation system. We also turned to social media to engage the public in a different and – at least at that time – a unique way.
I was amazed at how the people – the content consumers – found us. We knew travelers came to our web site looking for traffic information, so we seeded those pages with links and mentions of our other content. Word of mouth and, yes, the traditional media also helped generate awareness of our content.
I’ve recently noticed a phrase kicking around the PR world that describes this practice – “content marketing.” It is probably a phrase you’re going to hear a lot in the coming year as more and more organizations attempt to make their own news and distribute it directly to their customers and potential customers.
But for transportation communicators I like this phrase, “We Are the Media.” In the end, transportation already have a ton of content. They have critical information people need, which means we have a built in audience. The true measure of a great transportation communication program is how well you can creatively weave your key messages into your direct-to-consumer content. In today’s media world, no one is going to do that for you.