In the spirit of Thanksgiving, let’s take a moment and recognize a few things for which we in the business of transportation communication should give thanks.
Technology – In the late 1990s, I was new to government public relations, having recently left my job as a newspaper reporter. Often, I traveled around the state of Arizona with my boss, the director of the Department of Agriculture. Few reporters had email. Fax machines were the quick way of delivering information. To get a news release out to media meant several hours of fax machine calls. I carried a three-ring binder that held all my reporter and industry contacts. It weighed about five pounds. I often phoned news rooms with updates because it was faster to do that than actually send a news release.
Today, it takes just moments to finish an email announcing some kind of news, embed a link to additional information and fire it off from my smart phone. Technology has streamlined our communications in so many ways. Some might argue it has taken some of the personal relationship out of the “public relations” practice. And, they might be right. But I think we should be thankful for the utility of email, Twitter, and other media communication tools – and our ability to manage those tools from wherever we are and whenever we want.
The Rise of Metrics – The practice of measuring our communication efforts and results have evolved significantly. I never felt comfortable telling a client or my boss that our communication effort had delivered an “equivalent advertising value.” Today, we can supplement and complement EAV measures in many new ways so that we offer a more complete story. We can track visits to a web page, how long people stay on the page, where they go to when they leave the page and even what they looked at on the page. We can track a tremendous amount of activity in social media. Our ability to show success in our outreach efforts is far superior. Next time you need to build a case study with results for your managers and clients, be thankful for the story you can tell with modern metrics.
The Value of Communications – The general public opinion of public relations is decidedly negative. At least that is my opinion. But within transportation circles, I find that the overall opinion of the practice of communicating about transportation is trending positive. More often than not I hear transportation engineers and policy experts extolling the virtues of a successful public outreach effort, or calling for an expanded outreach effort. The professionalism brought to the practice continues to change minds in favor of bringing communications staffs into projects and programs sooner – in some cases helping to develop project plans in ways that improve overall relations with the public. I have been at those tables, helping to set forth plans that include critical communications throughout a project to help local communities understand and support transportation programs. That direct engagement with engineering and policy experts, expressed in the opportunity to “be at the table,” is certainly something for which we should be grateful. It has not always been that way.