I am fortunate to work collaboratively with transportation communicators from around the country. They are dedicated, smart, experienced and full of wisdom. So, recently in preparation for an upcoming meeting, I asked a few of my veteran colleagues to answer a couple of questions.
- If you had 20 minutes to talk to about communicating safety with non-communications staffs, what items would you want to discuss?
- What is the one thing you would want your co-workers to know about communicating safety?
The answers were thoughtful and full of the kind of advice that is only learned from experience.
One said that safety, “has to be communicated within their companies and must be visible in all they do in communities, on the job.”
Another said that whatever the safety message, it must be delivered at a human level.
“I would say making it personal for all parties is most important or ‘what’s in it for me?’ I think it’s important to give both sides of the story and personalize it as well.”
Another transportation communicator acknowledged that relating to people, especially in large audiences, is not always easy. But it is worth the effort.
“We have stories to tell and experiences to share,” my colleague wrote. “We love what we do and most people love or need to travel. It’s pretty symbiotic. We build the way and they use it. Put us together and you have ‘transportation.'”
She also suggested a level of candor is in order when speaking to a crowd. Let the community decide, for instance, whether a project should completely close a route for a short period of time or keep a route open during a longer construction time frame. The decision-making helps build the relationship.
One expert offered this, “I would discuss how many states do a great job building roads and adding new and innovative engineering treatments, but they miss a key opportunity to educate the public on what those treatments mean, on how to “use” the roadway correctly. I would encourage them to work with their local law enforcement to participate in the education phase and to follow up with high visibility enforcement to ensure the message was received.”
Other suggested stressing the public’s desire for immediate information, often within moments of an incident or weather event. Such urgency, driven by the proliferation of mobile devices and Twitter-fied news cycles.
But overwhelmingly, the advice of the communications pros came down to this: make it personal. Safety messages should connect with the public at a human level.
With so many messages inundating people each day, only the most specific and personal are likely to succeed in hitting their mark.
(Editor’s thanks: As always, a tremendous hat tip to the communications pros who so willingly share their insight with me.)