This week the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) held its Marketing & Communications Workshop in Miami, Fla. The workshop brings together the marketing folks and the public information officers from transit agencies and the business members in our industry.
Preparing for the Unexpected
New to the workshop this year was a transit security communications drill. What would transit agencies do if there were a terrorist attack on public transportation? Representatives from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) were on-hand to run through scenarios with transit communicators.
APTA Senior Program Manager – Media Relations Virginia Miller was especially excited for this session because it was something that has never been done in the country before. "People will be focusing on a number of scenarios with the DHS, TSA and FTA," she explained. "Not only affected agencies, but people across the country may need to respond."
The scenario was run in "real-time" and while panelists explained what they would do at the time of event, 15 minutes after, 30 minutes after, etc., agency communicators in the audience were sharing what they would do as they learn about new information. At what point do you notify your GM? Your chief of police? When do you ramp up security? At what point do you shut down your service? And what are you telling your local media?
"It will provide us with an opportunity to figure out what we don't know," Miller said. "It's the opportunity at a national level, to look at this together, for a day we hope to never see. But if we do, we won't be going in cold."
Involving All APTA Members
While that was one of the specialized sessions, there are a variety of topics covered. I hear from quite a few business members that they don't go to the workshop because they see it as being for just agencies. Jennifer Kalczuk, external relations manager with The Rapid in Grand Rapids, Mich., and vice chair for the Marketing and Communications Committee, explained, "While content is sometimes focused on agency-specific issues, others are general and there's a lot of overlap to the discipline of marketing."
"It's learning about the craft of marketing in our industry," added Richard Maxwell, assistant vice president of marketing for The T in Fort Worth, Texas, and chair of the Marketing and Communications Committee.
He also talked about the newly created Business Members Task Force, which was created to strengthen the business member's voice within the Marketing and Communications Committee. "Alan Wulkan [managing partner for InfraConsult LLC and past chair of APTA's Business Member Board of Governors (BMBG)], has been appointed to be on the task force and will be a link with the BMBG to let them know why it's important to get involved." He stressed, "Telling our story is much more powerful with everyone collectively."
Funding and Telling Our Story
And "telling our story" is as important as ever trying to ensure federal funding. FTA Associate Administrator for Communications & Congressional Affairs Brian Farber asked attendees what we all can do to get our transit riders to share their feelings on public transportation. He said, "If you're idle, so to will be your buses and trains."
APTA President Michael Melaniphy gave an update of what has recently transpired on the Hill, including the House backing off last week. "It showed that people working together, following a specific, united path, got things moving in a positive path."
He also pointed out that during these tough economic times this past year, out of 28 local tax elections, 22 of them passed; people voted "yes" for local tax initiatives to support public transportation.
Dallas Area Rapid Transit Director, Media Relations, Morgan Lyons led attendees in a group exercise for people to leave the conference with some specific things each of us could do when we got home in a variety of areas, including tips on talking to elected officials, educating business members in your community, and the table I was at: leveraging social media.