Get Ahead Of Local Parking Coverage by Bill Smith

During the past five years, thanks in part to IPI’s Parking Matters® national public relations and marketing efforts, positive stories about parking abound. According to IPI’s soon-to-be published Emerging Trends in Parking Survey, nearly 50 percent of parking professionals surveyed think perceptions of parking are improving. But, we all know when local papers run editorials about parking,  the coverage isn’t always fair and parking is often misunderstood. When parking is in the news often there’s a problem—or a perceived problem—with local parking. Unfortunately, it’s a lesson that has been learned by dozens of cities in recent months, from Tampa to Los Angeles.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire right? Actually, no. Sometimes smoke is just smoke.

Unfortunately, when it comes to municipal parking plans and regulations, misunderstandings abound, but a proactive communications program can go a long way in helping educate stakeholders, including the media, so media coverage is balanced. Residents, business owners, and other stakeholders have opinions about how parking should be managed but they typically don’t 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 do parking time limits seem too short? There are planning reasons for these regulations too. The problem is, stakeholders often aren’t aware of why these 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 the newspapers are editorializing.

Every city and town should have a strategic communications program designed to keep the public informed about its 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.
  • 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 designing websites 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.

If you’re looking for examples of positive local parking marketing efforts, read the inspiring case studies of the 16 winners of the Parking Matters Marketing & Communications Awards on the website or in The Parking Professional in July.

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.


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