This session:What we say versus what they hearWhat we SHOULD be saying so they hear the right thingHow this has changed over timeNew “right words”What we’re doing at AASHTO
What are the words that work? What’s the best way to communicate what state DOTs are doing?In 2009 the words to use were: -AccountabilityCommunity basedPerformance-driven – on-time and on-budget
Two years ago, AASHTO conducted some research in preparing for the ongoing authorization campaign in Washington. We found the “words that work” – accountability; community based, performance-drivenBut things changed rapidly – we had the recession, we had the rise of the Tea Party, and in 2010, we had the congressional elections – the landscape was altered.
Suggesting a new commission or new entity to deal with transportation was a big loser – no one wants more government or more bureaucracy!
These are the reports I mentioned – they can be found via a link on AASHTO’s home page at www.transportation.org – lower right, under “reports”. I have a few copies with me if anyone is interested as well.
Transportation Big Picture Messaging
Crafting a New Message
Director of Communications
Joint Meeting of the Standing Committee on Planning
and the Subcommittee on Transportation Finance Policy
August 13, 2013
Transportation as ‘national’ issue
• I-5 Bridge in
• States step up to
Public opinion on the issue
• North Capitol Region Focus Groups
• Gallup Poll (April 2013)
• ARTBA Poll (May 2013)
• Mineta Transportation Institute (June
Opposition to gas tax
increase cuts across
party lines, income
could identify how
much they paid in
gas taxes each
month (an average of
$46 per household
Public support for
gas tax increases
when tied to
Words that Work (2010)
• Examined successful efforts to raise
transportation funding in Los Angeles, Oregon,
• Using these messages as a base, conducted
focus groups in four cities
- Orlando, Denver, Charlotte, Washington, DC
A changing environment
• What are the words that work?
• What’s the best way to communicate what state DOTs are
• In 2009 the words to use were:
- Community based
- Performance-driven – on-time and on-budget
• However, it’s a new day!
Two key principles:
# 1: It’s not what you say that matters,
it’s what your audience hears
#2: Decisions are personal
“It’s bigger than you and me. It’s all
• The same thing can be interpreted very
differently depending on how you talk
about it How should the government make it
easier to build new power plants?
More language matters
• The right language can transform how the
public looks at policies and actions
Which of the following is more important
to you personally?
Here’s what we learned:
What do drivers want to hear?
Mobility: it’s the freedom to move where
you want to, when you want to, and how
you want to
What else do drivers want?
Sustainable: we can keep it going for the
Maintenance doesn’t sell
Maintenance and upkeep…they already pay for
your truth their truth
We’re running a multi-
billion dollar deficit in the
Highway Trust Fund.
You’ve wasted the
money we’ve already
given you. Why give you
Without more funding,
we won’t be able to keep
up with population
You should have had a
plan for population
Current state of the system?
your truth their truth
We always expected to have to
expand roads and highways as
You’re just playing catch-up by
adding more lanes. It’s a broken
It’s all due to lack of planning:
What people will pay for
• People are willing to pay up to $100 a year for
that makes our infrastructure smarter
and more efficient.
• They’re most interested in
Synching traffic lights
Real time information on congestion, accidents, and road
Interconnected road, bus, and train systems
Clearing stalled cars and accidents faster
Q. “If I could promise you
synchronized traffic signals, a
smarter traffic system, and
technology that clears accidents
off the roads faster, would you be
willing to pay an extra $100 a year for
A. “I’ll write you a check right now!”
Some language to LOSE:
Bureaucratic Red Tape
How to talk about investment
Build a state and local strategy – not one that
appears to come from Washington, DC
Start with a message that centers around
something the people in your communities find
most important – not what YOU think is most
Stress approaches you are taking to ensure
accountability and transparency.
Use all communications platforms.
Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Who Is the Best Messenger?
• The Governor and State DOT
should lead the conversation
• The control over money and
project selection should be as
close to the communities using
them as possible
They have no faith in Washington to
tax, spend responsibly
But states, municipalities know what
• “Who knows better
than the people
who use it? And
pay for it?”
• -Charlotte Participant
• “Local groups are
closer to the
source. They can
be more specific.
They can tailor the
money to the
• -DC Participant
Putting it all together
• Using and promoting “words that work” – a
set of words and phrases that resonate with
our target audiences.
• Developing tools and resources that member
states can use to influence “grass tops”
• Connecting and showcasing the benefits of
what we do to the consumer (not what we
say, it’s what they hear).
• The New Language of Mobility
• Strategies and Messages:
Three Case Studies of Successful
Campaigns to Raise Revenue for
• A New Way to Talk About Transportation
• Available at http://bit.ly/TalkingTransportation
• Demonstrate that funds will be spent on transportation
• Provide assurances they can track where their money
They like – but don’t need – a list that “locks in” particular
Lists can protect their money from bureaucratic
Money disappearing into a “black hole” of political
maneuvering is a big worry
“If that’s what we gave them the money for, they better damn well use it for that.” –
Interactive mapsThe Plan: they want to be able to
click here and get more details, like
lists of contractors hired.
Route info: being able to click around a
map helps them visualize where projects
are planned in relation to them.
Budget and timing: they want to
know what it’s costing, and exactly when
construction will begin and end. TBD is
It’s all about showing benefits
• Small, tangible advancements can be game
They don’t need big shiny techno-promises
They’re most interested in technology
• It’s not about bringing roads and highways
into 2050, it’s about bringing them into
For more information …