Transportation Big Picture Messaging


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This presentation tackled recent public opinion polls and discussed the overall context for transportation messaging.

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  • 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!
  • In summation:
  • These are the reports I mentioned – they can be found via a link on AASHTO’s home page at – lower right, under “reports”. I have a few copies with me if anyone is interested as well.
  • Transportation Big Picture Messaging

    1. 1. Talking About Transportation Crafting a New Message 1 Lloyd Brown Director of Communications Joint Meeting of the Standing Committee on Planning and the Subcommittee on Transportation Finance Policy August 13, 2013 Minneapolis, Minnesota
    2. 2. Transportation as ‘national’ issue • I-5 Bridge in Washington State • President proposes $50 billion for infrastructure • States step up to fund transportation
    3. 3. Public opinion on the issue • North Capitol Region Focus Groups (January 2013) • Gallup Poll (April 2013) • ARTBA Poll (May 2013) • Mineta Transportation Institute (June 2013)
    4. 4. Gallup Poll: Opposition to gas tax increase cuts across party lines, income and regional variations
    5. 5. ARTBA Poll: Few respondents could identify how much they paid in gas taxes each month (an average of $46 per household
    6. 6. Mineta Survey: Trends in Support (2010-2013) Public support for gas tax increases when tied to specific usage.
    7. 7. NCHRP study Words that Work (2010) Research overview • Examined successful efforts to raise transportation funding in Los Angeles, Oregon, and Kansas • Using these messages as a base, conducted focus groups in four cities - Orlando, Denver, Charlotte, Washington, DC
    8. 8. A changing environment • 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: - Accountability - Community based - Performance-driven – on-time and on-budget • However, it’s a new day! 8
    9. 9. Two key principles: # 1: It’s not what you say that matters, it’s what your audience hears 9
    10. 10. #2: Decisions are personal “It’s bigger than you and me. It’s all about ME.” -Stephen Colbert 10
    11. 11. Alternate view
    12. 12. Language matters • 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? 26% 56% Relax government regulations Relax environmental standards
    13. 13. 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? 29% 68% “balanced diet” “eating in moderation”
    14. 14. Here’s what we learned: What do drivers want to hear? 15 mobility Mobility: it’s the freedom to move where you want to, when you want to, and how you want to [ ]
    15. 15. What else do drivers want? sustainable Sustainable: we can keep it going for the long-term [ ]
    16. 16. Maintenance doesn’t sell Maintenance and upkeep…they already pay for these 17 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 more? Without more funding, we won’t be able to keep up with population growth. You should have had a plan for population growth.
    17. 17. Current state of the system? your truth their truth We always expected to have to expand roads and highways as needs dictated You’re just playing catch-up by adding more lanes. It’s a broken system. It’s all due to lack of planning:
    18. 18. What people will pay for • People are willing to pay up to $100 a year for  new technology  that makes our infrastructure smarter  and more efficient. • They’re most interested in  Synching traffic lights  Real time information on congestion, accidents, and road conditions  Interconnected road, bus, and train systems  Clearing stalled cars and accidents faster 19
    19. 19. 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 that?” A. “I’ll write you a check right now!” -Orlando Participant Technology triad 20
    20. 20. 21 Some language to LOSE: Commissions = Bureaucratic Red Tape
    21. 21. 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 important.  Stress approaches you are taking to ensure accountability and transparency.  Use all communications platforms.  Repeat, repeat, repeat. 22
    22. 22. 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 they need • “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 problem.” • -DC Participant 23
    23. 23. 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). 24
    24. 24. Messaging reports • The New Language of Mobility • Strategies and Messages: Three Case Studies of Successful Campaigns to Raise Revenue for Transportation • A New Way to Talk About Transportation • Available at 25
    25. 25. Transparency • Demonstrate that funds will be spent on transportation • Provide assurances they can track where their money is going  They like – but don’t need – a list that “locks in” particular projects  Lists can protect their money from bureaucratic manipulation  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.” – Orlando participant 26
    26. 26. 27 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 not acceptable.
    27. 27. Game changers: It’s all about showing benefits • Small, tangible advancements can be game changers  They don’t need big shiny techno-promises  They’re most interested in technology available today • It’s not about bringing roads and highways into 2050, it’s about bringing them into 2013 28
    28. 28. For more information … 29 Lloyd Brown (202) 624-5802