Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bus PR

PR is all around us. The average person does not understand the purpose, methods and effect of public relations even though they encounter it or read about it every day. Pick up any daily newspaper and read the articles with a discerning eye and you'll realize that PR is at work behind the scenes of many stories--not just to get the publicity either.

Case in point--this interesting article in the Muskegon Chronicle about the local transit system educating residents--of ALL types--about the ease and benefit of using the bus service.

Again, it's not just that there's a story in the paper about this. Look at the fundamental PR involved when you read the story carefully. People in Muskegon are probably aware of the bus. The problem is one of attitude, which results in not enough action--riding the bus. To address this, local officials did not merely send out news releases or do other forms of "get the word out, raise awareness" communication tactics. They actually got together with people and offered "how to ride the bus" workshops. Funny. Smart.

This is great PR because it demonstrates that PR is about relationships. It also shows smart strategy in getting people to overcome their attitude and maybe change their behavior not by reading about something, but by experiencing it first hand. That's also a distinction between image and reputation by the way--the latter is dependent on experience, not well-written words. Although the Muskegon official quoted in the piece certainly had his speaking points ready--evidenced in a bullet list in the article.

While the folks in Muskegon who came up with the idea for the experience opportunity probably did so intuitively, it is also evidence of theory in action. Diffusion of Innovation Theory, in particular, predicts that people will adopt new ideas because of trialability, which is another way of saying having an experience. As I tell my students, theory, as an explainer and predictor of human behavior, is so practical in a strategic sense.

I wonder if, as local bus ridership increases, the regional bus system being planned has a better chance of success. By coincidence, I wrote about the bus system in my monthly column for the Grand Haven Tribune, which is posted on my other blog, Pierpoints.

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