In 2012, the Parking Authority of Baltimore City (PABC) sought a public relations firm to develop and execute a strategic community outreach plan for a new parking program for people with disabilities. The new program, which was not fully conceptualized at the time, aimed to help curb the abuse of disability placards and license plates, while also increasing the amount of available parking for people with and without disabilities.
Given the sensitive nature of now requiring everyone – including people with disabilities – to pay for on-street parking, PABC sought a community outreach partner to effectively brand the campaign, define program messages and communicate with target audiences.
Since August 2012, Profiles has worked with PABC and the Mayor’s Office on Disabilities to develop and implement an ongoing communications and public outreach strategy that includes the following tactics:
- Research: Profiles performed primary (focus groups, individual interviews) and secondary research (reports, parking data) to determine the parking issues faced by people with disabilities as well as the motivation behind abusing disability placards and license plates, and compiled a research summary.
- Branding and Messaging: Using the research from above, Profiles created a name, tagline and visual identity for the program, ProjectSPACE, along with key messages for each audience segment.
- Materials Development: Profiles applied the visual identity and key messages to outreach materials including website, brochure, postcard, ads, event giveaways, etc.
- Media Relations: Profiles held a launch press conference featuring elected officials and people with disabilities, created and issued press materials, secured letters to the editor and op-eds, and secured story placements in key media outlets.
- On-Street Outreach: Profiles formed a street team who spoke one-on-one with on-street parkers and local businesses before and after the program launch, including program specifics, meter instructions and information about placard abuse.
- Community Relations: Profiles attended local community meetings to present information about ProjectSPACE and also secured and staffed a number of community events (Artscape, Baltimore Book Festival, Baltimore Farmer’s Market, Fells Point Fun Festival, etc.) to connect directly with target audiences.
- Social Media: Profiles initiated a digital communications plan including the creation of e-newsletters, development and production of online videos, launch and maintenance of social media pages (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube), and held a Twitter chat hosted by the Mayor’s office.
As a result of the public outreach campaign, the abuse of disability placards declined before the program launched and new parking policies were in effect. In the immediate weeks following the launch of ProjectSPACE, internal parking studies showed a significant decline in placard use throughout the Phase 1 area. An average of 23 placards were stolen per month prior to the launch of ProjectSPACE. Three months after the program launch, this number dropped to only one placard, a decrease of 95 percent.
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