Integral to a successful public relations effort is ensuring that the public is informed and that there is a general feeling of involvement or having a stake in the future of the region’s airport. This can be done through a variety of venues and airports are taking advantage of the possibilities technology affords for these efforts.
Check out www.future.signonsandiego.com for a great community outreach idea. The San Diego Airport Authority, in its ongoing effort to keep the community it serves informed, started an online web dialogue — or blog. (Blog is short for weblog; it’s an Internet site where one or more persons post comments, ideas, questions, and answers, generally in real-time.)
According to Angela Shafer-Payne, VP of strategic planning with the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, SAN recently conducted an online web dialogue which provided the community an opportunity to sign up to receive information on the authority’s site selection program every day for two weeks and then participate in 15 separate chat rooms that were established to talk through the provided information.
The airport authority is charged with researching the air transportation needs of the San Diego region and presenting voters with a ballot initiative in November 2006 which could move the airport to a new location or expand Lindbergh Field. Currently there are nine prospective sites on the selection list, including five military sites (see page 28).
More than 700 residents signed up to participate, which yielded some 3,000 pages of comments on the site selection process and the future of the air transportation system in the San Diego region. “It was the first of its kind that we know of in Southern California,” Shafer-Payne says. The Fly Into the Future weblog was hosted from June 6 to 17 and, says Shafer-Payne, “It was a really great experience. In fact, over 50 of the participants asked if they could continue for another two weeks just on their own, talking about the issue.”
Discussion topics ranged from replacing, improving, or supplementing Lindbergh Field to costs and tradeoffs of different sites and what type of airport does the community want serving the region.
The weblog is hosted at www.signonsandiego.com, which Shafer-Payne says is one of the most heavily hit websites for San Diego. It provides information regarding activities that happen in the county and region. “We identified them as being an appropriate venue that attracted most Internet users in the county and did some promotion through them.”
The authority also promoted the blog through speaker engagements throughout the region and local media. “We were hoping for 500 and internally we were crossing our fingers saying, will we get to 500? And it was just literally overnight once we got it out there in the media, we saw an incredible jump and had over 735 that signed up.” San Diego International has an “extensive” public outreach and education program associated with the site selection program, explains Shafer-Payne, and a similar program with the master plan revision process.
“With the site selection program, we’re reaching out to the over three million residents in the county through a series of different tactics,” she says. The authority participates in almost all of the region’s street fairs and county fairs to promote the airport and keep the public well-informed, says Shafer-Payne, and also invites local groups such as planning associations, environmental groups, public agencies, and municipal governments to participate in what it calls a coffee klatch.
“We will invite typically around 20 or so to come in and have, in a smaller group setting, just a conversation with either myself or one of the other VPs or the president/CEO about all the programs we have ongoing here at the airport, and then specifically focusing on site selection,” explains Shafer-Payne.
“It gives us a great chance to have one-on-one dialogue with people in the region who are interested. There’s always something we can learn about our educational process, or what people need more information on or less information on so that they can make an informed decision in November 2006.”
Shafer-Payne expects that the authority will host at least one more weblog before the ballot goes before voters in November 2006. “We want to tie it to a milestone in the program,” she says. “So if we would eliminate some civilian sites or the military sites [from the site selection list] we would expect that might be an appropriate time to establish another dialogue and run another two-week session.”
The Internet, through both websites and email, has opened a host of new ways to communicate within the industry. Whether it’s posting minutes from board meetings to keep the community up to date, establishing a weblog, or emailing industry contacts to get their feedback on a particular issue facing an airport or business, much can be shared through and learned from these powerful technology tools.