Showing Off at Public Events
Some departments also conduct public works-related activities at fairs, open houses, or other organized events. The most widely used tool implemented at these events was an informational display. Other popular activities conducted at events were setting up public works booths at fairs/expos held by non-public works entities (53%), public works equipment displays/showcases (46%), and child-oriented contests/activities related to public works (43%). Other types of activities included public works-related competitions and safety demos/tips. Of those departments involved in public relations activities, 16% did not participate in any type of event.
Indianapolis has taken this technique to heart and developed a public works employee Olympics. “The employee Olympics is the kick-off event to National Public Works Week,” said Smith-Simmons. “We have been holding the ‘Olympics' for at least the last 10 years. The Olympics begin with an opening ceremony that is emceed by our director and is attended by our mayor, among others. Our event is held on Monument Circle—the most popular and picturesque location in downtown Indianapolis. It is also a very popular lunch destination in good weather so there are always a lot of onlookers. In addition, media releases are distributed and area businesses are notified and asked to come and participate and cheer for their favorite department of public works team.”
The employee Olympics in Indianapolis consists of 10 teams with four employees (two men and two women) on each team. The games consist of a trash bag toss, 96-gallon tote games involving throwing tennis balls and water bottles into the totes, and a construction cone relay race.Serving Up PR
Several respondents reported the offering of PR-related services, the most popular—chosen by 65% of respondents—is automated or staffed phone contacts for emergency or informational purposes. These calls can be used to notify residents of water repairs, disaster-related information, and special garbage-collection events. Tours of facilities were also offered by 48% of those who have a public relations program. Classroom visits and the distribution of public works-related educational materials for classrooms were provided by 42% of respondents. Radio announcements are used by 38% as a marketing tool.
For the city of Hollywood, Fla., classroom visits are only one of the many marketing tools used throughout the year. “All of our staff gets involved in about a dozen different outreach activities each year including presentations to homeowner associations and career days at schools,” said Gregory Turek, public works department director for Hollywood. “Audiences are always amazed that our department is involved in so many different functions from maintaining coastal beaches to organizing recycling efforts.”Promoting on the Web
Most public works departments subscribe to an Internet service to communicate and download information related to public works projects and services. The ability to set up a Web site is usually offered as part of this Internet service, and public works departments have found that they can make use of this benefit by posting public works-related information. This is supported by survey results that reported only 4% of all respondents did not have a Web site.
The survey showed that typical information provided on respondent Web sites included contact information (84%), explanation and hours of services (68%), project descriptions (58%), summary of operations (56%), and project updates (52%). Almost 40% of respondents provided forms for complaints/comments, 38% listed fees, and 29% offered bill-payment services online.
The manner of implementation and management of a government Web site can vary greatly from community to community. Some public works departments have staff dedicated to this task, while other departments assign the work to existing staff in addition to existing duties. Larger cities may operate the Web site through the public relations, public information, or information technology department.
For Indianapolis, Smith-Simmons said, “Each division and their respective sections were initially responsible for pulling together the appropriate information to be utilized in the new Web site design that was completed in August 2004. However, the public information office formatted and edited each completed page as appropriate and ultimately approved all pages on the Web site and continues to do so with all new additions. One of the assistant public information officers is responsible for the Web site, which includes updating, streamlining, adding links and pages, and making deletions and corrections.”