27 Aug

The Brent Spence Bridge Needed Repairs: How We Helped 180,000 Drivers a Day Stay Cool, Calm and Informed

By: Matt Fickenworth, Intern

Originally designed to accommodate 80,000 vehicles a day, the Brent Spence Bridge now carries 160,000 cars, trucks, ambulances and more across the Ohio River between Ohio and Kentucky. It serves as a critical connector, supporting major economic development as goods and services move along I-75 between Michigan and Florida. Re-vamping the Brent Spence Bridge (BSB) is a project that’s garnered the attention of residents, businesses and politicians, including both Presidents Obama and Trump. With cost estimates to build a new bridge as high as $3.5 billion, it has been the state’s number one infrastructure project for most of the 21st Century.

But until a new bridge can be built (and funded), repairs and maintenance are a high priority. In 2017, a major maintenance project for the BSB was launched, and it had the potential to create headaches and hassles for millions of drivers. We were tasked with coordinating a detailed communications campaign to prevent just that during the five-month project. Here’s how we did it.

With 160k vehicles a day traversing the bridge, thoughtful communications were a must to help drivers navigate the construction, especially with 60 days of the work scheduled to occur 24/7. We knew we had to communicate any way we could with both local and out of town drivers to maximize safety and minimize backups. We conducted detailed research consisting of interviews and reviewing digital assets and social demographics, we created a process, measurable objectives, an assortment of strategies and much more.

Our four-step process narrowed down what we truly needed to focus on:

  1. Research from internal teams and external client sources determined key messages and audiences.
  2. Planning consisted of preparing all media channels, creating media lists for project announcements and promoting communication strategies.
  3. Implementation of all listed strategies and tactics were carried out to ensure success of the plan.
  4. Evaluation was conducted at the end of 60 days to identify effectiveness toward plan goals.

Our project goal stated: Ensure the traveling public has multiple options to access updates about the maintenance work and associated closures/detours to alleviate travel backups. We had several measurable objectives, one of which was to alleviate the 18 to 20-mile traffic backup anticipated by project engineers. One of our strategies to achieve those objectives was to establish a strong digital communications infrastructure for all BSB maintenance and traffic pattern changes to quickly and effectively reach Greater Cincinnati residents and other key stakeholders and allow them to ask questions and receive timely results.

We created a website, email campaigns and Facebook and Twitter profiles to help spread messages. Two news releases and a press conference helped us announce important dates and maintenance work, while also providing media with visual project information and an opportunity to ask questions. We created a clear, concise message track to use in all of our communications and platforms: Plan your Drive, Know Your Lane and The Big Picture.

Our highly compressed timeline forced us to work efficiently and gather resources that we typically would not have for most clients. When none of the forecasted 20-mile back-ups came to fruition, it was due in large part to the nearly 25 million print and digital media impressions we helped generate in communicating to drivers about alternate routes and how to navigate lane closures smoothly. In fact, we won a Blacksmith award for our work on the BSB as the best public service campaign of 2017. Our results proved our recognition:

  1. At 49.85 percent, open rates for the 22 e-blasts were 28 percent higher than industry standards.
  2. Back-ups around the bridge were reported as no worse than during normal commutes.
  3. We generated 332 print/digital and 1,200 broadcast mentions, or $3.14 million calculated ad value.
  4. BrentSpence2017.com saw 86,648 sessions.

Through it all, the one major lesson we learned was the importance of establishing a transparent, trusting relationship with our client. In addition, this also meant building a trusting relationship with the community, who depended on us to provide real-time updates and fast responses to questions and concerns. That community trust was paramount, and helped drivers engage with helpful updates (and save themselves a lot of commute-related headaches).