3 Communication Lessons from Carmegeddon

Posted 07.18.2011

Carmageddon1 Even if you don’t live in Los Angeles you’ve probably heard of Carmegeddon.  This past weekend, a 10 mile stretch of interstate 405 was closed for a bridge demolition.  As Reuters reports, there was a full-on, flood the zone PR campaign mounted by local municipal leaders to encourage residents of the LA area to stay home and not get anywhere close to the 405 during the closure. The fear was epic traffic jams as the 500,000 cars that drive that stretch of the 405 on a weekend day looked for alternate routes.

I’ve been in SoCal this weekend as I came out a few days early for a group coaching session for a client on Tuesday. With a front row seat to the potential traffic apocalypse, I’m happy to report it was a non-event. Everyone apparently got the word, stayed close to home and enjoyed various 405 promos and events at local merchants and restaurants. Locals have been talking about how pleasant the weekend has been without traffic. Comedian Bill Maher might have summed it up best when he tweeted, “How’s everyone coping with this terrifying apocalyptic nightmare of having to … oh my God … stay home with your family?!!!”

The weekend was a success in no small measure because of the job that L.A. municipal leaders did in influencing public behavior. They did a masterful job of communicating their message in a way that got people to do what they wanted them to do. Here are three communication lessons from Carmegeddon that are worth thinking about the next time you have to get an important message across:

  • Catchy is Sticky:  L.A. officials generated an enormous amount of buzz by dubbing the 405 closure as Carmegeddon. Catchy, sticky and fun to talk about.  A freeway closure in L.A. became a national story as a result.  Simple, memorable phrases are an important lever in getting your message across.
  • Make the Request and the Benefits Clear:  The message from L.A.’s leaders could not have been more clear.  Stay close to home during the 405 closure and avoid a traffic nightmare. With plenty of advance warning, that was an easy thing for residents to do. You’re more likely to get the results you want when you make it easy for people to understand and act on what you want them to do.
  • Enlist Help:  L.A. leaders pulled out the stops on enlisting help by recruiting celebrities and others to record PSAs and send tweets urging people to stay off the road. You may not be able to get Lady Gaga to help out with your next change initiative, but there are undoubtedly people you can enlist to help spread the word.

What’s the most effective leadership communications campaign you’ve ever seen? What lessons learned did you take away from it?