Why we went “all in” on communications for infrastructure projects
by: Marci Hotsenpiller, Founder & Principal
For anyone not familiar with the history of ZINC, I started the firm wearing two very different hats.
At the time, I had enjoyed success in two distinct areas – helping tech companies get amazing international media coverage, and guiding cities and local governments in telling better stories about the projects they were building.
What was the link? At the time I didn’t realize it, but in both cases the common element was disruption. On the tech side, this involved working with consumer internet start ups that were disrupting their industries in areas like online bookselling (Abebooks.com), mattresses (Casper), crowdfunding (Indiegogo), online lending (Mogo), or novel writing (Wattpad). (It also meant a lot of fun trips to San Francisco, NY and Toronto – and far too many tech conferences – but let’s not dwell on that). On the local government side, the disruption was often literal – streets being torn up, downtown blocks being ripped out and re-imagined, and new ideas being introduced to people, like new community energy systems or turning biosolids into usable garden supplements, or introducing bike lanes in places where only cars had gone before.
The great thing about working in two different worlds was bringing elements from each to enhance the other. From tech I borrowed design thinking, an agile philosophy to getting things done, standing huddles, project hashtags, and trying really hard to avoid writing the dreaded “TL:DR” email, and applied it to innovate my firm’s work in the government world. And from our work on big infrastructure projects on the government side, I developed a wicked understanding of working with engineers and getting to the point in as clearly a way as possible.
But then things started to change: The best tech journalists were suddenly looking for jobs on the PR side as newsrooms at their magazines/newspapers/blogs were disappearing. More and more news outlets were moving into paid content (rather than earned) and the culture of the “lean” start-up began translating into reduced budgets for PR and offline marketing.
In contrast, on the government side two very different trends were emerging: local governments across North America began looking at their infrastructure assets and realizing there were a lot of old pipes in the ground and roads/bridges/airports/hospitals/water treatment plants/wastewater plants that needed replacing or upgrades. Layered on top of this was a growing appreciation that the general public (and most definitely those living beside these projects) deserve to know what is happening and why.
As we looked at what this all meant for the ZINC team, it was a very easy call: dialing down tech PR and going all-in on helping local governments guide public communications during large infrastructure projects.
It’s been a great shift (or pivot, as they say in techspeak) and I still attend those conferences but now with another hat on: as an angel investor. It turns out I still love the start-up world but now I view it from a different vantage point, as one of the founding members of the Women’s Equity Lab – the first female group of angel investors in Canada. And in a novel twist we are being pitched by a construction business app startup who has found a way to keep engineering budgets on track and on schedule during massive infrastructure projects. I look forward to checking out their spreadsheets. Let’s hope the future looks busy.
What do you ZINC about going all in on comms for infra projects? Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts/ideas.