Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on November 17th, 2010 at 2:36 pm
Publisher’s Note: Before I get into this story, I want to share some quick thoughts about the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA). I’ve been beating around the bush about it ever since Rob Sadowsky came to town, but here it is as blunt as I can say it: By late spring of 2011, I suspect the BTA will be but a shadow of their current/former self. And I mean that in a good way. Given the new focus, vibe and internal practices Mr. Sadowsky has brought to the once-struggling organization and the strategic planning process they have just embarked on, I’m pretty convinced that the BTA will emerge next spring stronger and more on target than we’ve ever seen them. I say this based on the many different channels of chatter that I am attuned to and I say it with a high level of confidence. O.K., on with the (related) story at hand…
“It’s not just about BTA as a brand, but also about bicycling in general… It’s about building a better movement and to get some help developing messages so we can combat the backlash.”
— Rob Sadowsky, Executive Director of the BTA
The BTA has just inked a partnership with NORTH (a local branding agency) to firm up their identity and then turn around and do a better job communicating about themselves and about bicycling in general. I had a chat with Sadowsky a few days ago to learn more about this partnership and what it means for the BTA and its 6,000 individual members (a number which, incidentally has gone up by about 500, since Sadowsky took over about eight months ago).
Sadowsky said the BTA hopes that NORTH can “help us discover who we are at our core.” In addition to helping them create a new logo and overall design identity, Sadowsky says “It’s about the voice that we use, how to speak to people both inside our movement and outside the movement.” To help them find that voice, NORTH will help the BTA conduct surveys to find out what types of messages, images, and words that will strengthen their work and which ones they should avoid.
To get a sense of NORTH’s bike-worthy chops, you’ll recall that they were hired by Bikes Belong to create the “If I Ride” video that has been used nationally to promote the People for Bikes campaign:
After NORTH is done with them, Sadowsky says, the BTA will be ready to build a new website, launch a new logo, and “have a clearer understanding of how to use other forms of communication” (like Twitter, Facebook, and so on). Another key aspect of improving their communications skills will be in reaching outside the bike bubble. “As advocates, we are great at talking to other advocates, but need a language to help people make an emotional connection to cycling, the BTA, and the national movement.”
About going beyond just polishing the BTA brand, Sadowsky added, “It’s not just about BTA as a brand, but also about bicycling in general… It’s about building a better movement and to get some help developing messages so we can combat the backlash.”
This communications and branding effort is happening simultaneously with another large-scale effort by the BTA to create a new strategic plan. On December 14th, at the annual membership meeting, BTA members will get their first chance to participate in the strategic planning process. Sadowsky says they’re planning to have a facilitated discussion about “Who the BTA is, how people perceive us, and where people see the highest priority for our work.”
I suspect part of this discussion will revolve around how the BTA balances being an aggressive watchdog group that’s not afraid to throw their weight around when necessary, versus a more conservative and professional organization that leaves the dirty work to others. They might also finally conclusively answer the question of whether or not they should expand their mission beyond just bikes to include walking and transit (like Sadowsky did as leader of the Active Transportation Alliance (formerly Chicagoland Bicycle Federation)).
NORTH will do the work — estimated at a cost of about $50-75,000 — pro bono. Sadowsky says the BTA has set aside money in their budget to make sure NORTH’s insights and ideas can be implemented. The BTA is expected to complete their work with NORTH by the end of January and the new brand and strategic plan will be unveiled by April.
Stay tuned. Things are going to get very interesting at the BTA these next few months. And, to the extent that they succeed and continue this positive trajectory, these changes could have a major impact on bicycling in Portland and beyond. I hope to see many of you at the membership meeting on December 14th.
— For more background and reporting on the BTA, delve into our archives.