This weekend, thousands of naked cyclists treated Portland to one of the most awesome parades the town has ever seen. It was glorious. Riders of all ages, shapes and sizes pedaled enthusiastically through the city wearing little more than ear-to-ear grins. Their joy was infectious. It was a spectacular night to be alive.
It became abundantly clear that nude group cycling is fantastically therapeutic – strong medicine for mind body and soul. Even as a spectator sport, it has a lot of value. Screw the Rose Parade – THIS event captures the true spirit of Portland.
Better still, this event was about more than drinking beer, riding bikes and letting the night air sweetly caress everyone’s naughty bits. This event was part of the World Naked Bike Ride. These riders were not just revelers; they were activists spreading an important message. And that message – according to the WNBR’s Wiki – has something to do with dependence on cars and oil, body image and self-awareness, community building, peace-of-mind, self-sufficiency, thinking globally and acting locally, less being more, bike safety, saving the planet, reducing vehicle emissions and fueling a revolution. OK, perhaps it wasn’t so clear what the message was, but I’m sure it was important.
After reading through the bikeportland.org blog post and seeing what the riders themselves had to say about the ride, one of the few criticisms raised (aside from a smattering of rude behavior from onlookers and motorists) was the fact that the purpose of the ride wasn’t as effectively communicated to the general public as it could have been. In other words, one of the best public relations stunts in Portland’s history was a tremendous success except for the publicity aspect. Fortunately, this is easily fixed.
The NWBR creators deserve serious kudos for starting a movement that has obviously struck a chord with people around the globe. However, from a pure communications perspective, the Website falls short. It is out of date, incomplete and difficult to navigate. Most of all, it lacks clear, concise and coherent messaging explaining what the WNBR is all about and what the rides are trying to accomplish.
The key messages are found on the organization’s Wiki. Alas, they are far from clear, concise and coherent. They are all over the place. They cover every conceivable angle. They don’t tell a story. This is what I like to call “message anarchy.” In this particular case, the most likely culprit is the nature of the Wiki itself – something that invites anyone and everyone to contribute. Big groups are great for brainstorming, but when it comes to messaging, too many cooks will always spoil the soup. At the end of the day, someone has to prioritize themes and do some serious editing and wordsmithing to come up with something meaningful and usable. This is important.
All successful communications campaigns require tight and compelling messaging. With a big grassroots campaign, it becomes even more critical. Key messages need to be something that participants can easily understand, remember and repeat in a clear and consistent way. Effective messaging empowers every member of the group to become an ambassador and spokesperson. And that is the key to spreading the message far and wide.
If you look at the (minimal) regional news coverage from rides around the globe, you’ll see that some reporters saw the event as an attempt to increase awareness and safety and others saw it as an environmental initiative. Others saw it as little more than a party (or a nuisance). This is message anarchy at work.
Portland Public Relations Efforts Can Help Spread the Word Locally and Globally
This weekend, the Portland cycling community provided yet another example of why this small, rainy town deserves the title of Best Bicycle City in America. New York’s WNBR ride boasted 40 riders who were prevented from getting completely naked by the police. New Orleans reported dozens of riders. Chicago and San Francisco drew slightly larger crowds. Portland, on the other hand, had more than 5,000 participants. The police were there in force – not to arrest people for being naked, but to help with traffic and protect the riders.
Portland riders EARNED the right to take a leadership role in this movement. And Portland has the numbers, the passion and the talent to help take the WNBR to the next level locally, nationally or globally.
So, for those riders who wished that the event could have raised a little more awareness for the cause, I’ve provided a few thoughts on things you might want to focus on next year. Obviously, these same tips can be adapted for virtually any similar type of grassroots effort.
1) End message anarchy – prioritize what it is that YOUR ride wants to accomplish. Be specific and concise with your messages. For example:
WNBR Portland is part of a global initiative to remind motorists, politicians and the community at large that:
- There are more bicycles on the road than ever before
- Cyclists (clothed or otherwise) are vulnerable to motorists. Drivers need to be constantly aware of their presence and share the road
- Cycling is an elegant form of sustainable transportation and a great alternative to automobiles
- Cycling is good for mind, body and soul
- Bikes bring joy to a community and are a fundamental part of what makes Portland special
2) Communicate the message to participants and ask them to spread the word
3) Proactively contact the media. The first step in getting positive and accurate media coverage is to provide reporters with the information they need to craft a compelling story.
- Provide basic who, what, when, where and why information, key messaging and access to articulate spokespeople (a mix of riders and organizers is best)
- Invite them to cover the event and let them know how best to do so
4) Engage the community
- Ask for volunteers to hand out information to spectators
- Enlist local bars to help with crowd control in front of their establishments
- Publish the route in advance and encourage people to come out and cheer the riders on
5) Get Social
- Proactively reach out to the appropriate blogging community and invite them to cover the event
- Create ways to maintain rider contact all year long
- Consider creating an event-specific Website and/or blog
- Network with other WNBR ride leaders to share information and resources
- Establish or identify a presence on appropriate social media outlets in advance and encourage riders to participate and add content
- Facebook page
- Event-specific Flickr and YouTube groups for posting photos and video
- Choose a Twitter hashtag that contributors can use
While it is unlikely you’ll see my bare butt on a bicycle any time soon, I’m happy to support the cause. Organizers or enthusiasts are free to drop me a line any time.