Milla Åman Kyyrö, Media Management MA student, department of Culture and Media, Arcada UAS
Supervisor: Tomas Träskman Examiner: Dr Nathalie Hyde-Clarke
New technologies are invented, designed and experimented by start-ups and RDI (research, development and innovation) projects. Once the products are ready to be tested, the projects’ managers need to disseminate information to reach the public. Introducing new technologies to the public requires media presence; hence the industry must evolve functional media relations. The question is, how the project managers lead this relationship-building process?
Case study of robot bus pilots in Finland, Norway and Poland
New, more sustainable, transport technology emerged less than a decade ago in the form of self-driving, electric shuttles, called robot buses. They are marketed as a solution for urban public transportation issues by offering last-mile connectivity, e.g. better services.
The robot buses have been test-driven on open streets in mixed traffic in Finland since 2016 as pilot projects, many of them deployed by Metropolia University of Applied Sciences. As someone communicating with the public about these pilots, I was curious to learn how project managers saw their role and relationship with media in a situation where they bring a novel way of transportation historically for the first time on their cities’ streets and allow passengers to take a ride.
My thesis for the MA in Media Management at Arcada felt current and challenging. The qualitative case study was conducted by interviewing Finnish, Polish and Norwegian robot bus pilot project managers. The data was analysed using the Gioia method in order to form an emerging grounded theory, which indicated that the project managers saw the role of media as essential when introducing the robot buses to the public for the first time.
Transparency creates trust between actors
Perhaps the most interesting part of this research was to learn how frustrating it was for project managers to continually be sharing facts concerning the new tech and still see misinformation spreading in editorial publications. Also, the results indicated that project managers thought it was important to explain the phenomena and reasoning behind the new tech piloting, instead of boosting the new tech through hype.
After a certain point of repetition of pilots and media coverage, a saturation point seemed to be reached and robot buses had decreasing news value. Project managers were happy to see that the familiarity of the topic then seemed to produce more factual and critical media reports.
Project managers felt the open, transparent and honest approach with journalists is the most favourable strategy to relationship building, as it creates understanding and trust between the actors.
Relationship management is an evolving process
The introduction phase of new tech is only the first step. The self-driving, electric vehicles in public transportation are not mature enough yet to become daily commodities, but one day they will.
To anticipate those forthcoming stages, the industry-media process model was created as part of this research. Using this model, project managers and media can evolve their relations beyond the introduction phase. The process model presents five phases of governing project managers’ relationship with media:
- Emergence of the novelty – Inactive media relations
- The media relations are inactive or non-existent
- The project manager recognises the significance of media relations.
- Initiation of project – reactive media relations
- The project starts
- The project manager is contacted by media and replies to inquiries.
- The repetition of facts occurs in high numbers. Misinformation may spread regardless.
- Implementation and usage phases – active media relations:
- The project is implemented and new tech is in use
- The project manager uses own competencies and styles of working with media
- Need to create communication strategies
- Sharing of the broader context with the media. Hype may occur.
- Success and impact phases – proactive media relations:
- The project has received media coverage up to a saturation point
- The new tech’s novelty value has (locally) decreased
- The project manager proceeds to a proactive mode: providing full context, in-depth insights or behind-the-scenes reporting possibilities.
- Dependence phase – sustaining media relations
- The novelty becomes familiar
- The proactive project manager keeps the relationship with media alive by providing updates.
- Informs about the future progress of new tech or implementing it, dependent on external factors such as policymaking, investments, vehicle manufacturers and regulations.
Once the next level of actions related to the new technology begins, the news value may rise again and the relationship process cycle starts anew.
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Are you looking for tools to manage the rapidly changing media industry? Or do you find yourself in the media industry struggling to see the bigger picture? Learn more about our MA in Media Management here: https://www.arcada.fi/en/master/media-management