Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Details schmetails

Flew into Detroit Metro Airport Monday night. That evening, the airport flipped the switch on a new payment system in its parking deck. The payment kiosks were completely new, as was the software, method of payment and ticketing process. Signage was proud and prominent. Brochures and collateral explained how great the new system would be. A flashy, informative animated video and press release explained its incredible benefits. Even a few brightly painted vans were decal-ed to the hilt to celebrate the new arrival. Seems they did a pretty good job planning the communications and roll-out of the new system.

One small problem in the details: all those flying in that night didn't have tickets for the new system...our tickets were from the old one. And these tickets didn't talk to the new system. This meant all those with old tickets would have to go into an exit lane that had a parking attendant on duty, rather than the much-quicker automated lane. No big deal. Except that a couple more details were overlooked: there was only one open lane with an attendant; and the system in that lane had been replaced by the new system.

After 45 minutes of waiting to get out of the garage, without much movement at all, drivers started getting, well, unhappy. Horns. Yelling. Long, growing line of cars up that stretched onto other levels. At least one incident of a car hitting another.

Finally, a manager came out of nowhere and literally ripped the 2x6 arm off the parking gate and yelled "just let 'em out!" I applaud him for making the move, no doubt at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars.

The communication plan for this changeover appears to be pretty solid. The airport began its pre-change PR as many as nine months ago. The message was simple and the supporting materials were thorough. The actual execution failed miserably.

It reminded me of a theory which applies perfectly to PR, but also to just about every sector of business (and life, if you think about it):
Great strategy, poor execution = failure.
Poor/no strategy, great execution = likely failure (you can get lucky once in a while).