Communications is moving faster than ever before. And just as car and truck drivers on the nation’s highways expect a smooth ride, people expect an organization’s communications to move quickly and seamlessly between them and the organization’s leadership. For the past 11 years, Lloyd Brown has risen to the challenge of mapping out communications that serve the information needs of state transportation officials, as well as congressional and federal administration members.
As the director of communications and marketing for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), Lloyd helmed a team of eight that exchanged ideas for improvement among state transportation officials, highlighted successes, and communicated needs to key decision makers on Capitol Hill.
Lloyd recently accepted a new role as a communications consultant. In the midst of his professional transition, he took time to answer our questions about why he loves working in communications and how he leads his teams by example.
Association Adviser: What motivated you to choose a career in communications? How did you end up working for AASHTO?
Lloyd Brown: I actually started my career in radio, working at small local radio stations while in college. I eventually ended up writing for the college newspaper and found that I enjoyed covering news. The transition from newspaper reporter to communications happened in my late 20s.
I started working at AASHTO in 2010, after nearly nine years at Washington State Department of Transportation.
I think communications is a fascinating field – whether as a journalist or a communicator. It’s rapidly evolving thanks to technologies that move messages instantaneously. And the public expects its government to harness the same communication capabilities as today’s customer-focused businesses. That’s a huge challenge.
AA: AASHTO has many official communication outlets: AASHTO Journal, Transportation TV, AASHTO Magazine, AASHTO Annual Reports. Who are your audiences? What is the purpose of these niche publications? How large is the team that produces them?
LB: Like many DC-based trade associations, we have two key audiences. Our members, of course, are always top of mind in everything we do. Keeping them updated about what’s happening on Capitol Hill and within the Administration, while also tracking the trends in transportation policies and practices. We also focus our efforts on educating key Congressional and Administration decision makers to ensure they are fully aware of our members’ accomplishments and successes.
We have a team of eight people who make up our communications and marketing division, but at AASHTO, good communications is everyone’s responsibility. That approach adds a level of richness and credibility to our efforts that are grounded in sound policy and engineering.
AA: Tell us about TransComm, AASHTO’s committee on transportation communications. Who is involved? How do you promote the committee, and activity it sponsors?
LB: TransComm is AASHTO’s Committee on Transportation Communications. The voting members are the directors of communication for each state DOT, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. The larger TransComm community includes all state DOT communications staff. That means the group features a range of expertise from media relations experts to social media mavens to public involvement specialists. We meet annually in person, but the dialogue and support within the community continues throughout the year using online platforms. It is truly an amazing group of communications professionals.
AA: Tell us (briefly) about a time you put your crisis communications plan into action. How well did your plan serve your team? What did you learn from the experience?
LB: After so many years at a state DOT, I don’t consider there to be many crisis situations at AASHTO. However, there are definitely times when the programs and systems we have in place need to execute seamlessly and efficiently. COVID-19 was one of those times. Our team supported the executive in collecting information and sharing it with members, while also focusing on reporting critical information from the transportation world that our customers needed.
AA: What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?
LB: I believe in leading by example. One of my rules is that I need to know how to do just about anything that my team knows how to do. I also step in to handle things when staff take vacations, which keeps my skills sharp. This approach provides me a level of empathy for what my team faces day in and day out.
I also have a keen interest in my team as individual people. It’s important for me to ask questions about what else is going on in their lives beyond the work, so again, I can have a level of empathy and understanding. It makes our relationships richer and it gives a common language that we can work from.
AA: You’ve recently accepted a job as a communications consultant. What prompted this change?
LB: The team at HDR Inc. values strategic communications and the role strong messaging plays in a successful transportation department. I really relate to that. I also look at this move as an opportunity to continue to learn and grow as a communications professional. I will undoubtedly meet new people and work with new organizations. I’m excited for what comes next.
AA: What personal or professional goals do you hope to accomplish through this consulting position?
LB: I have a passion for strategic communications – thinking through a challenge, developing a plan and executing that plan in a way that garners positive results. In Washington, DC, a significant amount of our focus was on what was happening on Capitol Hill and within the Beltway. In this new role, I am looking forward to tackling some of the real-world challenges faced by clients.
AA: You and I are fellow runners. Just for fun: What are you best marathon or triathlon training tips? What do you tell yourself or think about when you hit that 20-mile wall and you still have 6.2 miles to go?
LB: Great questions. I’ve finished nine marathons, an ultramarathon and three Ironman races. Each race was different and I came away with something after every race. But two things stand out that I think are really important when training for longer endurance races. Respect the distance. That means you need to put in the time, take your diet and preparations seriously, and make sure you’ve done all the work necessary to show up to the start line ready to go. Second, and perhaps most important, enjoy the experience. For me, that means I make myself smile – even when I’m suffering – because I know that I’m very fortunate to have the health and the family support to tackle these adventures.
AA: Who are your picks for this year’s World Series matchup?
LB: I’m a lifelong Dodgers fan, so I can easily see a rematch between Los Angeles and the Tampa Bay Rays. Good pitching and organizational talent will carry these teams through the playoffs.
AA: In terms of your job, what keeps you up at night?
LB: I think post COVID, the fear of losing good people to other organizations. People have all kinds of reasons for wanting to tackle new jobs and new experiences. I’m expecting that as the pandemic wanes, we’ll see people resigning, which can affect productivity and team chemistry.