2014 Women In Transportation: Mary Shaffer

Posted on October 16, 2014 by Kelsey Nolan, Assistant Editor

Last year, Shaffer and the Cleveland RTA team hosted Vice President Joe Biden at their rail facility. Recently, Shaffer left RTA to join the Broward County Transit team.
Last year, Shaffer and the Cleveland RTA team hosted Vice President Joe Biden at their rail facility. Recently, Shaffer left RTA to join the Broward County Transit team.
The best part of Mary Shaffer’s previous role as the public relations representative for the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) was when it worked.

“I know our campaigns had a lot of impact when people come up to me and tell me they don’t know what they’d do without RTA,” she explains. “That was the most rewarding.”

Last year, Shaffer and her team had the opportunity to host Vice President Joe Biden at RTA’s rail facility. She says the fact that Biden thought their projects and programs were important enough to single out over everywhere else in the country was a huge accomplishment.

Shaffer spent about eight years pursuing a broadcast journalism career before switching over to public relations. In fact, it wasn’t until she received an opportunity to work for Delphi Automotive in Mexico doing media relations that she considered the transit world at all, she explains. According to Shaffer, she spent several years doing PR for Delphi, the private firm Dix & Eaton, and eventually, her own firm until she moved into the public transit market.

After she relocated back to Cleveland, she explains she had a respect and love for public transportation. Shaffer consciously moved to an area with easy access to the train she could ride downtown to work to avoid the expense of parking. While running her own firm, she says she would occasionally check in to see if there were any openings for public relations.

When a position for the media relations manager for RTA came available four years ago, she applied, building it into a full public relations segment.

“Now, we’re not just fighting and being on the defensive,” Shaffer explains. “We’re actively promoting all the good things we have and putting them out in front of people and personalizing the things that are wonderful.”

An example she gives is highlighting an individual in a wheelchair, who wouldn’t be able to get to work every day if it weren’t for paratransit.

According to Shaffer, the different hats she wore at RTA ran the gammit from media and community relations, public speaking, speech writing, community fundraising events, coordinating board members and special projects management, such as facilitating the transportation of the athletes and attendees of the Senior Games and the Gay Games. Though employee communications program are not necessarily in her personal arsenal, she helps when she can, because she feels that good employee relations is extremely important.

“To have a good external image you have to have a good relationship with your internal co-workers,” Shaffer says.

Since she began her work with RTA, one of Shaffer’s proudest accomplishments has been to help establish a speaker’s bureau. She explains that she has about 45 RTA employees she trained in presentation skills, teaching them what kinds of things to focus on if they are asked to speak in public. She feels this is valuable, because there were often staff members who have a great working knowledge of a particular area, but may not have felt the most comfortable speaking in front of the public.

As she navigated her role, Shaffer says she found media relations is often the most difficult aspect, but one of the most important. With the addition of social media-type news outlets, there are more individuals looking to get in touch with her.

“While there are actually more [reporters], there is still only one of me,” she says. “Some days there are 12 or 14 phones calls about 12 or 14 different events.”

But since she had many years of experience as a journalist, she knows what it entails to reach a deadline and is responsive as she can be, especially with the rise of multimedia journalism.

Shaffer recently took her talents to the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. area, in a great opportunity to lead the marketing, communications and customer service areas at Broward County Transit. She is excited for the new challenges and mostly, for the lack of snow.

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