Today I took the el downtown to meet with the American Marketing Association – Chicago Meetup (AMA). I’ve met with this group before and find the discussions insightful. The group is primarily professionals sharing ideas about trends in marketing, advertising and public relations. The format is to give five or six attendees a chance to share a marketing related objective or challenge then let the group weigh in on how to attack the problem. I got the opportunity to tell about AuthorsBroadCast.com then get some feedback on how I might improve my marketing strategy in regard to getting the message of my video book trailer production service disseminated to more authors and publishers. I had a chance to meet several people but there was no official card swap so I did not get a chance to really key in on more than those who were in my immediate vicinity. For the most part this is not an entrepreneurial networking meeting where people are seeking publicity so in the case of a few folks I will use only first names to tell about the new people I met.
This next bit of the story may seem a bit misplaced but this is a post about marketing, so why not a little case study of my consumer experience with the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).
I have to begin by telling you that I am not an avid rider of the CTA. Okay I admit it. However my wife rides everyday which I feel is support enough for both of us. I have a home office and if I have to go someplace I tend to walk if it’s within 2 miles or jump in the car and drive. I avoid going into the loop if possible. I also avoid far Western Suburbs too so that pretty much limits my range. Well in the past week or so I have had a number of downtown meetings to attend and frankly the thirty dollar parking tabs were starting to chap me a bit. So today I thought, “Okay I’ll take the el.” I live fairly close to the Brown Line and the meeting was right near LaSalle and Lake so I had no excuse to do otherwise.
Now this is where a good idea starts getting complicated. My wife has a nifty CTA smart card pass of some kind that I know little about. I had an old CTA transit card left behind by a visiting niece but had no idea how much value it had if any. I would have preferred to take the bus and do this thing right. But instead I began my journey by DRIVING to the Western Brown Line stop so that I could purchase a transit card. When I got there, it turned out the old transit card was expired! The attendant ran it through another card reader and told me it had seventy-five cents remaining but that was not enough to make a claim. So now I am already a little tiffed. Where does the CTA get off telling me that my seventy-five cents is not important. Maybe it is to me. Maybe I want to give that ticket to some homeless guy. Why do I have to donate my niece’s seventy-five cents to the CTA? Yikes! Okay I can get past that for the moment. But I seem to remember that Lisa Madigan cracked down on the expiring store gift cards. How is it that the CTA got a pass on this scam?
So now I go to the machine to buy a transit card only to find it does not take credit cards. Boy that’s really user friendly. The parking meters and garages downtown take credit cards, but not the CTA! As it turns out I have four twenty dollar bills in my pocket. But I do not want a $20 transit card. I am not sure how soon I will be enjoying another adventure like this and I just made a seventy-five sent forced donation. I only want a ten dollar transit card however the machine does not give change. Now I understand the challenges related to capping a leaking oil pipe in the depths of the Gulf of Mexico but I cannot understand why the CTA cannot find a vendor with the technology necessary to accept credit cards or give change back on a purchase. It’s a twenty dollar transit card for me or nothing.
As it turns out I have to go park my car someplace anyway so I leave the Western el station, transit cardless with no firm plan. I need to change this $20 bill. I am sure you know just how accommodating small retail stores are when it comes to this request. “May I give you a twenty dollar bill and take all of your singles and fives.” I really could not stand the indignation of the possibility of this rejection and began harboring thoughts of driving downtown. I decided to drive aimlessly following the Brown Line south as I made my decision.
Within a few minutes I was at Montrose and spotted a Laundromat. Ha! That’s the ticket. Laundromats need to make change they probably have a machine and I will not have to discuss my situation with anyone, simply an anonymous change machine. I can even imagine how it would look. Just like the one at the car wash near my house with the slot indicating which way to insert your bill illustrated by the outline of George Washington facing in the proper direction and lit up by a little red L.E.D.s. Silk screened on the case would be large white lettering indicating $5 – $10 – $20 BILLS. Perfect!
Almost miraculously I found a parking spot just off Montrose on a side street with no permit parking signs anywhere to be seen. I walked swiftly and purposely to the Laundromat and searched in vain for the glittering casinolike bill changer that would transform my twenty dollar bill into twenty singles. At this point I would settle for eighty quarters. After about two laps around the establishment I finally asked the attendant if there was a machine that could change my twenty dollar bill. “Oh no we can’t give change for a twenty. We can only give change if you do laundry.” Yikes!!
Alright so this story does have a relatively happy ending. Back out on the street I notice a currency exchange near the train entrance. I figure even if I have to pay them seventy-five cents I’d rather stimulate their economy. At least they would be providing a service. However happily I discovered that they sold ten dollar CTA transit cards with no additional premium. At last I was on my way.
For discussion. How in the world can the CTA be serious about increasing rider ship and getting gas guzzling drivers like me out of their cars when I cannot even figure out how to pay them for the privilege?
Arriving at the meeting I was cheerfully greeted by the assistant organizer Alex Yates whose business card describes him as a “Marketing Mad Man.” Probably not half as mad as I was twenty minutes earlier. I had some nice interaction with Steve Forstneger, Editor of the Illinois Entertainer your source for finding who’s performing where in the Chicago and environs pop music scene. Two previous networking buddies Fredrick Dudek, and market research expert Jonathan, who I met a few weeks ago at the LinkedIn event. Karen Flannery is also a market research maven with Thoroughbred Research Group. Gary was job seeker with an MBA from U of C who also has an IT background looking to apply his skills to marketing and Andrea currently between assignments doing freelance work. Andrea did not have an official business card with her but she did have a blank calling card with an embossed imprint of two hands clasped in greeting with the words PLEASED TO MEET YOU! Under which she wrote her name informing me that we could connect at LinkedIn. I actually respect Andrea’s approach. I have written previously about the fact that women are often reluctant to give their phone numbers and emails too freely at networking events. I think this is a very acceptable solution. So in my quest to meet 100 new people in 50 days I am adding Steve, Karen, Andrea and Gary. Bringing my total to 35 after 21 days. Seems I better step up my game a bit. Be sure to follow me as I stumble along by car, by rail or on foot.