Public Lighting Authority of Detroit’s Agency of Change

Case Study – Public Lighting Authority of Detroit’s “Agency of Change” Campaign


Detroit’s public lighting system had been in a state of serious disrepair for several decades. The City’s financial distress ruled out any severe reinvestment of the system since its bonds were rated “junk.” In December 2012, the Michigan Legislature approved legislation to allow municipalities to create separate public lighting authorities. With Detroit as a primary focus, this legislation allowed these authorities to raise the necessary funds to rebuild cities’ public street lighting. The Public Lighting Authority of Detroit (PLA) was established shortly after that by a resolution passed by Detroit City Council in February 2013.

As the PLA began to operate, it needed to carry out a comprehensive, integrated communications campaign around two significant, long-term efforts. The first effort was to introduce the PLA, explain how it is different from Detroit’s Public Lighting Department, and engage critical audiences around a lighting plan for the future. Following the adoption of this first plan, a second communication strategy needed to notify key audiences of construction and mark the significant moments of the new citywide lighting system.













The PLA retained our agency to develop and implement a comprehensive communication campaign that integrated media relations, community engagement, and marketing. This campaign combined a series of community meetings inform and engage city leaders and residents and media outreach to educate the public of the PLA’s plans. Along with targeted door hanger distribution, comprehensive website development was accessible information sources that helped alert residents of upcoming construction activities planned in their neighborhoods. Simultaneously, our team organized a meeting for all potential Detroit-based contractors to inform them of contract opportunities and to assure they knew how to access the PLA.

When the PLA hired its first CEO, our agency organized a news conference to highlight his appointment. Following the conference, visits were made to editorial boards at key print publications and broadcast outlets to introduce the new leadership and to brief them on the PLA’s progress. We also scheduled meetings for the CEO with key community leaders to develop strong relationships and to assure that they were up to date on the overall plan.

The first step in relighting the City was selecting two pilot areas, one on the City’s east side and one on the west side. Through another door hanger distribution, residents in both pilot areas learned that they would see PLA crews evaluating the current status of lights in their neighborhoods. As light replacement plans formalized, we held public information sessions in both pilot areas, inviting residents with a second set of door hangers.

Our team then organized a media event to highlight the installation of the first new light. This story was the lead story on the front page of the Detroit Free Press. It was reported extensively by local, regional and national media. We then replicate our strategy from the two pilot areas in every corner of Detroit’s 139 square miles. We also provided media with significant progress and completion updates.

Two years after this significant lighting project began, our team organized and executied a significant event to illuminate the final street in Detroit. Civic and community leaders from across Michigan attended this magnificent celebration, including federal, statewide, and local officials, the Shawn Donovan, and the Housing and Urban Development Secretary at that time. 


Our agency’s success was marked by the positive feedback the PLA has received from all stakeholders from government and community leaders to residents across the City. It was noted that the communications strategy provided proactive and timely information to residents as well as opportunities for feedback throughout the massive project.

The media was supportive of the effort with a multitude of positive articles that provided communicate vital information to the community and crucial third-party validation of the PLA’s progress. This support resulted in strong articles such as Detroit News publishing an editorial holding the PLA up as an example of how government should work.  Additionally, the results of our work received significant coverage include a substantial story in the New York Times with the headline, “The Lights are on in Detroit.”

98Forward continues to support the PLA with media relations, marketing, web management, and annual report production.

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