There are a variety of reasons a utility may not be providing public outreach to their customers. We hear it often, “I don’t have time, there are too many things to do”. “We don’t have a budget for outreach”. “I don’t know where to start, it’s not my specialty”. “I covered that issue last year”.
The reality is, it doesn’t matter the reasons you wish you could do more outreach or the reasons you aren’t doing outreach. What needs to be the focus is making the most of the outreach you do provide because, if you create successful outreach, it will garner support from management to create more outreach.
Over the years, we’ve worked with nearly 350 utilities and municipalities on communication plans, public education programs and outreach covering a wide variety of demographics and topics. You name it, we’ve likely covered it; annual reports, communicating rate increases, water reclamation use and education, tracking improper pet waste disposal and reduction, kids outreach and activities for Fats, Oils and Grease, transitioning to online water quality reports, social media content creation, NPDES program development, the list goes on and on.
With this experience, we have seen strong trends in unsuccessful outreach efforts. Or, should I say, the reason for the lack of engagement with outreach materials is consistent.
Here are 5 reasons your outreach may not be resonating and creating engagement with your customers.
- The quality of your outreach doesn’t match the quality of your department’s work: You are professionals in your field. That field may not be marketing and communications, but you work hard to keep your department running smoothly. Whether that be infrastructure systems, treatment systems, accounting or office management, you work hard to do your job correctly. Therefore, why would you put out outreach that didn’t match the professionalism of your organization? Of, if you aren’t providing any outreach, how professional does that make your department or organization look? If your outreach is not as professional, the your customers won’t respect it and engage with it.
- There are way too many words and not any or enough engaging graphics: an easy way to think of it is what can you read when you are standing in your grocery line? People are on the go, whether looking a phone, driving by a billboard or opening their mail, people are busy. So, when you are trying to reach them make sure you grab their attention with graphics that are bold and include short, simple content. Provide a link to more detailed information but make sure to get their attention. Too many words means you’ll lose them before you ever had them engaged.
- Your messaging is not integrated: Integrated marketing, to put it simply, it means that all your outreach is consistent. If you provide outreach to customers through bill inserts, website, social media and radio PSA’s then the content better be consistent and your branding message consistent so customers recognize the communication as a program and engage with it. This needs to include your internal communications to employees too!
- You aren’t doing enough of it: Providing communication in only 1 area, such as the website is not enough. Or, if you just do a bill insert, it’s not enough. Customers need to be reminded multiple times and in multiple ways so come up with creative ways to reach customers such as bill inserts, updating your website content and social media updates are all ways to share your program goals and information.
- No call to action: How do you know if your customers are even reading or seeing your information if you don’t provide a call to action? What are they supposed to do? Sign up for a program? Clip a coupon and bring it in? Enter to win? Call? Visit a webpage? click on a link? There are all viable options. so, when you are creating your outreach or education program, make sure you include a way to monitor your program and actually engage your customers.
These tips can help you in our next outreach piece, plan and/or program!