| AWWA Member Spotlight: Rebecca Zito, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority
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AWWA Member Spotlight: Rebecca Zito, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority

Job title: Senior Manager of Public Affairs

Education: B.A., Marketing and Business Administration, Gannon University; M.S., Public Policy and Management, Carnegie Mellon University

AWWA Member Spotlight Rebecca Zito, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer AuthorityCareer background: Before joining the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) in 2017, I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area where I primarily worked with local government agencies as a management analyst and eventually was promoted into a communications position. This provided the opportunity to develop strategic communication programs, implement community information and marketing campaigns, and establish citywide communication channels to create an active and engaging social media presence. 

How did you get involved in the water sector? While working for the City of San Mateo, I was involved in two projects directly tied to infrastructure. I saw expansive challenges to raise revenue for needed improvements and tremendous passion from residents, elected officials, and community stakeholders. Storytelling and a sound communication program were necessary to build community support for these investments. Infrastructure suddenly became personified – so a lot of our messaging related back to the essential nature of these services and the relationship they have to the quality of life residents expect. 

Fast forward to PWSA, I was struck by the challenges the organization was facing and thought my experience was applicable. However, water is intricately more complicated and the responsibility that comes with managing a vital, natural resource is something that needs to be demonstrated again and again with the public we serve. This is what makes the work so meaningful to me. I enjoy creating the communication strategies that help educate our customers and build a better, more trusting relationship with the Pittsburgh community.  

Why do water systems need to communicate with their customers? Proactive and regular communication with customers helps to establish a baseline level of trust. This past year, we conducted a customer satisfaction survey and found that customers want to hear from us regularly on topics pertaining to water quality and work taking place in their neighborhoods. They expect greater transparency regarding the use of ratepayer dollars. With this insight, we are developing communication campaigns tailored to their specific interests. 

We are initiating a campaign that introduces our operations, lab and water treatment plant staff to the public and highlights the day-to-day activities necessary for delivering safe, reliable drinking water. Tying these activities, as well as our capital investment, to rates will illustrate how we put these dollars to work and demonstrate our dedication to financial stewardship. 

Describe a PWSA project that has benefited from communication strategies. Before socializing the idea of a stormwater fee, we developed a communications strategy that provided a roadmap and message guide for sharing the idea with the public. One of the key strategies put into place was to establish a Stormwater Advisory Group comprised of leaders from the public and private sector. We hosted a series of meetings to share information about Pittsburgh’s stormwater challenges and the need for the fee, and to hear their concerns and ideas. With an effective facilitator and clarity of purpose, the group developed a series of guiding principles that served as the foundation for the fee. When it came time to introduce the concept to the public, these principles, along with tested messaging, helped guide conversations with community members. 

How can a utility strengthen its customer communications? One of the best ways is to collaborate with your departments and the experts working at your organization. My fellow employees have ample ideas and first-hand knowledge to share. As an example, when creating Sewer Awareness Month in Pittsburgh, we reached out to our sewer operations crew. They shared some of the unique things found in our sewers. This provided excellent content for a video about what not to put into the sewers. 

How have you benefited from your AWWA membership? AWWA has provided wonderful networking opportunities and resources to continue my career development. I appreciate receiving regular email updates on regulatory changes and other current events in the water industry. They help me stay informed to share information with my team and improve communication with the audiences we need to reach. 

Please describe your family and/or hobbies and interests. I moved back to Pittsburgh in 2017 and have enjoyed being closer to family and friends. It’s exciting to watch my nieces, nephews and godson grow. I’m reminded that my dad is an entertaining storyteller, I really did miss my mom’s cooking, and helping my aunt downsize is a Saturday well spent. 

In 2021 my boyfriend and I purchased a house and are slowly renovating it room-by-room. Our free time is spent hiking, exploring Pennsylvania’s bike trails, dining out, and spending time with our English bulldog, Gemma. 

What is something that people would be surprised to know about you? I have abundant creative energy that shows up in many ways outside of work. This includes everything from ballet to fashion design, sewing and yoga. These activities opened doors to travel and performances that I never expected. When time allows, I fully appreciate the creative reset these hobbies provide.