| New AWWA guide focuses on utility strategies for drought communications
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New AWWA guide focuses on utility strategies for drought communications

Cover of report: Designing and Evaluation Effective and Ongoing Drought CommunicationTo help water utilities support and engage with their communities during more intense and frequent periods of drought, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) just released a new guide with strategies for communicating about water shortages.

The report, “Designing and Evaluating Effective and Ongoing Drought Communication,” includes utility examples and up-to-date communications practices about how to talk with customers about the steps necessary to efficiently use and conserve water, so that their community can better adapt to water supply challenges.

Tiffany TranTiffany Tran, chair of the Planning, Evaluation and Research Committee of the Technical & Education Council, led the Project Advisory Committee that oversaw the guide’s development. 

“This guide was designed to help a water system customize a drought campaign based on its size, resources, audience, purpose and message,” she said. “It provides a wealth of information gained from research and interviews with 17 water agencies across the country. By consistently empowering your customers with easy-to-implement behaviors, you can help build and foster a customer base that understands and values long-term water conservation.”

A key component of the guide is a chart of 17 digital communication tools that describes each tool’s purpose and ranks their level of visibility, cost effectiveness, scalability and amount of time to implement.

Facebook post from Plano, Texas“Digital communications are becoming more and more the norm in our communities as we seek to communicate essential messages about water awareness with our customers,” said Lisa Maddaus, a member of the Project Advisory Committee. “This guide helps utilities be prepared to share social media messages on drought or any emergency shortage conditions.” (At left, Facebook post from Plano Water Resources.)

Katz & Associates developed the guide in conjunction with the Planning, Evaluation and Research Committee, with assistance from Doug Shackelford with the Public Affairs Council. The publication includes insights from water professionals in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Montana, Nevada, Texas and Utah.

“Our hope is that this guidebook provides easy access to real utility examples and best practices from throughout the U.S., and inspiration and actionable tools for effective communication programs regardless of utility size or resources,” said Barbara Beran from Katz & Associates.

Based on an extensive review of case studies from small, medium and large water agencies and research on nationwide drought campaigns, the guide outlines strategies for implementing a drought communication campaign, including:

  1. Establish specific and measurable goals. This includes what you are trying to achieve, which categories of customers you are targeting, specific behavior changes you are seeking and a timeline.
  2. Define your target audience. Consider socio-demographic, geographic and psychographic factors. Where do they get information, what are their needs, concerns and interests?
  3. Create clear and concise messages. Consider the tone, key concepts, and most impactful words to use. 
  4. Set a budget. This should be based on your staff’s experience and resources. Consider what tasks you may need to outsource and whether you need to leverage your costs through partnerships or targeting specific audiences.
  5. Identify potential partners. These can be internal or external to your organization. They can expand your reach and advocate for your goals by reaching out through social media and local organizations.
  6. Be prepared for unexpected circumstances. They can include limitations to your budget or staffing, and external situations such as headline-stealing events and changes in weather patterns.
  7. Consider a broad variety of media tools. These include print advertisements, social media posts and ads, customer testimonials, podcasts, newsletters, website pages, customer referrals, and a host of others.

More AWWA resources on drought and climate change can be found here.