Written by: Elaine McCarty, Associate Director, EFCWest

Every water system communicates with stakeholders. Would you like to see your community value water more? Are you raising your rates? Are you seeking support from local leaders such as elected officials or agency leaders for overdue infrastructure projects? Would like to reduce sources of water contamination?

No matter what your communication goals—increasing awareness, eliciting support, or changing people’s behavior—your chance of succeeding is considerably higher when you design your communications around your audience. You can’t influence people or change their minds if you aren’t putting them first. Before engaging stakeholders, even before considering how or what you want to communicate, you need to first think about who your audience is. You need to understand your audience deeply, so that whatever and however you communicate, you will capture and hold their attention. Before you send bill inserts, post on social media, or talk with elected officials, you need to first think about who the person is that you want to reach.

One way to understand your audience is by creating a fictional representation of that audience, which is known as a “Persona.” When you create a Persona, you imagine into who our audience is to further reveal what is important to them, what their goals are, and what challenges or barriers they face. When this is done effectively, you can then return to your original proposed communications with a different perspective—ensuring that you further consider how your communications, whatever you are asking from them, will be of benefit to them. The ultimate communication goal is to show that any change you are seeking is mutually beneficial.

Below is an example of a Persona created by a local agency that had identified bacterial pollution from pet waste as a root cause to water quality issues. Through facilitated training, EFCWest guided participants through an interactive group exercise, answering key questions about the community members whose behavior they hope to change.

Demographics: Age, gender, education, work, living arrangement

Frank is a 33-year-old male who has an associate degree in manufacturing from a community college. He works as a machinist. He has two children ages 5 and 7 and a pit-mix rescue dog. He lives in a modest house with yard.

How do they spend their non-working time?

Frank is pretty busy as a single Dad with two kids, working hard full time. What little free time he does have is spent helping kids with homework, feeding them, getting them to bed, and getting them to/from school. He also takes care of the house and household, making car and home repairs. When his ex-wife has the children, Frank likes to play video games and, on the weekends, he plays video games with his kids.

What is important to them?  

His kids are #1. He just works on getting through the day with enough energy to care for his children and enjoy time with them.

What are their needs/desires?

He wants to spend as much time as possible with his kids. Everyone in the family needs to stay healthy. Medical appointments or illness require unexpected time off from work, cost money and create stress. Vet appointments and bills are a particular hardship.

What are the barriers to this person meeting their needs?

He loves the dog, and it is good company for the children, but he doesn’t have time to walk it. The pet waste in the yard is not picked up, and it’s a filthy, unhealthy mess in the rain. In nice weather, the kids play in the yard with the dog, and this could be making kids sick.

How can you help them overcome those barriers and achieve their goals?

We can provide information that will help Frank adopt a routine of picking up waste frequently, so it doesn’t become such a burden. Provide education/marketing materials on the health impacts of dog waste and children. Game-ify picking up dog waste. Include video and images  of kids playing in a clean yard, Dad happily relaxing in the background.

How do you create the Persona? After answering the questions described above, give your new Persona a name-in this example, we named ours “Frank.” Draw a picture.

Frank with his family and dog. Image by EFCWest

The Persona you’ve created can now be used to develop a targeted campaign, including determining the media and content for your messaging, so that you can achieve whatever goals you have established. Check out these EFCN webinars on How to Create a Persona and How to Develop a Communications Campaign. Contact us if you are interested in training or technical assistance on communications.