Matt Wittern’s message is simple – public information campaigns about the benefits of water conservation shouldn’t be all wet.
Or, to put another way, they shouldn’t be too dry.
You might use a billboard with Albert Einstein’s picture and a photo of a patch of grass, he suggested. The billboard says Einstein’s IQ is 160. For grass, it’s 0. The message stretching along the bottom of the billboard?
“Grass is dumb. Water 2 minutes less. Your lawn won’t notice.”
Or, it might mean dressing someone up like a toilet and having them run down a street to highlight how much water a “running” toilet wastes.
These were among the dozens of examples Wittern gave to about 125 people attending the North Texas Water Conservation Symposium in November as he urged them to be innovative when promoting water conservation.
“You have to personalize water conservation,” said Wittern, a senior public relations consultant with Raftelis, a government and utility consulting firm. “You have to keep at it and help people understand the value of water.”
Wittern was one of nine speakers at the symposium, an event that the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) has sponsored for the past 16 years with the Dallas Water Utilities (DWU), the North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD) and Upper Trinity Regional Water District.
The symposium brings in experts from across the country to talk to representatives from cities, water providers and local water utilities in North Texas about what they can do to better promote water conservation.
“It’s an opportunity for the cities and the water providers to come together and talk and network and improve ideas to advance water conservation,” said Dustan Compton, TRWD’s conservation manager.
“We bring in the best of the best because not everyone can travel to conferences to hear these messages,” he said.
Attendees learned how to work together to better communicate with businesses and school districts, to name a few, about conservation. This year’s symposium was held in Coppell.
While cities like Las Vegas, San Antonio and Denver have been talking about conservation for decades, the idea only started to flood into North Texas consciousness in the last 15 years or so, Compton said.
“We need to be out front and talk to the public, making them aware and knowledgeable so they’ll be there when we need them, especially in times of drought,” he said.
But sometimes that means taking complicated and, well, dry, information and presenting it in a way that strikes a chord with consumers.
While studies show that most people think that addressing drought is very important or extremely important, the public also grows fatigued when hearing about it and slip into old, wasteful habits, Wittern said.
Water providers need to communicate the “why,” for conservation to lay a foundation for outreach campaigns. They need to share facts about common activities to show how water is wasted every day, he said.
Then, that information needs to be packaged in a memorable way because water providers are competing in the marketplace of ideas, Wittern said.
Wittern praised the Water is Awesome outreach used by TRWD, DWU and NTMWD. For example, in its “Tall Tales from Towers of Texas” consumers are told to become best friends forever with their sprinklers.
“We need to make those connections with the public so when we ask them to do something in the future, they will be more willing and receptive and know who we are,” Compton said.