Effective Public Safety Communication: The Right Audience, The Right Message, The Right Channel

Effective communication is crucial toward achieving your public safety goals. But do you know if your communications are actually working? Are you doing the right things to ensure that they are?

With utility public safety outreach, like every communication model, the onus is on the sender to effectively convey the message and ensure the receiver understands it and takes appropriate action. Now if everyone had the same point of view this would be simple, but every audience differs. Therefore, if you want to make an impact you must target your audience, tailor your message, and use the right channels to reach them.

It sounds like a big commitment, and it is, but the benefits far outweigh the costs. The result is a utility public safety outreach program that offers strategic advantages.

Target Your Audience

The first step in effective utility public safety communication is to target your audience. This requires you to properly identify, research, and actually understand them. To identify audiences, consider your organizational goals, your public safety plans, and key performance indicators. In addition to the audiences identified therein, incorporate audiences mandated by regulators and other governing bodies.

Once you’ve identified your at-risk audience, it’s important to research and build profiles. Start this process with available in-house data. For example, if you’re looking to reduce dig-ins and related repeat offenders, it’s worthwhile to acquire data from your claims, legal, and risk management departments. This information can be augmented via private and public sector databases such as 811/One-Call and other sources. Additionally, there’s an abundance of secondary research available that can provide you with valuable insight.

Finally, when engineering your utility public safety outreach program, it’s critical to include mechanisms for ongoing data collection and feedback. Tools such as business reply mail, surveys, Web forms, email, and outbound call center scripts, are essential to understanding your audiences, their changing behaviors, needs, and preferences—all critical to engaging with them in a meaningful way.

Develop Custom Messages

By targeting your audience, you can begin to pinpoint key messages. Knowing their behaviors, needs, and preferences will help you to develop meaningful communications that connect with them and effect change. Our research shows that when you appeal to your audience with tailored messages, imagery that’s specific to their industry, and communication vehicles that they prefer, you make a greater impact.

For example, in the case of third-party contractors, our research reveals that tailored resources generate a significant increase in “mail opens” and email “click-throughs.” Additionally, contractors are more likely to integrate tailored resources into their formal employee trainings and tailgate meetings. This translates into increased time spent with these training materials which leads to higher information retention and recall rates. These user-engagement metrics are leading indicators that your public safety outreach communication is working—i.e. a well-informed contractor is more likely to behave safely around electrical and natural gas lines and lower the risk of accident.

Use the Right Communication Channels

Today’s communication professionals have more channels at their disposal than ever before. While it’s always nice to have options, it can be challenging to select the right channels in order to reach your audience. You may be tempted to select new, trendy media channels, but it’s more important to know your audience and what they respond to. Ultimately, the measure of success isn’t necessarily based in “hits” or “likes” but instead the achievement of goals such as raised awareness, educated audiences, changed behaviors, and reduced accidents.

When you know your audience, you’re able to select the right channels to reach them and produce the results that you desire. Case-in-point, when it comes to school teachers, we understand that they value direct mail as a primary channel of communication. We also know that educators are required to meet state and national academic standards, so it’s important to tailor electrical and natural gas safety resources to meet those requirements if they are to implement them in the classroom.

Teachers are a major influencer and an ambassador for your public safety message. These trained education professionals implement your safety lessons, and generally encourage kids to take printed resources home and share them with their families—thereby encouraging secondary and tertiary readership. It’s clear that when you target audiences and meet their needs with tailored messaging that’s delivered through proper media and channels, the result is effective public safety outreach.

Raise the Bar for the Right Results

Generally speaking, the bar is rising: the public is continually growing more sophisticated and discerning. In fact, each subset of the population wants to be recognized and satisfied when it comes to engaging with the world, including the businesses and organizations they’re connected to. Think about the fact that three networks dominated television from the 1950s to the 1990s, but now, according to Nielsen, the average American household receives over 189 channels covering a variety of specialty niches. Gone are the days of the one-size-fits-all utility bill stuffer.

Savvy communicators realize that you will not make an impact in this complex world without meeting your customers’ requirements. They understand the payoff. For those of us involved with utility public safety outreach, the data confirms it: targeting the right audience, with the right message via the right channel, equals the right results.

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