Knowing Your Audience: The First Step to Effective Public Safety Outreach

You’ve got a problem. How do you effectively address the risks associated with utility contacts or dig-ins, regulatory requirements, recommendations from insurers, or mandates from management? In each case, the solution likely includes reaching a particular at-risk audience with safety information. The right message to the right people at the right time saves lives. It mitigates risk and even enhances your utility’s brand. The wrong message or wrong channel will miss the mark and can eventually result in budget cuts, slashed programs, and the inability for your organization to meet its safety goals. Knowing your audience is key to developing communications that are effective, efficient, and sustainable.

Keys to Identifying and Reaching Your Target Audience
When it comes to public safety outreach that delivers results, the old ways don’t cut it. For example, bill inserts may be part of your plan, especially a PPAP, but you can’t rely on them as the only method to reach your audience. People who read bill inserts are typically not your at-risk audiences such as third-party workers, first responders, or children. What’s more, the content within an insert is too general to make an impact. The keys to effecting behavioral change and reaching your organization’s safety goals are to identify your audience, understand them, and develop proper tools and channels to address them. Along that vein, here are some important tips and best practices to consider:

  • Target: Start by considering who might damage power lines or gas pipelines, or experience utility-related injuries in the course of their day. When developing target lists, employ industry best practices for identifying occupations commonly associated with electric and gas incidents. For example, we cross-reference private and public sector databases such as industry association lists and 811/One Call data. We also recommend that utilities work cross-functionally, checking with legal, claims, and risk departments for their insights as well as their records that identify audiences such as repeat offenders or industry “heavy hitters.”
  • Design Strategically: As with any communication, it’s important to always keep the receiver in mind. What does that mean from a user experience standpoint? It means considering learning styles, work environments, modes of communication, and what barriers might exist. Factors like these help inform design and deliver a greater impact. For instance, in a printed booklet or mailer, factors may include everything from step-by-step instructions and illustrative graphics, to page composition and booklet format. Deliberate and informed decisions surrounding these elements can make a difference in whether information is read or discarded, remembered or forgotten.
  • Tailor Your Message: To increase engagement and make an impact on safety with your outreach, appeal to your audience using industry-specific imagery and tailored messages. These tactics are proven to increase direct mail and email open rates as well as information recall. Have you reached out with just a letter in the past? Speak more directly and get your target’s attention by addressing their concerns, using their language, and featuring images of equipment and hazards specific to their industry. For more on this, read our Segmentation blog post.
  • Integrate: When it comes to workers at risk of a gas pipeline contact, who you target is imposed by RP 1162. While that’s required for compliance, a prevention-based approach takes the customer perspective into account and considers all the risks associated with those working near electric and natural gas utilities. One implication of this customer-centered approach: it’s a good idea to consider dual-commodity safety messaging if you’re a dual-commodity company. This provides a more comprehensive approach towards safety, as well as cost-efficiencies and the benefit of presenting a unified company image.
  • Think Holistically: With increased scrutiny from regulators and insurers, and an overall heightened expectation for public safety, audiences that used to be supplemental have become the standard for best-in-class utility public safety programs. Consequently, many utilities now regard school-age children, formerly a peripheral audience, as crucial recipients of hazard awareness and safety education.
  • Reach Influencers and Integrators: Many public safety programs have the directive of reaching all schools in the service area. If this applies to you and you’re reaching out to principals and superintendents with safety information, consider adding teachers and curriculum coordinators to the list. They’re most likely to bring the information into the classroom to be taught and remembered.
  • Touch Primary and Secondary Audiences: When identifying an audience, consider the primary and secondary targets of the message in order to create a more meaningful impact. Our national data reveals that 97% of students receiving safety booklets in the classroom take them home and 74% share them with their families. Knowing this, we tailor our messages to reach students and their families—often including home safety or energy-saving audits and bilingual content for non-English speaking family members.
  • Rely on Research: Our national research has demonstrated that the size and type of an at-risk business can greatly influence the best ways to reach and educate them. Knowing that 33% of at-risk third-party worker organizations are sole proprietors helps us shape tactics. Smaller companies often want print materials because they’ll use them in tailgate meetings, whereas larger companies prefer videos for larger groups of workers.
  • Guide by Your Goals: A critical point to remember—no matter who the audience—is that your strategy and tactics will depend on your circumstances and your goals. As you identify your target audience and determine the best ways to reach them, keep in mind the metrics you’re asked to deliver and the key performance indicators you’re measured against.

Commit to the Relationship, Regularly Measure, and Constantly Improve
As you build stronger relationships with your audiences by utilizing the right messages and the right channels, use those channels to learn even more about your audiences. Include surveys in your outreach to obtain firmographic data as well as improvement feedback and customer satisfaction details. We do this as a matter of course, and as a result we have a wealth of useful information about at-risk audiences and public safety program performance.

Benchmarking is valuable when it comes to building a business case to expand, or even maintain, a high performing safety program. More importantly, it’s a crucial process if you’re to continually improve your program and take advantage of industry best practices. We use our data for exactly these purposes. Similarly, today’s utility professionals are very aware of the priorities set by their leadership, and using customer insights to drive continuous improvement is high on that list. But the first step is knowing your audience.

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