Documentary Tells the Story
of the Truckee River

Challenge

When the historic legal document, the Truckee River Operating Agreement (TROA), was ready to be signed by 20 federal, state and local parties, we were put to the task to explain why this document was important to the public.

Communication Goals

  • To explain a complicated agreement—20 years in the making–among two states and several agencies in simple terms
  • To create understanding in the stakeholder communities

Diagnostic Stage:
Discovery

We researched all communication channels and the most effective methods to reach stakeholder communities.  Due to the complexity of the issues surrounding TROA, it was determined that storytelling would be the most effective method.  Therefore, we chose a short documentary to present the visual aspects and provide the appropriate format to explain this historic agreement.

We researched where opportunities existed for partnering in production and distribution.  We considered how to leverage a partnership for the widest distribution possible.   Along with KNPB, northern Nevada’s local public television station, Senator Harry Reid’s office and Truckee Meadows Water Authority, we determined we had a strong platform for outreach.

Prescribing Stage:
Strategy

We first outlined the story that needed to be told through a story-boarding technique.  We secured an experienced public television video production crew that taped numerous interviews with key stakeholders and those that made TROA possible.  We also filled in the facts and history by narration to concisely communicate the agreement details. It was determined that a half-hour format would produce the most opportunity for distribution.

The program explained the complicated 20-year history of TROA, including how U.S. Sen. Harry Reid brought all parties to the negotiating table, and the benefits to the water system and to residents of the Truckee Meadows.  It includes interviews with Sen. Reid, TROA negotiators and representatives from the signatory parties.

Apply & Re-Apply Stage:
Implementation

A launch party was held with all interviewees at KNPB preceding the first airtime.  TROA participants received copies of the documentary and were permitted to post on their respective websites. Distribution included all west coast public television stations and promotion of air times was accomplished through on-air promotions, press releases and emails to public broadcasting supporters.

For re-application, we also arranged for presentations of the show at local service clubs as well as secured permission to post the show to several public websites where it lives on today.

Evaluation

  • Development and production of a landmark documentary, Taming the Turbulent Waters
  • Aired on 25 public broadcasting stations on the west coast
  • The show received an international Telly Award for its production and storytelling qualities


Expanded Public Process Culminates in Customer Awareness

Challenge

To create a thorough public process for Reno’s largest water utility, Truckee Meadows Water Authority’s (TMWA) proposed action to switch all remaining flat-rate customers to a metered rate. We were to ensure all customer and community input was gathered and considered.

Communication Goals

  • Raise awareness of TMWA’s proposed action to switch all remaining flat-rate customers to a metered rate
  • Specifically solicit and address the concerns of flat-rate customers

Diagnostic Stage:
Discovery

All stakeholder groups were identified along with use of secondary research of primary communication channels for this type of information. The research shaped our recommended communication channels.

Prescribing Stage:
Strategy

In order to communicate with all stakeholders, methods and messages were determined that would resonate with each group. A detailed plan was developed, incorporating many strategies including; a series of public workshops, direct mail, media relations, a dedicated Web page, bill inserts and local advertising.

Apply & Re-Apply Stage:
Implementation

Over a six month period, we implemented all activities in the plan and tracked customer input and concerns.  The feedback was presented to the Board of Directors in open meetings on an ongoing basis.

Evaluation

  • With consistent communications, 1,200 customers, 10 percent of all metered addresses, voluntarily converted to the metered rate before the implementation date
  • Although originally threatened, no law suits were filed by long-time residents
  • Stakeholders came ready to support the conversion with a few simple negotiation points instead of being stalwart in their opposition.  Those included one more year added to the implementation date and a way to address the health of community trees, which created the Truckee Meadows Community Forestry Coalition. With a better understanding of the issues, the Board mitigated the implementation date one more year, to 2010
  • Our media relations efforts garnered more than $220,000 in earned media value


Customer Input Results in Refined Messaging

Challenge

To successfully encourage ongoing responsible water use during the summer months on behalf of Truckee Meadows Water Authority (TMWA), understand customers’ motivations behind conservation and cultivate the direction of resulting summer campaigns.

Communication Goals

  • To understand customers’ motivation and obstacles related to water conservation
  • To develop outreach messages specifically related to attitudes and opinions toward conservation that would motivate and resonate
  • To increase awareness of Assigned-Day watering

Diagnostic Stage:
Discovery

After study of different methods of customer research, we discovered that focus groups would be the best method to better understand the motivations behind water conservation. TMWA customers were randomly selected from each customer category.  Customers were compensated for their time with $50 and given a conservation bucket.

The focus groups were conducted and facilitated off-site from TMWA corporate offices. An ice breaker related to water conservation was conducted.  Participants then communicated their five motivators and their five obstacles to conserving water. Next, ideas were grouped into themes and in-depth and probing questions were asked around each major theme.  Finally, time was dedicated to additional exercises related to a specific national conservation tagline and how customers’ water use might change if there were no assigned watering days.

Prescribing Stage:
Strategy

The conservation campaigns for the next two years used the focus group research for development of messages and programs. We approached the audience as they represented themselves in our research; as adults who make an effort to conserve water and appreciate that responsible water use is a lifestyle in our high-desert landscape.    The research directed us to focus on responsible water use messages, not conservation, including water use tips and Assigned-Day watering reminders.  The focus group feedback also informed us that recognizing the variety of personal reasons for conversation was preferred over a heavy-handed approach.

Apply & Re-Apply Stage:
Implementation

The annual communication’s plan included light-hearted radio spots, on air promotions, TV weather sponsorships, weekly TV interviews with giveaways and garden and turf shop sponsorships.  The campaign had enough length and breadth to run and be re-applied in adequate water supply years from 2006 through 2009.  The campaign was replaced in 2010 to reflect TMWA’s transition from two assigned days per week to three.

Evaluation

  • In 2009, 95 percent of all Customer Satisfaction Survey respondents were aware of assigned day watering, up 7 percent from 2005’s 87 percent.