Friday, January 4, 2019

To Communicate Better, Start with Audience

by Steve Elliott

A few years ago, at a meeting of the four Regional IPM Centers, a web designer was briefing the group on a new website he was building. The first question someone asked was what colors he planned to use.

I cringed. We hadn’t talked about the purpose of the site and who it would reach and what content we’d post but here we were picking colors.

Unfortunately, at programs and laboratories and companies and districts everywhere, a lot of communication comes about this way. Someone decides they need to be on Twitter or update a brochure or do a podcast (or use blue on a website) without asking the basic questions first. Who is our audience? What do they need? How can we best reach them?

Good communication doesn’t start with hexadecimal color codes or clever Twitter handles. It starts with audience. Here’s a process we use, share and find valuable.

Start with Audience
Who do you reach, and who do you want to reach? Who can you reasonably expect to reach? Then ask what you know about them. Where do they get their information? What formats do they find useful? What stories do they read – or what videos do they watch, podcasts they listen to, etc.?

If you don’t know, ask. Make some phone calls. Send out a three-question survey. Look at your web traffic and newsletter stats. See what people use and value and what they ignore. Look for discrepancies between who you think your audience is and who they really are. (If, for instance, you think your audience is primarily farmers and ranchers and every email address you’ve collected ends in .edu, there’s something wrong.)

Also, recognize your audience isn’t some monolithic entity. Define the audience for your overall communication strategy, but recognize that within that there will be elements you can best reach in different ways. We identify a specific audience for each different communication vehicle we use and look for specific ways to target each group we want to reach.

Know Your Message
Message is the one or two sentence key idea you’re trying to communicate with each piece you publish. It’s the one point or idea or impression you want a reader to remember if they remember nothing else. It should be simple and direct: “We fund grant research.” “We add value to IPM programs.” “We have pest-management answers.” The more clearly you know your message, the more clearly you can communicate it.

(FYI, the message for this blog post is “Start with audience.”)

Have a Purpose
Purpose is the specific thing you’re trying to accomplish with each communication piece. It’s what you want to provide your audience – how to reach your program, what types of grants or services you have available, what you’ve accomplished in the past year. It’ll support your message but go beyond it.

In a perfect world, we’d do all these things first – define and develop the audience, message and purpose – and only then decide on medium, content and design.

Choose the Right Medium
A common place where communication strategies fail is when someone starts with the medium rather than an audience. “We need to be on Twitter,” “We should do an app,” “We have to update these brochures” are all perfectly reasonable statements and all perfectly wrong if that’s not what your audience needs, uses or wants.

Be on Twitter if the people you’re trying to reach are on Twitter (and use Twitter for what you’re doing). Print a brochure or flier if you're trying to reach people who don’t have good Internet access and need hardcopy documents. Shoot video if there’s a specific audience you believe will get your message that way.

The advice from the baseball movie “Field of Dreams” – build it and they will come – doesn’t work for communicators. We have to go where the audience is, not expect them to come to us.

Keep the Content Focused
One of the great things about working through the audience-message-purpose process is not only does it guide you about what to include in a communications piece, it helps you see what you can leave out. And if something doesn’t serve your audience, support your message and further your purpose, leave it out. People are busy. We’re competing for their time so the more clearly, quickly and concisely we can give them the information they need, the better.

Do Design Last
This doesn’t mean design isn’t important, it just means it comes last in the process. And doing it last leads to better design, because then your designer can choose formats, fonts, images, everything to support all the work you’ve already done. The design is aimed at a specific audience, visually reinforces your message and clearly communicates the purpose. It makes for a better, more effective piece.

Finally, Try this Self-Evaluation Exercise
A while back, we developed a survey to see how other programs communicated – what methods they used, what audiences they targeted and how they measured the effectiveness of their efforts. As a survey, it was too long and complex and I’d have been better off just making phone calls.

As a self-evaluation tool, however, it turned out to be really effective. Everyone who took the survey said they were going to change some aspect of their communication strategy as a result. So we edited and shortened and reconceived the survey as a reflective, self-directed evaluation tool; a way to systematically work through all the ways you communicate and see if they’re working as well as they could.

You could do the exercise as a group – a leadership team and communicators – or individually. Save and print your answers at the end because nothing is stored or shared. It can take an hour or maybe longer if there’s a lot to think over and talk about, but communicating well is worth the time. Here’s the link.

But if you’re not keen on doing that, here’s a shortcut: Start with audience.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Western IPM Center Works as a Catalyst and a Champion

Amanda Crump


This will be my final opportunity to write for the Western IPM Center newsletter, at least as its director.

After what seems like two of the shortest years of my career, I’ve taken a faculty job in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis. Next month, I’ll shift my focus from pests in the American West to developing sustainable agricultural systems globally.

Thinking about how other nations can achieve the kinds of agricultural improvements that integrated pest management and other sustainable ag innovations have brought to American agriculture, I’ve been thinking about what makes the Western IPM Center work. What’s made the Center, and its IPM partners, so successful over the years?

First, it’s because the Western IPM Center is a catalyst. It creates long-lasting partnerships across state, territory and tribal borders and supports talented, creative, passionate people who are tackling the West’s pest problems. The grants we give and papers we publish and tools we create are important, but it’s always people who get things done. 

Second, the Western IPM Center is a champion for the vast, diverse and incredible West. Our region has Alaska and Hawaii, Portland and Phoenix. We don’t grow one or two crops, but hundreds. We promote Western pest-management needs and explain how Western crops are grown. We evaluate what works and highlight the great accomplishments so many are making in the West to fight pests.

As a catalyst and champion, the Western IPM Center is promoting smart, safe and sustainable pest management to protect the people, environment and economy of the American West.

The challenges in developing agricultural systems are many and varied, but the lessons of the Western IPM Center do apply: connect people to catalyze change and champion their needs and efforts and accomplishments. I’m bringing that to my new work.

Although I’m leaving the Center team, I’m not going far. IPM and the people who practice it are important to me. Keep at it. Keep in touch. Keep caring about people and our planet and making things better.

Thanks for letting me be part of something great.

Keep smilin’,

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Pathways to the Next Generation of IPM

Why: To improve the dialogue about pests, pesticides and integrated pest management.
Who: The California Department of Pesticide Regulation and the University of California Statewide IPM Program, in a project known as Pests, Pesticides and IPM.
How: Through a two-year series of workshops, focus groups and conversations leading to an April 17 IPM Summit held for a packed house in Davis, California.

What’s Next? Making it happen.

At the summit, the Pests, Pesticides and IPM team presented recommendations and summit speakers shared ideas on how to move IPM forward to an audience of more than 200.

“One things I was happy about was that pretty much everyone accepted the idea that pests are part of the human experience and everyone has to manage pests,” said Jim Farrar, director of UC IPM. “That’s a good shared foundation. What we have to agree on as a society is how we manage pests.”

The recommendations from the project team were distilled from listening sessions focused on pest management in landscapes, structures and agriculture, plus workshops focused on policy and communications and technology and innovation.

“The recommendations were a synthesis of these meetings we held all around the state,” Farrar said. “They’ll also be captured in a white paper published later this summer.”

Here are the team’s recommendations, what it called pathways to the next generation of IPM:

1)    Re-invest in IPM at every level: basic and applied research, extension, and education.
2)    Increase critical thinking and creative solutions about pests and pesticides by using best practices, such as systems thinking, that engage diverse stakeholders in local and regional innovation collaborations.
3)    Make it easier for individuals, businesses, farms, agencies and organizations to choose integrated approaches to managing pests and pesticides:
a)     Drive the demand for IPM through synergistic partnerships with industry, commodity, community, educational, research, and government organizations.
b)    More effectively partner with pest management professionals and practitioners to become trusted advocates for effective IPM.
c)     Partner with the retail industry to improve resources available to consumers about selection of reduced risk pest management solutions.
d)    Be creative in engaging community organizations, homeowner associations, and other non-traditional partners, particularly those groups that are trusted by California's diverse communities, to increase their capacity for representation and engagement in IPM.
e)    Create incentives for IPM that focus on reduced-risk pest management, resource conservation, sustainability, communication, and use of social sciences to increase adoption of IPM.
4)    Bring new pest management tools, practices, and technology, including reduced-risk active ingredients, to market more quickly by reducing regulatory hurdles, particularly for biopesticides.
5)    Take advantage of the front-line knowledge and role of field workers and municipal applicators to improve early detection of pests, recommend lower risk approaches, safe practices in the workplace and at home, and to effectively interact with the public.

The project ends in September, but Farrar is hopeful that the conversation will continue and focus on ways to move the recommendations forward to help make IPM the way everyone manages pests.