Communications Strategy – The Water Initiative

Students: What facts does Dr. McKinney site to support a focus on water issues? What key messages does Ms. Saldana identify? What strategies will she use to communicate these key messages? Do you think these will be effective? Why or why not?

Excerpt from Report to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission Outreach and Education Committee May 29, 2002


COMMISSIONER RAMOS: All right. The next briefing will be by Lydia Saldana, water communications initiative.

MS. SALDANA: I'm Lydia Saldana, communications director. And Larry McKinney is joining me. It's a tag-team presentation. Larry, why don't you start?

DR. McKINNEY: Appreciate it. I've been trying to set up a little bit of what Lydia is going to talk to you about, I think it's important to talk about a couple of points. And although we talk about it a lot, it's worth repeating.

And our focus is water. And it is the single mostly source management issue that we face. And we talk about that often. And as we heard today, when we were talking about the briefing from the land and water conservation plan, as Jeff and Emily talked about, made one specific mention of a number that caught my attention that said 80 percent of top parks are associated with water. Everything we do with fish and wildlife regulations relates back to that. And we have to stay focused on that issue because as we move forward in time, if we don't want to make all this good work that we've accomplished over the last 30 and 40, 50 years to secure our fish and wildlife, we want to secure that for the future, we have to make sure place to be, that they're there. And water is that issue. We are in a very important time with water. We always say it's a critical period and it seems like every year it's a critical period for decisions. But it certainly is now.

The Legislature, for example, will be taking up this issue next session about how do we roll in environmental needs into our water permitting and management, how does that fit? There are interim hearings going on now about that topic. So they will be making decisions on this issue that are critical. We're in the second phase of our state water planning effort. And in this phase, we have worked closely with the regional groups, 16 regional groups, and the water development board to try to make the point that now is the time for us to, as we evaluate the plethora of strategies that we have for meeting our water needs for the next 50 years, that now we need to work our environmental issues into those and try to make a determination of how that works, as well. So a number of issues coming up before us that are critical to us.

And having informed decision makers, having our constituents and the public aware and knowing of these issues are going to be important for us. And that's the focus of what Lydia is going to talk with you about. Clearly these issues are important to Texans. When we do polls, when independent polls are done across the state, environmental issues are there. And among those issues is water, be it water pollution or wildlife habitat. It's certainly a nonpartisan issue. It's important to all of us. We've talked to our constituents and asked them in our own poll work we've done, they say what are the most important issues to them, water-related issues are their biggest concern, of 48 percent of Texans. Now, the second category is -- I don't know. 24 percent of the people don't know what those issues are, which I think really frames what we're talking about here in this communication process. We not only have to work with our constituents so that they understand, they know the water importance but they need to understand what it does, why it's important. And those who don't understand that, they need to understand the connection between fish and wildlife.

That point was brought home to me just a little while ago. I spent most of the lunch hour with David Sikes who is an outdoor writer in Corpus Christi who has recently written some on water, who is writing another series on the Gulf of Mexico. And he said, "You know, Larry, I've begun calling all over the states in the Gulf of Mexico and every place I turn it's water." And I said, "Yeah, that's right. Water is the issue." And David is facing a tough issue down there in Corpus where he has a group of landowners who have houses adjacent to a lake there that are basically saying, "Wow, the fresh water going into the Nueces Bay is poisoning that bay and the water. I'm losing on my lake is killing my property values and we need to do something about it." He said, "Larry, every time I say how important freshwater is, I get bombarded with hate mail from that side of it." So he said, "My problem is, how do I get this message across? How do I tell people and get -- this is a difficult issue. How do I do it?" I said, "Well, we're going to give it a try and we've got our best troops working on it. And it is an issue for them." So our focus -- turn it over to Lydia now -- is to how can we set the stage to provide that information. And that's where we're going.


MS. SALDANA: How do we get this message across? Well, the strategy to address these issues is why we call Texas the state of water. Our positioning statement is helping Texans understand the value of water. It is a very complex issue. It's not easily reduced to sound bytes. It's not something you can do in one news release. It's going to require an interactive and sustained effort on all of our parts to get this message across. What it is is an integrated active initiative that will utilize every single one of the communication tools at our disposal. Our goal, as Larry mentioned, is to raise Texans' awareness and understanding of these very complex water issues that we face. And what we came up with and what we've brainstormed -- and we did this as a team both within the division, communications division and certainly involving Larry and his staff. The original idea for this was very, very big and bigger than the budget dollars that we had at our disposal. So one of the things we've been very aggressive about is seeking sponsorship dollars. And before the ink dries on our first proposal working with the parks foundation, we got a hundred thousand dollar sponsorship from Brazos Mutual Fund. We're very excited about it. It's going to allow us to execute some of these strategies that we would not have otherwise been able to do.

A little bit of background on Brazos. Brazos Mutual Fund was created and managed by a Texas state active, John McStay of John McStay Investments. Now, Mr. Mackay is an avid Texan. He is an avid outdoorsman. I hope he will become a very good friend of parks. Certainly he's made a very, very generous offer to assist us. Just a little background on the fund, the Brazos Mutual Fund derives its name from his ranch. They were looking for an immediate opportunity, a branding opportunity to raise the proceeds of the mutual fund. This partnership is very much a win win for both of us, so we're very much excited about it.

As you develop a communications plan, you think of who the audience is that you want to reach. And certainly our constituents are first on the list, anglers, boaters, hunters, park users. But he wants to go beyond that. In some instances, we already do a pretty good job in communicating with these folks. We also need to reach the Texas general public, those folks that don't -- you know, think that water is the top issue but don't really know a whole lot about it. And we're going to reach the general public through some of these avenues that I'm going to explain in just a moment.

Key messages is also -- you have to define what your key messages are before you embark on a strategy or communications plan. So these are a few of the key messages we've come up with:

It is -- as I mentioned, it's going to utilize every communications tool at our disposal, from print to our broadcast programs to the World Wide Web and we're also going to be depending on our media colleagues, the environmentalists of the state, the writers of the state to help deliver this message. It is critical, it is complex and Larry just revamped his conversation with David Sikes. This is the kind of thing that needs to be covered and covered on a continuing basis. We're going to do everything we can to make sure that happens.

We will launch the initiative with the July issue of the magazine. The July issue will be published as -- it will be on the newsstand for more than one month. It is the most ambitious that Parks and Wildlife magazine has ever published. It is the longest issue. It's 116 pages. And it is the most ambitious issue in terms of content, in terms of the writing and photography talent, in terms of the effort of the staff. And it's going to be pretty awesome. We've attempted to take a National Geographic approach to the subject. And our goal is to get at the heart and soul of our rivers, our springs, our bays. And to help us do this, we've enlisted the top talent working in Texas today. In a series of six essays, legendary author Larry Hodge will write about the aquifer, Jon Reid will write of his personal relationship with Comal Springs, Joe Nick Patowski - Devil's River, Carol Flake Chapman - Caddo Lake, Michael Furtman will explore the wetlands, and Jim Anderson will delve into Matagorda Bay. We'll sum up the issue with a special report from Rod Davis, a top writer who has written for national magazines on the Rio Grande. Our own Earl Nottingham, our chief photographer, did the photography. And I had the pleasure looking at the layouts. It truly is the best work Earl Nottingham has done. I think it's the best work of Susan Ebert and her staff, the folks at Parks and Wildlife magazine. You know, I don't think I'm going to say anything more. We'll let the issue speak for itself.

DR. McKINNEY: It's already working.

MS. SALDANA: Susan took a couple of hours off this afternoon to be here instead of reviewing layouts and proofing layouts but we're in the production of our July magazine and it's a beauty. But I'll let it speak for itself. So we're excited about that. On the heels of the July issue will be the publication of the Texas rivers book. Author John Graves and Wyman Meinzer collaborated. You will recall that essays from this book were published in the magazine last year. I think everybody knows who John Graves is. This kind of complements a lifetime of working on rivers and river issues. His 1957 "Goodbye to a River" established him as one of the top naturalist writers in Texas. We are thrilled to have him involved in this book. It is just going to be wonderful.

Brazos Mutual is going to be involved in this project, as well. They will be funding a reception on July 31st in Dallas that you-all will all be invited to that I hope you can attend. And Brazos mutual is also sponsoring a traveling exhibit that will feature images and process from this book. This exhibit would not have been possible without this funding. It will debut at the Capitol. There will be another reception for that exhibit at the Bob Bullock Museum. It's going to be traveling all over high profile places including the Texas Book Festival in November. So it's going to be an excellent opportunity to get these issues front and center with Texas and also to promote our book on the side. So UT Press is behind us 100 percent. They're distributing it. And I can bet this is going to be -- the answer to your Christmas gift list is here....

Another very ambitious project is a one-hour television documentary. This also would not be possible without the support of Brazos mutual. We'll also be partnering with KERA in Dallas. KERA will be allowing us to use their high definition television equipment and editing facilities, which means we won't have to pay for that which means we will be able to get a little bit more out of this documentary than we otherwise would have done. Richard Roberts heads our award-winning productions branch. We will be overseeing production with this. We've also hired two outside producers, we have hired Curtis Craven, who used to be our staff and Mark Southern. We have an outstanding team to do this documentary. I've been at Parks and Wildlife for 12 years. And one of the reasons why I came to Parks and Wildlife was the quality of their television production. That was one of the reasons Richard came here, as well. And I'm thrilled and I think Richard is, too, to be involved and really getting into an issue in this hour-long documentary.

We're going to produce it in a way that there's segments. It will air in February, hour long prime time, we hope, prime time documentary, but we're producing in a way so that the segments can be pulled out and run also in our PBS series so we'll be getting double duty out of them as a one time documentary and then several recognized in our PBS shows. We're real excited about that. We're looking at an air date of February about that. We've got other ways to get this message out. Our "Passport to Texas" radio series over the next six months will be featuring various stories about the water issues. As you know, "Passport to Texas" reaches an audience of 350,000 a week. This is a really good avenue to get this information out.

We will be looking at a Web design. We will be looking at Larry and his folks and depending on if we get sponsorship dollars will depend on how robust we get the web site. But we'll be looking.

And finally, media relations efforts are going to be key to this. Press kits will be going out in a couple of weeks announcing the initiative with the July issue of the magazine and then we'll be doing strategic releases over the next six to nine -- year on this issue. So we're really excited about it. Existing dollars within our division is funding this. I mean, certainly communicating about water is a core function. It's something that we could do anyway. But, again, what we would envision has gone far above and beyond what's funded beyond our branch, I mean within our division. Larry has come up with some assistance in terms of dollars that really made the July issue of the magazine possible because that was probably the double the -- well, not quite double, but it was certainly more expensive than the magazine, so support from Larry, the Brazos Mutual Fund and the Brazos River Authority has made that possible. We've also worked very closely with the Foundation. We have about 60 professionals out now, funding proposals, so we certainly have an opportunity for additional dollars to go toward some other projects and we're very excited about it.

And I guess the last thing I would say is what I opened with, which is this really has been a team effort. I think we do our best work when we work together and when we brainstorm together and come up with good ideas. And, again, Susan and Richard are very excited about this as it rolls forward. Any questions?

DR. McKINNEY: Before you have any questions, one last thing, before we do get into this deal and I would note, we hoped to have the preliminary ready now but thanks to a lot of special work by the Chairman, which we appreciate, Governor Perry has named June "Texas Rivers Month." And that's going to roll into this thing, as well. And so we're very happy -- kind of happened at the last minute. That's another element here.

COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Lydia, you've convinced me and I continue to be amazed at the first class magazine. Y'all do a great job. I congratulate you. Any comments or questions from the Commissioners?

CHAIRMAN IDSAL: Very exciting.

COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Thank you both, Lydia, Larry.

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