By Kristin Zagurski (LinkedIn), Town of Castle Rock, CO
The residents of Castle Rock (Colo.) keep busy, whether they’re working long hours at the jobs to which they commute, or engaging in activities with their young families. This makes engagement particularly challenging in our community.
Over the eight years I’ve worked closely with (or on) our Community Relations staff, we’ve tried many tactics to address this challenge. A handful of examples:
- We’ve taken our Town Council out on “road shows” within their districts, offering to feed the family and entertain the kids so we can update Mom and Dad on important issues.
- We’ve stood outside the grocery store with coloring books for kids and a life-sized walkable roundabout for grownups to teach drivers to navigate that type of traffic-control device when it was new to our community.
- We were among the first jurisdictions in our area to jump into the sea of social media and still find much success engaging there; we constantly converse with community members on our circa 2008 Facebook and Twitter accounts and recently have added new channels, on Instagram and LinkedIn.
- We’ve got an app for that! (Look for CRgovGO! in your app store.)
- We strive to stay on the cutting edge with our flagship communication tool, our website. Our recent redesign includes a series of “edutainment”-type videos that feature – among other fun moments – our Mayor getting a tattoo and our Utilities Director taking a shower. (Yes, we’ll try anything to capture the community’s attention.) Check them out at http://CRgov.com/watch.
Not everything we’ve tried over the years has been a smashing success. Those road shows went the way of the dodo for several years before recently finding their way back in favor. An attempt to take our town magazine electronic during the Great Recession – by way of teaser postcards of which the communications team was very proud – floundered, despite us putting in our best efforts.
Presently, we’ve got about 200 residents engaged in our first-ever online focus group to follow up on important issues that emerged from our 2015 Community Survey. We’re about a month and half into that four-month project, and the discussions have started to lose a bit of steam. We’re hoping that giving out a few gift cards to local restaurants to participants will help put the rev back in that effort’s engine. (Side note: The focus group was responsible for the Fire Chief dressing as a sumo wrestler for Halloween; again, we find it key to infuse fun into our outreach.)
What’s important is that we aren’t afraid to try new tactics, even if they sometimes fizzle.
When we brainstorm for a communications campaign, our Community Relations Manager, Karen Carter, encourages the team to throw everything against the wall to see what sticks. In a way, that’s how we approach our communications tactics, too.
We see each engagement tactic we employ as a tool in our kit. We know that some jobs need specialized tools while others need the whole box thrown at it.
This mailer is an example of a successful, strategic piece the Community Relations team created this spring. Our community was divided over a proposed development, and this mailer helped diffuse the tension. (Yes, we believe using printed pieces is still important, even in this digital age.) In addition to approachable, understandable copy, simple visuals were key to the success of this piece.
Visuals are a reemerging medium Castle Rock Community Relations is attempting to incorporate across all platforms. We had canceled our cable newsmagazine during the recession, in favor of directing more dollars into our website. Following that move, the use of smartphones – and YouTube – skyrocketed. We realized video is indeed a vital engagement tool and have since course-corrected our tactics, and our budget, to employ greater use of that medium. We’re incorporating additional visuals on social media, too, to increase our reach.
Bottom line is, we’re not too proud to borrow good ideas (from the public or private sector), can bad ones or make our team look a little silly to get an important message across. We’ve got a talented, well-rounded communications team whose talent rivals that of a big city PR agency. We think our community rocks, and we work hard every day to get that message across.