issues management

Start the Customer Conversation Before an Ask

Gary Conkling gave a presentation designed to help water officials make a big splash with their marketing. Water utilities need proactive, out-of-the-box communications strategies to connect with constituents who care about clean water, but don't it much thought in their daily life.

Speaking at an Oregon Association of Clean Water Agencies conference in Salem, CFM President Gary Conkling urged water officials to concentrate on information that is useful and relevant to their customers, presented in easy-to-access and easy-to-understand ways.

"Your information needs to be presented simply, packaged effectively and designed imaginatively to pull readers to your content and connect with your agency," Conkling said. "And it's all not just about a website. Friendly, helpful counter clerks and service techs who deal directly with customers can project an agency that wants to help."

His presentation on "Mapping a Communications Strategy" was part of a workshop that also included discussions on how to win community support for water projects. Around 150 people from throughout the Pacific Northwest attended.

Conkling encouraged water officials to embrace a marketer's perspective in their communications, starting with grassroots research that enables them to develop "customer personas." "It is easier to see how to talk about water to a personalized face instead of a statistic," he said. "Your communications will be closer to the mark if you aim them at people who are your customers."

An advantage enjoyed by water agencies, Conkling said, is having a database of customers with whom the agency is in monthly contact. "Your database can be a platform for finding out what matters to your customers," he explained "and turning them into your community partners through regular engagement."

Since people aren't sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to hear from a local water agency, "you have to find useful and even entertaining ways to connect with them," Conkling said.

"It's a lot better to have the conversation already under way," he advised," than waiting for the moment when you need to ask customers to agree to a rate hike."

Conking leads CFM's public relations practice, which includes strategic communications counsel, managing public issues, crisis response and reputation management.

CFM Wins PR Award for 20th Straight Year

CFM has won a PRSA Merit Award for the Reynolds Tomorrow program, which included a special-purpose website and an online survey of district residents about education spending priorities.CFM Strategic Communications picked up a Merit Award for Issues Management for work done on behalf of the Reynolds School District. The award marks the 20th consecutive year the firm has been recognized by the local chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

Working with top school district supervisors, CFM and Reynolds carried out a non-traditional public engagement program called Reynolds Tomorrow. As a result, the District involved more citizens earlier this year in its budget development process than any other school district in the state.

An integrated communications program encouraged residents to visit a special website containing options for the 2011-2012 budget year. Next, citizens living in portions of east Multnomah County were asked to participate in an online survey. More than 900 persons responded, providing the district with important – and measurable – opinions on community values and educational spending priorities.

“People need to be involved with public decisions, but in ways that make it easy, convenient and transparent,” says CFM Partner Tom Eiland, who heads the firm’s research practice. “Being about to confirm what Oregonians view as spending priorities for public schools is one example of why the Reynolds Tomorrow program was vitally important."

“The Reynolds project is a great example of CFM integrating three of its business services – public affairs, marketing public relations and research,” adds CFM Partner Norm Eder.

Members of the PRSA chapter in Buffalo, New York judged PR entries from Oregon this year. CFM has won more than 100 local and national awards since it entered its first competition in 1992.

Eder Named Chair of Westside Economic Alliance

CFM Partner Norm EderOne of Oregon’s most influential business groups, the Westside Economic Alliance (WEA) has elected CFM Partner Norm Eder to serve as president and board chair for 2012. WEA advocates for a healthy economic environment on the westside of the Portland metropolitan region.

A partner since he joined the firm in 1998, Eder helps lead CFM’s Public Affairs practice. He specializes in issues management, assisting organizations to work through complex challenges.

“The Alliance has been an important stage for launching regional economic development programs, as well as a forum for policy makers to voice their views,” says Eder. “It will be a more significant force as we work our way out of this economic downturn.”

Adds CFM President Gary Conkling, a longtime observer of Washington County: “Norm is a terrific choice for the job. He possesses a rare blend of vision, leadership and problem solving, which he exhibits in his work for CFM’s clients.”

Eder replaces Mike Grant, a vice president of Kaiser Permanente, who was reassigned to a post in Los Angeles. In addition, Eder will serve a full 12-month term during the Alliance's 2012 membership year. He brings a wealth of institutional knowledge to his new role, having served on WEA's Board of Directors since the Alliance was formed in 1998. Eder also served on the Board of Directors of Sunset Corridor Association, which later merged with the Tualatin Valley Economic Development Corporation to create WEA.

Photo of Julie Strange at the 2011 Waterfront Blues Festival taken by Eder.

In his spare time, Eder has built a boat and a ukelele while tending an extensive garden that surrounds his Raleigh Hills home and produces a wide range of fruits, vegetables and flowers. Each summer Norm donates his time as the lead photographer for the Waterfront Blues Festival, documenting all performances and creating a rich archive of images.