Last week the subject of telling a story came up at the Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council meeting. “We need to tell our story,” Councilmember Diana Gale said. Even people on the “inside,” our friends, don’t know what we’re doing and what’s being accomplished. Others on the Council agreed that better stories, not only about the bad things happening to the Sound but also about the good things being done, need to be told.
There are stories being told in words, photos and videos about Puget Sound and there will be more, according to Partnership staff member Dave Ward, who presented what’s called “Phase 2” of the Puget Sound Starts Here campaign.
We’re no longer having personal best practices at the forefront of the web campaign, explained Ward, who showed the Council the new web format now optimized for handheld devices as well. Best practices are still a part of the campaign but the focus is now not so much about how we are connect to the Sound as showing how we are connected by the Sound. In other words, the Partnership campaign has taken a major philosophical shift from telling people what needs to be done to telling stories about what life on Puget Sound is like, what it means to live here, why life in Puget Sound is so special.
The campaign will have monthly “themes” much like a magazine to attract viewers to return to the site each month: this month, “Journeys,” to be followed by “Farming the Sound,” “Craft Food and Beverages,” and “Sounds of the Sound.” According to Ward, ten percent of the new web campaign’s content will be devoted to personal best practice “should dos” and calendar listings for local events; the rest of the content is unique “lifestyle storytelling.”
Ward said that public attitude polls show that Puget Sound Starts Here has gained a brand awareness among 26 percent of Puget Sound residents and the campaign, thus far having spent over $1.5 million, has a goal of increasing that awareness to 50 percent by 2015. Since brand awareness itself doesn’t mean behavior change, the web site itself is a conduit leading people to local events where they will learn personal best practices. The effectiveness of how much behavior is changed for the better will be tracked through county-by-county surveys in 2015.
The new “lifestyle stories” may not be quite the kinds of stories the Leadership Council members had in mind when they talked about telling stories. On the other hand, the Partnership doesn’t seem to be burdened amy more by the old polling albatross of only a fourth of the region’s population thinking the Sound is in bad shape. According to Dave Ward, people may not have much knowledge about the Sound but about two-thirds think it’s extremely urgent to protect the Sound. The Partnership now categorizes the Sound's population as 50 percent made up of supportive “Sound Protectors,” 39 percent “Fence sitters” and the remainder unreachable “Sound Skeptics.” With public attitudes like those, showing progress towards a “fishable, swimmable and diggable” Puget Sound by 2020 shouldn’t be that hard.
But it is difficult to move folks from awareness to action. Over the last 25 years, discussion about “what works” in Puget Sound communications has revolved around whether one sold death or sold life-- whether one emphasized what was bad with the Sound or emphasized what was good with the Sound-- to gain the public’s attention and move the public to action. Obviously the Puget Sound Starts Here Phase 2 campaign is selling life, telling the story of our Puget Sound lifestyle.
What’s missing in Puget Sound Start Here, Phase 1 and Phase 2 — and in the entire Partnership endeavor thus far— is the sense of urgency. There's urgency whether you're selling death or life. If someone is aware that the Sound is going down the toilet, then it’s urgent that the person be engaged in ways to reverse that. If someone thinks the Sound is still in good shape, then it’s urgent that the person be engaged in ways to keep it good. You can sell death or you can sell life— and people can respond to either-- but it’s the urgency to take action that matters most.
The Big Lie in the depletion of our environmental capital is that we can live our lives as business as usual and that we have all the time in the world. What’s your story about Puget Sound?