Weatherization Struts Its Stuff

Kindle appreciation for your weatherization program with a well-planned marketing campaign.

September 11, 2006
September/October 2006
A version of this article appears in the September/October 2006 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
Click here to read more articles about Weatherization
        Winter is only a few months away, and in this current climate of escalating fuel prices at the pump and ever-increasing fuel oil and natural gas costs, DOE’s Weatherization Assistance program (WAP) and its network of providers are more relevant to the nation’s energy policies and to the wellbeing of its most vulnerable citizens than ever.
        A few years ago, Gail McKinley, the recently retired national director of the Weatherization Office in Washington, D.C., said,
        “Every day, in every state, and every community, crew members and contractors are hard at work in the homes of truly needy families making a real difference in their lives. After our crews provide services, families experience an average energy use reduction of 20% or more. This means that hundreds of dollars are put back in their pockets to buy groceries, visit a doctor, buy medicine, or improve some standard of living. Who wouldn’t be proud of a program that can do this every day?”
        For nearly 30 years,we in the weatherization community have gathered as many resources as we can from Congress, our state legislatures, our local utility providers, the landlords in our communities— from every source we can find—to weatherize homes throughout the country. Since its inception in 1976, the WAP has served its target population of lowincome families and individuals with ever-increasing technical proficiency and high-quality materials installation.
        To date, the WAP has enabled more than 5.6 million families to save money and reduce their energy use each year. This year we will spend more than $600 million to weatherize more than 125,000 homes occupied by lowincome families. And we will only scratch the surface of the millions of homes needing our help.
        We need the continued support of our elected officials,community leaders, and the policymakers in our organizations to fight for increases in our resources. We need to continue leveraging the funds we now have to maximize the work we do in our communities. And we need to identify new sources that can help solve the energy crisis that looms ahead for those less fortunate in our society.

Shout it Out

        The implementation of a comprehensive WAP public information campaign can help get our message out to those who need to hear it. Every article we inspire, every proclamation we announce, every site demonstration we conduct, and every public event we perform helps the policymakers and the general public to understand what we do for their citizens, their communities, and their country.
        Weatherization’s story is one that must be told over and over again. Build a public information campaign (PIC) in your organization. Maximize your efforts by building on existing resources. Use the design templates, text, and creative ideas provided on the WAP Technical Assistance Center (WAPTAC) Web site at to get started. Network with other agencies to share strategies, ideas, and lessons learned. Look for opportunities to partner with other departments,community groups, and government agencies to spread your message.
        Creating a PIC in your organization is easy. Here is a four-step process for implementing a successful campaign:

Step One: Plan the Campaign
        • Schedule a planning meeting with all the relevant staff in your organization. Focus this planning session entirely on your WAP campaign. Encourage all members to participate in the brainstorming process and to develop ideas. Allocate sufficient time to address each task. If necessary, schedule follow-up meetings to discuss remaining issues, rather than rushing through last items.
        • Define the objectives of your organization or agency. If your organization does not have a clearly defined mission statement, take the time to describe the organization’s purpose and objectives. Keep in mind whom you serve and what services you deliver. Remember that at this point you are thinking about the organization’s overall objectives.
        • Define the objectives of your weatherization program. If you have not developed a mission statement for your weatherization program, do so. Discuss the principles and objectives that guide your weatherization work. Keep in mind the population you serve and any service priorities.
        • Identify what your weatherization program requires to meet its objectives. Does your program need to attract new partners, develop additional funding resources, raise public awareness of its presence, build client lists, or strengthen community links? Discuss your program needs and, as appropriate, how these needs relate to the needs of a broader agency to which your program belongs, such as a community action agency. List and prioritize your program needs. This is a key step in the process, so take your time to identify your needs carefully.
        • Identify your resources at hand. What resources exist in your organization that can contribute to a public information campaign? Resources come in all shapes and sizes, not just money. Potential resources to consider include staff time and experience, shared knowledge, equipment, funding, and partners with a vested interest in your success.
        • Set goals for your campaign so you can determine what you want to accomplish.

Step 2: Focus the Campaign
        • Identify the audience you want to reach with your PIC. It is critical to identify a specific audience, since this will shape the angle of your message and the medium for communicating that message. Be as specific as possible. You do not have to perform sophisticated market analysis and demographic research to be effective; however, the more you focus your campaign activities, the greater success you will achieve.
        • Develop the message so that you can tell the audience what you want them to do and evaluate whether their actions will accomplish your desired outcomes. Determine how “Weatherization Works” for your intended audience and create a message about what is important to each of your target audiences.
        • Tune your message and remember to keep the message simple.Avoid confusing your audience with multiple details and highly technical language.Your audience wants to know What’s in it for me? Be sure to answer that question clearly and concisely. And don’t forget about your competition. You are always competing for the audience’s time and attention. You may also be competing for resources. Send a strong message to persuade the target audience to take the action that you want them to take. Consider what is important to your audience and what will motivate them.

Step 3: Get the Word Out
        • Determine the best mechanism for communicating your message. Brainstorm all of the possible activities and media (press release, site demonstration, oral presentation, radio talk show,word of mouth, flyers, public service announcements, and so on) and determine the resources required to implement each one. Make a list of these activities. Next to each, estimate the resources required.
        • Review your list of activities and prioritize them based on the most effective way to reach your intended audience. Eliminate any activities that require resources outside your domain. Narrow the remaining activities based on staff experience and support. If the staff is not excited about executing this activity, it is unlikely to be successful. Through this process, determine activities that can be realistically implemented with your resources.
        • Select at least one activity to undertake. Launching multiple activities at once may overwhelm your resources and undermine the success of your PIC. When you have successfully implemented one activity,build on this success and add another. Be sure these components work together to communicate a clear message about your weatherization program.
        • Assign responsibility for implementing the activity. If several people will be involved in implementation, be sure one person is assigned as overall coordinator. Identify deadlines and resources needed to meet the project goals. Seek any necessary approval from higher-level decision makers in the organization.
        • Educate everyone in your organization— from the receptionist to the executive director—about your PIC plans, even if they are not directly involved in implementing campaign activities. Why? Your receptionist needs to know what to do or say if a reporter calls. Your executive director should be prepared to respond to inquiries, questions from reporters, or overtures from partners.

Step 4: Evaluate the Results
        • Develop an evaluation methodology that answers these three basic questions: Did you reach your target audience? How many people were you able to reach through your PIC activity? Did your target audience perform the desired action?
        • Create a feedback mechanism for your audience and PIC activity. If your goal was to raise public awareness, you might develop a simple written survey to determine how an individual found out about the program. If you run a public service announcement (PSA) and include program contact information, you might track the increase in phone inquiries immediately following the timing of the PSA. You could seek this feedback from new leveraging partners informally, simply by asking questions. Ultimately you want to find out how you can improve your PIC efforts and meet your goals.

What Activities Work?

        We should take advantage of every opportunity to get the word out about WAP through site demonstrations, local celebrations, and other creative activities. One major activity that has proven to be successful time and time again is the site demonstration. These events provide a chance to showcase the benefits of the WAP to select national, state, and local community leaders. Invitees experience first hand the client’s circumstances, observe the energy conservation diagnostics being used in the program, and learn how the installation of weatherization services will help the family residing in the home. Here are a few tips on how to conduct a successful site demonstration in your community:
        Site demonstrations should be hosted by local agencies, since localized events are deemed more useful for community leaders—allowing them an opportunity to interact with their constituents.
        Site demonstrations are technical in nature, and the event must not be allowed to become an open house or an event for nonweatherization activities. Local agency staff should be limited, to allow greater access to the site by the invited guests.
        Invitations to the press must be carefully distributed. No press conference should be held. Often the press can be a disruptive presence, as they try to get camera angles or seek a usable sound bite. Newspaper coverage will normally have the best, most lasting effect.
        The agenda for the demonstration should start by introducing the invited guests to the homeowner. A brief overview of the program from the national, state, and local perspectives should be provided. Guests can then be shown blower door and duct diagnostics, furnace efficiency testing, CO testing, ductwork repair, and window sealing. Carbon monoxide testing, insulation installation, and blower door diagnostics always seem to get the attention of the guests. Morning demonstrations seem to work the best and are the most convenient for the homeowners, crews, and guests.
        The site demonstration should last less than an hour. This limit shows respect for the participants’ busy schedules. Also, smaller groups offer a greater opportunity to concentrate on the technical aspects of the program without the interference and distraction caused by a crowd of onlookers.
        Always have a bad-weather plan, so that you can hold demonstrations from the porch or under a tarp in case it rains.
        Throughout the year, individuals and organizations related to the WAP will be asking state and local staff about your program. These inquiries will occur as part of routine reports, surveys, samplings, studies, and other specific information requests. Please take the time necessary to answer these data requests as accurately as you can. If you don’t tell them what is happening in your program, they may assume the answer is nothing.
        Try to highlight the improvement in indoor air quality following weatherization measures and the impact of this improvement on a low-income family. Remind the community that weatherization reduces the amount of oil and gas use at home, as well as the amount of coal burned at power plants; remind them that weatherization reduces greenhouse gases and other harmful pollution. Team up with the state health organization, the National Lung Association, local hospitals or clinics, and other interested partners to promote weatherization and improved air quality.
        Television talk shows are one of the fastest growing areas in the media. The expansion of cable television has encouraged the proliferation of “talking heads” on TV these days. In addition, most cities have talk radio, where the hosts have an enormous influence on public opinion. Through the use of these media, the public can be educated about the positive contributions your agency and your weatherization program are making in your community.
        The print media—consisting of newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals— are considered reliable by the public and are a major source of market penetration. Providing information to reporters in the form of press releases is one of the best ways to get information to the public about the WAP.
        Find a success story! In the WAP, a success story provides a specific example of the important effects produced through the delivery of the service. Collectively these successes represent huge benefits for the local agency, the community, and the country.A success story may describe the outcome of a pilot project, the results of ongoing operations, or even a unique technical activity.
        A public information campaign is not just for attracting new customers to the program. Most agencies have more customers on their waiting lists than they can serve in several years. A structured campaign can help educate your policymakers and partners about the value of investing in the program, and attract new partners from the federal government, local utility companies, landlords, and private sources. The campaign can help show everyone that your work is high quality, professional, and much needed by many families living in your community.

What Should I Do Next?

        Our public information efforts are starting to make a dent in the wall of ignorance about this outstanding public/ private partnership. Congress showed greater support by increasing our 2006 funding and re-authorizing the WAP in last year’s Energy Bill. And information about the WAP is more available now than ever before. An MSN Internet search for “weatherization” returns nearly 104,000 references. Using Google to find the WAP returns more than 151,000 references. These search results are 4 to 5 times greater than they were five years ago—thanks to everyone in the network working hard to increase the press coverage and the presence of the WAP in their communities. The word is really starting to get out about this great program we serve, but we must do more. The WAP is still the best-kept secret to many in Washington, D.C., in your state, and around the country.
        Your help in telling the compelling story of the WAP will ensure that weatherization will no longer be the best kept secret in Washington or even in your own backyard. And our success at providing this information means that we will be able to achieve our goal—serving the millions of families who need our help with the best services we can possibly provide.
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