Reaching and Engaging Diverse Audiences in the Public Sector
No spot in Tucson, Arizona is more than 20 miles from Saguaro National Park. Despite this proximity, few of Tucson’s residents, many of whom are Hispanic, take advantage of the national park. This is emblematic of a larger challenge that the National Park Service (NPS) faces with engaging diverse audiences. Tucson is about 44 percent Hispanic or Latino — but of the park’s roughly 650,000 annual visitors, less than 2 percent self-identify as Hispanic. And nationwide, as an NPR article cited, “A recent survey commissioned by the Park Service to see how different population groups related to the parks found that 9 percent of American visitors were Hispanic. African-Americans accounted for 7 percent. Asian-Americans were 3 percent. Collectively, minorities made up just over 20 percent of the visitors to national parks, despite the fact that they made up nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population.”
In order to address this challenge, NPS Director Jon Jarvis released a director’s order to increase diversity in the parks and included diversity as a goal in his Call to Action plan. Since then, NPS has worked hard to improve its engagement with more diverse populations.
However, NPS is not the only government agency that has struggled with reaching and engaging diverse populations. GobiernoUSA.gov, the Spanish-language counterpart of USA.gov, needed to communicate with Spanish-speaking audiences about government program launches or natural disaster updates. Based on their experiences, they partnered with GovDelivery to host a webinar on best practices for reaching and engaging diverse audiences. Our guide on the partnership lists five steps to improve engagement with diverse audiences, and these steps line up neatly with challenges NPS faces and solutions they have developed. For more information on these steps, read the full guide here.
- Align communications with department goals.
Your communications should follow a plan. Think about what you want to change, what your desired state is, and how you can measure success.
NPS recognized that it had a problem with reaching diverse audiences in all of its parks, not just in Saguaro. Jarvis, the director of NPS, says it is department’s duty to engage with all parts of the country. Jarvis has made increasing diversity a top priority for the department, and his order includes goals and responsibilities for NPS, including clear communication channels.
- Identify audiences and look past language barriers.
Unstructured communications often aren’t very effective. In order to have a resonant message, you should identify who you want your targeted audience to be.
Cam Juarez, a member of the city’s school board, said he thought of the parks as a place for “folks that were white or folks that had resources.” Luis Perales, the chief academic officer at a local high school, said the “rugged individualism” marketing of national parks doesn’t connect with Latinos. In order to increase diversity, NPS needs to identify new audiences for their messaging.
- Choose communication channels that resonate.
Just as communications without an audience can often fall flat, communications in the wrong channels can miss the mark. You need to figure out what is the best way of communicating with your target audience.
Ysenia Gamez is a ranger, working both at the Saguaro National Park and in Tuscon. In the city, she visits local schools and works informational booths at city events. She believes that events like these let her introduce the park to people who may not experience it otherwise. Her work with the Next Gen Rangers can help bridge the gap between Tucson residents and the park and “appeal to people where they’re comfortable.”
- Tailor communications to target audiences.
Especially with diverse populations, it is essential to make sure that your communications are tailored the audience. This can be through translations, use of figures of speech, or cultural signifiers.
Oscar Medina, a teacher at Perales’ high school, related a story about how he visited a national park with his family, but none of the information signs were in Spanish. Providing more communications in Spanish or other languages is an easy first step to engage diverse audiences.
- Leverage public, non-profit resources and relationships.
You don’t have to do this alone. Knowing what resources you have to tap into can be even more important that trying to be an expert at every area of marketing.
Saguaro National Park has partnered with the local nonprofit, Friends of Saguaro National Park, to hire young locals like Gamez as Next Generation Rangers. The first cohort of 14 rangers included eight women, and half of the cohort is Hispanic, Native American, or Asian.
For more information on how you can reach and engage diverse audiences, read the full guide here.