Making the Most of Media Exposure

New York utility’s recent radio interview highlights emphasis on public education

Making the Most of Media Exposure

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One of the biggest challenges all utilities face is garnering public support, whether for capital improvements or rehabilitation and repair.

“A wastewater treatment plant that doesn’t get any publicity is a well-operated wastewater treatment facility,” says Tim Murphy, executive director of the Albany County (New York) Water Purification District. “Everybody loves to be able to flush, but nobody really cares where it goes.”

Murphy recently had the opportunity to get Albany County’s message spread to a wide audience via a local radio station broadcast.

Jim Levulis of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio was working on an Infrastructure Series, and wanted to include an inside look into the workings of a wastewater treatment plant.

“I think there’s a negative stigma,” Murphy says. “People get focused on the negative, such as combined sewer overflows going directly into the receiving stream, so they were looking at it for a more positive spin, as to what exactly is a wastewater treatment facility, to tell their listeners.”

Albany County has been active in changing that stigma, with a progressive agenda, including a rebranding effort and frequent facility tours.

“I’ve given a lot of tours through our facility, that’s one thing that we do promote. We take a lot of college, business-related tours through our facility,” Murphy says.

Because it’s so routine for the treatment team, that’s exactly what he did for Levulis: simply took him on a tour.

“We were contacted by the local radio program here, that had a little bit of a background and knew that we were working on combined sewer overflows, and the issues that we face on a day-to-day basis, with infrastructure and opportunities to receive grant funding,” Murphy says.

WAMC posted an audio recording of the plant tour, with Murphy describing the treatment process for listeners.

“We did a walking interview, with a focus on listeners as opposed to the visualization,” Murphy says. “He asked me to be as descriptive, from the perspective of somebody that’s never been here, and what exactly they’re listening to, so they can visualize what we were talking about.”

Albany County’s participation in the radio show not only promoted the good things this particular facility is doing, but also cast a positive light on the industry as a whole, educating people about the real workings and significance of a treatment facility.

“It put it in a perspective where his listeners were able to kind of understand exactly what was happening,” Murphy says.

“If you look up what ‘purification’ means, it’s to remove impurities from the water. And in this day and age, that’s the message that we need to get out to the public, that we’re here removing impurities from water, and returning it back to the environment,” Murphy says. “We need to get out in front and say ‘this is what we’re doing.'”

And the Albany County Purification District has a lot to brag about.

“Over the past, throughout our 50 years, we’ve put together $40 million worth of capital improvement projects. We’ve gone in the area of efficiency,” Murphy says.

Promotion isn’t always as simple as inviting people over for a walkthrough. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources available for treatment facilities. Albany County uses educational materials and ideas from the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, as well as its regional New York Water Environment Association.

“It’s a great organization, and they do an awful lot,” Murphy says. “We’re taking a piece of their program because it’s our 50th anniversary, and locally in our community we’re going to have a poster competition.

“It depends on what type of message you’re trying to get out there and promote. I mean right now, everything around our 50-year anniversary, if you get the kids involved, and the schools, it typically gets to the adults.”

They also have an active website, with videos like the rebranding dedication ceremony, as well as links to their different initiatives, including public education and the radio show broadcast.

“I think one of the most important things that we can say is that we are trying to get out there and be noticed by the public,” Murphy says.


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