We love all our clients equally, but this month, we’d like to introduce you to one of our favorites! Kyle Packham is the Advocacy and Public Affairs Director for the California Special Districts Association (CSDA).
CSDA is a nonprofit, member-based organization that provides advocacy support for more than 2,000 special districts in California. Kyle has worked in the public sector for his entire career, from his first job driving a truck for the Eastern Municipal Water District to his work at the Capitol and, finally, to the last ten years he’s spent with CSDA.
Kyle took a few minutes to chat with us about Districts Make the Difference (DMTD), an outreach campaign designed to engage with and educate communities about the essential services that special districts provide.
Why is educating the public about special districts important?
Most people know and love their local special districts, they just don’t know they are a special district. They may think their recreation and park district is just a city parks department or that their water or utility district is a private company like PG&E. Our lack of substantive civics education doesn’t help much, which is why CSDA has supported implementation of the State Civic Seal for high school diplomas. As the most local form of democracy, special districts can be the most responsive and accessible form of government. Local governments affect our daily lives far more than the federal or even state government, yet we spend way more time worrying about a federal government that the average person has very little influence over. It does not take millions of dollars to be elected to a special district board, and if you show up to a special district board meeting to speak, you will be heard. That’s not always the case elsewhere.
Why launch the DMTD brand instead of an education effort directly from CSDA?
The goal of the Districts Make the Difference public outreach campaign was to focus on communities and the people who serve those communities. CSDA is a member-driven non-profit trade association. We didn’t want it to be about us, because it shouldn’t be about us. It’s about the families and businesses that depend on special districts, and the local service specialists that work hard to provide safe water, reliable electricity, beautiful parks, and so much more 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
How has social media played a role in DMTD’s public education/engagement strategy?
It’s fundamental to the strategy and the primary reason is affordability. It is simply impossible to reach 40 million Californians on our budget using traditional marketing strategies. Our goal from the beginning has been to develop the platform and the underlying messages and tools that California’s 2,000 independent special districts can leverage to increase public awareness and understanding in the communities they serve. The only way our public outreach campaign will ever succeed is if we earn the buy-in from our membership to join in this effort. Social media allows both CSDA and our members to communicate directly with the public, something that is impossible or cost-prohibitive using most other mediums.
How have advocacy and public education efforts changed/been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Naturally, everything has gone virtual and so have we. One example of how we have leaned into the situation is with our annual student video contest that awards $3,500 in scholarships to high school and college students. This year, we upped the prize to include a $500 cash award for each winner’s teacher to help with all of the distance learning technology and other challenges our teachers are facing this year. We think it was a good way to bring more attention to the contest and provide some recognition to the teachers we all value.
How has this year’s outreach effort compared to that of years past?
The biggest difference has been the partnership between our association and our members. Our public affairs field coordinators are the eyes and ears of our team and have built tremendous relationships with our members. They are constantly feeding interesting, powerful content into our program and, through some improved social media tactics implemented as part of our new contract with Duran Kinst Strategies (DKS), this year we’ve leveraged that content like never before. DKS has been flexible, easy to work with, and happy to go the extra mile when needed, taking the implementation of our Districts Make the Difference social media platforms off our hands and elevating the campaign’s success in terms of every metric of exposure and engagement.
Thanks, Kyle, for the kind words and for taking the time to share about the important advocacy work CSDA does on behalf of special districts.
Did you read something interesting you can’t wait to learn more about? For further information about CSDA or to connect with Kyle Packham, visit csda.net.