pr strategy… Case Study in Building Community Trust by Sara Cullin

Few industries are as misunderstood or outright detested as landfills.

According to the 2009 Saint Index, which measures the politics of land development, landfills hold the top position as the most opposed form of local development. That said, few industries draw as much curiosity.

I work for Rumpke Consolidated Companies which operates eight landfills and six recycling centers. Our communications team is often confronted with misconceptions about the solid waste industry. To address these, we wanted to create a program to develop advocates by harnessing the public’s interest in what happens to their garbage.

Designing a Community Program that Meets Needs and Answers Questions

In 1996, the company began organizing tours of its largest facility. Since then, our communication department has offered prearranged landfill tours every week. A 45-minute bus trip around the site provides a first hand look at landfill operations. Our tour guides share information about the history and future of the landfill, construction and environmental protection, as well as fun and interesting facts about the site.

Obtaining Support for the Program within the Organization

Providing clear expectations for management and operations is often key to gaining support. There is a fear that opening the door to the public is also an invitation for more criticism and scrutiny. By demonstrating the effectiveness of providing the public informative, organized, and consistent information, we have been able to utilize more community relations tactics. Tracking feedback from visitors has been important to demonstrate success.

Monitoring the Program for Effectiveness

Although tours have been offered for several years, we began gathering feedback from participants in March 2009. Within a few days of visiting, we email a link to a brief online survey to whomever scheduled the tour. The survey consists of just seven questions, but it has helped us identify topics that could be emphasized more or are of particular interest to visitors. We are also able to gauge the impact of the tour in motivating visitors to be more conscientious about waste and recycling.

Most of all, the feedback provides confirmation of the effectiveness of having an open door policy with the public. Many of the comments we receive not only in the survey, but also in phone calls, emails, and letters, express appreciation for simply providing the free public service. One-hundred percent of survey respondents indicated they would recommend the landfill tour to someone else.

Expanding Efforts to Build a Supportive Community

Our open communication policy has made our organization a trusted source for many local schools, universities, and community agencies that regularly contact us for tours and presentations. To accommodate the volume of requests, we have produced educational videos, as well as provided virtual tours and activities on our Web sites. We have also expanded our tours to other facilities within the company.

SARA CULLIN is a corporate communication coordinator for Rumpke Consolidated Companies Inc. in Cincinnati.