Will the legislature improve DIF&W’s communications and marketing? Probably not!

DIF&W LogoMaine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife must improve its communications with sportsmen, landowners, and the general public, and reinstate its marketing program. Luckily, they’ve been handed a road map to achieve those goals. And the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife spent an afternoon recently hearing about that road map.

Bonnie Holding, DIF&W Director of Information and Education, started the briefing with an accounting of what the agency is doing currently to communicate with their customers and the general public, and explaining that they had contracted with Mark Duda and Responsive Management, “to develop a plan that will raise overall awareness of Maine’s residents of MDIFW’s mission, programs and projects and measurably increase support of and participation in these programs. The overall plan will include marketing, communications, and public relations.”

Duda then presented the results of a survey he did earlier this year for DIF&W, explaining that he works “to bring science to the people part of conservation.” Duda has worked for every single state fish and wildlife agency, for sporting goods and gun manufacturers, and for colleges and universities throughout the country. Some of Duda’s findings surprised me. For example, 40 percent of anglers were not aware of the department’s stocking program!

Jodi Valenta of Mile Creek Communications in Massachusetts, joined Duda to present a series of recommendations to improve communications and marketing at DIF&W. The presentation was very positive and upbeat, with Duda reporting that Maine residents are extremely satisfied with the department and outdoor activities. “I’ve never seen better ratings,” he said.

Duda reported that, “While there is always room for improvement and it is always important for MDIFW to be open to public feedback, it is essential that MDIFW recognize that vocal criticisms directed at the agency are likely coming from a very small minority of the public and various constituent groups. In fact, the overarching conclusion of this study is that MDIFW is functioning and providing services at a very high level.”

That certainly didn’t give the agency – or the legislature – any reason to implement Duda and Valenta’s recommendations, or any of the suggestions many of us have made over the years – and at this legislative session – to improve things at the agency, especially communications and marketing.

Duda’s remarks prompted Don Kleiner, lobbyist for the Maine Guides Association, to lean forward and whisper to me, “How could they have missed that the industry is in the tank? I’m embarrassed for them.”

The thing that disappointed me was DIF&W’s reluctance to implement any of the recommendations offered by Duda and Valenta, including continuing to oppose the creation of a marketing position at the agency, one of the top recommendations. A bill to establish a marketing position at DIF&W was sponsored by Representative Bob Duchesne, House Chair of the IFW Committee, at my request. And after the presentations at this work session, the committee voted, by the slim margin of 5 to 4, to endorse the bill. (More about that vote in my outdoor news report on Friday).

I have a sinking feeling that, without DIF&W’s support, this bill will not be enacted, and the recommendations from Duda and Valenta will be placed on the shelf and quickly forgotten. Let’s hope the legislature and agency prove me wrong!

Here are the recommendations from Duda and Valenta.

Big Picture Recommendations

Increase awareness and support for agency programs

Create a unified look and recognize that all staff are potential spokespersons

Promote the concept of a healthy Maine

Distribute messages using DIFW credibility

Enlist two different spokespersons

Maintain continuous communications with the public

Recognize the importance of water quality issues

Emphasize the agency’s biological/ecological programs

Use familiarity with the Maine loon license plate and wildlife park as gateways to more detailed info about agency

Develop communications specific to key constituent groups

Ensure that core constituent groups are aware of the agency programs relevant to them

Use North Woods Law and its twitter followers to engage the public about relevant DIF&W topics

How to increase participation

Enlarge, rather than shift, management of and focus on outdoor recreation

Recognize the importance of game species to wildlife viewing

Use wildlife viewing as an entry point for more detailed communications about efforts

Take an active role in the next Maine SCORP planning process

Promote activities according to the survey findings on latent demand

Emphasize the locavore appeal of hunting and fishing

Recognize the difference in attitudes toward hunting in the southern and northern parts of Maine

Strive to improve access for various outdoor recreation activities through programs, and continuously communicate such improvements – biggest thing we could do, improve access

Recognize that social constraints are bigger obstacles to outdoor recreation participation than resource or structural constrains (what’s happening in the head and mind)

Cross-market outdoor recreational activities to the relevant groups (easier to get anglers to hunt than a couch potato)

Communications and Marketing Recommendations

Increase number of staff positions dedicated to marketing, communications, and public relations

  • Marketing and PR managers with support staff including webmaster, graphic designers, writers, social media coordinators, and videographers
  • Increase number of educational online publications videos, podcasts to make information more accessible.

Improve data collection efforts in order to better utilize databases

  • Focus on building lists of non-traditional users
  • improved targeting capabilities (data mining)

Implement branding and themes

  • Healthy outdoors for a healthy Maine or something similar
  • Focusing on Maine’s healthy waters and develop an outreach campaign to current list and media

Update and modernize MDIFW website

  • User-friendly, visually appealing and targeted to traditional and non-traditional target audiences
  • Make it mobile-friendly with corresponding apps, such as mapping

Increase frequency of communication to traditional audiences and implement new outreach to nontraditional users

  • Utilizing email lists to communicate to all audiences about the agency’s biological and ecological efforts first – then back up with recreational opportunities
  • Develop publications, videos, and podcasts to engage all audiences and hire staff needed to produce them (biggest potential and most important recommendation, said Valenta) – “It’s going to take time, money, and staff,” said Valenta. “They don’t have the publications, videos, and podcasts right now.”

Improve media relations

  • Create an online public relations section to make information readily available and accessible
  • Focus efforts on content that educates non-traditional users about DIFW’s successes “When I was looking on the website for past press releases, they are not there,” said Valenta.

Implement new funding source

  • Dedicated source of funds to support the mission of reaching non-traditional users
  • Supports conservation efforts for all natural resources in order to respond to current challenges
  • See statements on the agency’s website about funding needs
George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.