An Oldie But Goodie: That Time Jury Duty Inspired a Communication Strategy
On Monday, I had jury duty. It had been a few years since my last stint of jury duty, so I foolishly brought my laptop, thinking I’d be getting some work done. I imagined myself busily typing away at a table with a cup of coffee and free wifi.
Nope, I was in a room with a few hundred other people being shifted and herded like cattle. I could hear Arianne’s cattle call in my head. “Whoo wooo wooo, come on cow, wooo wooo.”
I started looking around the room and was amazed at the diversity of people — all colors, all sizes, all socioeconomic backgrounds. Some were trying to get out of jury duty, some were at peace with knowing they couldn’t check a box on any of the disqualifying conditions listed on the summons mailer.
I tried reading, but I was distracted by the very dated recording of Sandra Day O’Connor pontificating about the importance of the day, plus a testimonial from a woman explaining how jury duty made her understand what it meant to be an American.
I found myself lost in people-watching when it hit me. This is your audience. How often do we really stop, look around, and recognize the diversity of the community we serve? Our field personnel may understand better than we do, because they are out there, in the community, every day.
It had been a long time since I had been in that mixed of a cross-section of not only my city, but my entire county. The local brewery down the street draws a pretty impressive assembly of people, but not to that degree.
I felt overwhelmed.
How will we ever create messaging diverse enough to touch every person in this room?
What’s worse, the room only represented a handful of the total population.
Of course, I thought of a call-to-action for all of you, because why panic alone?
So, here goes. I hereby challenge everyone at some point this week to go somewhere busy and just people-watch. Don’t get on your phone, but do bring something to “read” so no one gets too suspicious and calls the cops on you. Will any of those creative ideas on your office board, journal, or Google Doc convey the value of water to the people you see? I wondered that myself as I scanned the jury room.
What about the business guy, quickly scrolling through emails, oblivious to most everything besides his calendar notifications?
What about the mechanic in line trying to defer his service date? He doesn’t get paid when he’s at jury duty and that $6 he’ll get today won’t cut it.
What about the single mom who is the sole caregiver of her ill father and has no childcare for her kids?
Or the young lady starting her sophomore year at college next week?
Or the two little old men, speaking their native tongue, telling each other stories and laughing in the back row?
Do any of these people have any interest in what we have to say? What will resonate with them? Where does water fit into their story?
As most people do, I sighed heavily when I got my summons, but it turned out to be a blessing.
I didn’t get assigned to a court and was released before noon. #happydance
It ended up being an ah-ha moment. I realized that even someone as obsessed with knowing their audience as I am had lost sight of what that really meant.
Go people-watch. Test your message. Will it hold water for them? #PunIntended
Find your stakeholders in the communities you want to reach. Grab a coffee. Get to know their biggest concerns and issues. How can you tie your narrative to what’s going to matter most to them? What are some opportunities for you to engage culturally that you hadn’t thought of? Integrating yourself into different cultures is more than just an issue of language. Don’t let that stress you out. That actually opens up more opportunities for engagement, in more creative ways than just bilingual collateral, social sites, and websites.
I stepped outside of the courthouse and walked a block down the street. I mean, I didn’t want my Uber driver to freak out about picking me up from the county jail. As I strolled, the overwhelming feeling of being underwhelming to such a diverse audience began to dissipate. Instead, it began to feel like a challenge, and boy, do we love those.