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Using All The Tools In Your Kit To Sustain Outreach
By Marnie Schubert
Communications, Marketing & Recreation Director - Town of Queen Creek, AZ

Queen Creek’s General Plan serves as a guiding document for the Town’s infrastructure, natural resources, commercial and residential growth and open space. In Arizona, general plans must be ratified by voters every 10 years, so extensive public outreach is crucial to help residents participate in developing the vision for the plan and understand all facets of this complicated project. 

In 2016 the Town of Queen Creek initiated the General Plan Update, with the plan being placed on the ballot in 2018. As a young community, incorporated in 1989, the Town had grown substantially since the previous plan was approved in 2008. Establishing the framework for the next 10 years, Queen Creek’s General Plan Update had the unique challenge of managing the continued growth of the community while preserving Queen Creek’s rural character. 
 
General Plans are typically developed within the planning division, with the communications division invited to the table simply to help share information about a meeting or the upcoming vote. Early in the process, Queen Creek’s Planning Division took the advanced step of engaging the Town’s Communication & Marketing team to be involved with every area of the General Plan Update. 

The leadership in Queen Creek is very supportive of communication efforts and saw the General Plan Update as an opportunity to put the various channels to the test. Residency is often an issue in our area, with those living in county islands and unincorporated areas often mistaking themselves for Queen Creek residents. While feedback from all areas is important, for the voter outreach it was important to distinguish between residents and non-residents. That meant for the voter education portion of the campaign, the Nextdoor platform became our best friend.

In our community, Facebook is king, with Nextdoor and Instagram running closely behind. Twitter is not used extensively by residents (other than traffic alerts), and there is little coverage by traditional media. This meant the General Plan would really be the first voter initiative the community has embarked on since social media has become a dominate communication channel. We also created a custom area of our website, QueenCreek.org/PlanQC to serve as the hub of the campaign. 

A multi-phased outreach plan was created that incorporated all of the Town’s communication channels. It was divided into four phases: (1) initial General Plan outreach, (2) land use outreach, (3) draft plan review and (4) education regarding the vote. The public outreach for each phase demonstrates the exhaustive efforts taken to gather public input: 
 
Phase  1 2 3 4 Examples
Social media posts  18  5 2 12 Video, infographics, images, questions
Email blasts  7 8   11 Boards, commissions, stakeholders
Print 3     4 Direct mail, editorial, flyers
New releases  2 3 1 3 Email distribution & Town website
eNewsletter  2 2 1 6 Town & school district
Public meeting/presentations*  1 1   13 Various community meetings & events
Water Bill  1 1   3  
    *Does not include monthly Planning & Zoning updates and updates at Town Council meetings
 
As the update progressed and the draft was initiated, particular attention was given to the format and layout. To help make the overall document easier to use and understand by all stakeholders, it was designed to be an interactive, digital document incorporating an executive summary, helpful visuals and descriptive maps. The involvement of the Communication Division was critical to achieving this goal. 
 
The Communications Division spent approximately $7,000 on the campaign, including the creation of a logo, direct mail pieces, signage, promotional items and social media advertising. All of the content for outreach efforts, video production and infographics was created in-house. While the cost was relatively minor for an effort of this size and scope, there was significant staff time involved from the planning and communication divisions dedicated to the outreach efforts. 

Extensive resident input was gathered throughout the process to ensure the update reflected the vision of the community. Results of the public engagement include: 
  • More than 6,000 engagements on Facebook, and an additional 4,500 views, likes, and comments received through other social media outlets (website, Nextdoor, and Instagram).
  • Nearly 180 survey responses on the 2008 Goals and Strategies distributed on the General Plan website.
  • More than 50 people participated in the Land Use Workshop and nearly 40 people participated in interviews and focus groups.
 
The final phase of the outreach plan provided education about the General Plan vote with the following results: 
  • Website: 3,776 unique page views, with, QueenCreek.org/PlanQC was one of the top 10 visited Town pages in May 2018.
  • Nextdoor: 9,278 impressions (Nextdoor started calculating impressions in Spring 2018), 9 comments, 13 thanks.
  • Facebook: posts reached 49,002 and FB Live reached 4,142 people with 1,787 views and 26 comments.
  • Approximately 400 people were reached through presentations. 
 
The General Plan Update was ultimately unanimously approved by the Town Council (7-0), approved by voters with an 84 percent passage rate and will serve as valuable tool for staff, landowners, current and future residents and elected officials for 10 years. The process also served as an outstanding opportunity for the Communications Division to showcase the strength of a multi-faceted outreach campaign, and the value of social media has for even the most complex of messaging. 
 
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