By: Amy Christensen
Two years ago, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) had some very astute hunches that were confirmed by comprehensive state-wide research. Of the over 600 Utah households surveyed, only three percent could name DEQ as an environmental entity, and even less knew anything about what we do. By finding a way to change that, we saw an opportunity to do even more public good.
Two of our best knowledge assets led us to action. We knew we possessed a wealth of scientific information that could help residents make better daily decisions as citizen-partners in pollution prevention. We also knew that our own surveyed employees felt a heightened connection to our state because of their roles as protectors of Utah’s natural wonder—our air, land and water.
A new public campaign aimed at diminishing our obscurity is underway this month in honor of DEQ’s 25th anniversary. We’re cracking open the conversation about who we are as an agency in order to more publicly share what we have to offer the state we love and serve.
We realize the important role we have in combating the prevailing confusion and misinformation that exists regarding the state’s top-of-mind environmental issues. And to that end, the focus of DEQ’s first three public service announcements (PSAs) will center on winter air inversions, the need for radon home testing and efforts to ensure clean water—topics that continually dominate Utah’s environmental conversations.
Who is Phil?
Every story has its protagonist and antagonist, and ours is no exception. All-State Insurance has Mayhem—the nemesis of any property owner, playing on the ever-present fear of spontaneous disaster. The antagonist in DEQ’s story is confusion—public confusion about where to get environmental facts. To represent that threat to public understanding, I’d like to introduce you to Phil.
Phil is an amalgam parody of every guy-next-door expert you’ve ever known. He means well, but he’s a little misguided. Phil lives in his mom’s basement and runs his own YouTube channel offering his own proprietary blend of environmental advice—a mirthful mixture of misdirection with a spicy pinch of conspiracy theory and a dollop of shoot-from-the-hip wisdom.
The good news is he’s willing to accept help from his DEQ guest-scientist, who accurately and nimbly answers questions from Phil’s Twitter-following with one hand, and points viewers to helpful resources with the other.
The truth is, Phil doesn’t care who shares face-time on his beloved “Enviro-Minute,” he just wants to be in on the action. And although he thinks his approach is cutting edge and sophisticated, well…let’s just say, he’s working on it. He uses a 1970s-style overhead projector with hand-written transparencies to share his Twitter tweets, while his 15-year-old cousin is learning to run the camera on the job.
In spite of this, his heart is in it all. And to prove it, he’s giving his viewers a look into his personal life. His kitschy basement apartment, complete with seagull art and Jazz souvenirs, doubles as his film studio. His upstairs-dwelling mother is not seen on camera, but is obviously still a huge part of his life. Phil inspires a home-spun atmosphere on the “Enviro-Minute” set by drinking his soda from a jelly jar, and he’s always wearing his lucky sweater vest, no matter the temperature. Yet, what you’ll notice most about Phil is that he is more than eager to talk about a wide-range of environmental topics, and he’s bursting at the seams with advice.
As you’ll see when the three messages premier, these are not run-of-the-mill PSAs. With a quirky simplicity, they are fun, to-the-point, and without being “preachy,” they urge the viewer to take action. And even more important is their relevance; they’re local and informative while still managing to delight and surprise. And as you know, a little humor on a scientific topic is never a bad thing if it grabs attention and makes an important point.
In this case, “Ask DEQ, not Phil” is more than a tagline or a hashtag. It’s a call to action for residents to orient themselves to DEQ, a place they can go to get answers and help for three of Utah’s biggest environmental issues.
Share our campaign hashtag: #AskDEQnotPhil, and subscribe to our YouTube Channel: UtahDEQ. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter @UtahDEQ
Amy Christensen is the Deputy Director of Communications for DEQ. She is a public relations and marketing professional who oversees DEQ’s brand management and communications strategy.