Welcome back to CSN’s Stormwater Spotlight Series! Over the next few months, we will be showcasing some of the top BUBBAs projects from this past year. Up next we head down to Tidewater to learn more about the winner of our Best Education and Outreach Campaign category: The HRPDC Write as Rain Campaign! Here are a few excerpts from their project narrative:

Write as Rain Hydrophobic Stencil

The “Write as Rain” campaign from the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission’s environmental education program, askHRgreen.org, was an innovative and creative approach to communicating with the public about water quality and pollution prevention. The campaign was successful engaging a diverse audience regarding behavior changes beneficial to local water quality.

The Hampton Roads Planning District Commission (HRPDC) is a regional organization representing southeastern Virginia’s seventeen local governments. The localities participate in a region-wide public education initiative, askHRgreen.org, which meets and exceeds the requirements of local stormwater permits by educating citizens about environmentally-conscious behaviors. They work to improve and protect local waterways and infrastructure, reduce litter, beautify communities, and improve recycling activities through a multi-pronged approach to education and outreach. 

Students interacting with street messages.

In April 2017, askHRgreen.org took a new innovative approach and launched a sidewalk messaging campaign, called “Write as Rain,” to take their stormwater pollution prevention messaging to the streets (literally).  Local government staffers used custom-cut chipboard stencils and an eco-friendly hydrophobic spray to place hidden messages on sidewalks, streetscapes and thoroughfares at 57 diverse locations across the region that became visible only when wet. Example locations include malls, restaurants, parks, museums, and more. The stencils covered 12 distinct messages and carried the hashtag #askHRgreen along with stormwater pollution prevention messages such as: “Your River Starts Here, Keep It Clean,” “From Store to Shore, Plastic Pollutes,” and “No Such Thing as a Little Litter.”  When it rains, the sidewalk darkens while the stenciled area stays dry and light, revealing the hidden messages and the magic of the “Write as Rain” campaign. Depending on sidewalk condition and degree of foot traffic, each message is designed to last three to six months or longer.

Because the messages do eventually fade with time, a second phase of the “Write as Rain” campaign was implemented in September 2018. Four new stencils were designed, this time with a younger audience, local tweens, teens and their parents, in mind. The messages inspired youth and their parents to start the school year off with a pledge to make environmentally-conscious choices. Designed to encourage selfies and sharing, the hidden messages contained sayings such as “I Pledge Only Rain Down the Drain”, “I Won’t Stand for Litter,” and “I Won’t Add Wipes to Our Pipes.” Stencils were applied at 79 new locations – mostly schools, libraries, and recreation centers.

The success of the “Write as Rain” campaign was tracked by engagement and public relations exposure. The first engagement measure was the number of participating locations. Gaining support and approval from more than 120 public and private organizations as hosts for sidewalk messages is a good indicator of the popularity of this campaign. Locations were also diverse, allowing askHRgreen.org to reach a diverse audience. “Write as Rain” host locations included schools, parks, recreation centers, museums, malls, libraries, municipal centers, restaurants, and walkable business districts.

Another engagement measure was tracking online traffic. Google maps of participating locations were promoted heavily in the media, online and on social media at the launch of each campaign phase to help residents easily find the hidden messages throughout the region. The maps can be found by visiting www.askHRgreen.org/rainyday. The maps have been viewed 6,818 times, 4,695 views for 2017 and 2,123 views since September 2018. 

News coverage from local media outlets expanded the success of the campaign.

“Write as Rain” was also a public relations success. News of this innovative campaign spread through various local media outlets with features in The Virginian-Pilot, on local TV news stations (WTKR-TV and WAVY-TV), and in several local newspapers, such as the Suffolk News-Herald, Southside Daily, and The Smithfield Times,  to name a few.  With a total project budget of just $12,000, the “Write as Rain” campaign had a public relations exposure value of over $75,000, a true return on investment.