The California Water Environment Association (CWEA) serves to empower wastewater professionals who represent all facets of wastewater management and resource recovery, from operators to lab techs to engineers, as they protect California’s most critical resource – water. Founded in 1928, CWEA underwent a major rebranding two years ago, and they have become masters at learning their new voice, establishing their presence, and staying loyal to their brand in all of their communications.

They’re also very, very good at recognizing that sometimes, practicing some creative freedom with a brand can be a very good strategy for drawing greater attention to an event such as an annual conference, which tend to utilize collateral with a shorter shelf life.

As a longtime partner with CWEA for their graphic design needs, we sat down with Alec Mackie, CWEA’s director of communications and marketing, to talk about how his organization brands and markets their conference.

“We’re guided by data, and some may say I’m even a little obsessed with looking at what’s attracting attention versus what’s not,” Mackie said. “We start with color; our brand uses a very defined palette of three blues. For this year’s conference, we added a pale blue, and pale mint green, which makes it stand out. We also added more blends of the colors to reflect the water sector diversifying our supplies. The conference is our biggest event of the year; the materials have to grab attention and rise to the top.

“It goes far further than color, though,” he added. “We have eight different practice areas, ranging from engineers and project managers, to men and women on the front lines clearing sewer lines. Our communities represent a broad spectrum of expertise, and our mission is to unite them – if engineers design something that doesn’t work for those on the front lines, it’s a problem. We reach all of them through  ‘conscious inclusion’; using visuals and messaging tailored specifically to each  member segment.”

CWEA also makes data-driven decisions when it comes to deciding which platforms and strategies to use to promote its conference, such as recognizing that a short-form video reel depicting the realities of working in the field is likely to gain greater attention on Instagram than on LinkedIn, while an engineering post will gain a following on LinkedIn. As a result, CWEA has created specific analytics about which social media platforms and post types perform for each target audiences. They know what visuals and messages appeal to whom, and they regularly create different practice area flyers to promote sessions that will appeal to their widely disparate audiences.

“Data drives us,” Mackie said. “I want everyone on the team to focus on what works but still be willing to test new things, too. We have 17 chapters that work with us to reach their members, and we provide them with customized promo graphics. It’s one of the reasons we like working with GRAPHEK; they provide a style guide and a lot of base templates and we create over 100 iterations of those graphics. We can remix all of the elements to produce whatever we need.

“For our local sections, the custom fliers highlighting their speakers were really popular,” he said. “We build from the knowledge we’re gaining. and suddenly you have proven, successful target marketing. It doesn’t have to be hard; it just requires great data going in.”

Recognizing that social media trends are always changing – live motion and reels are huge in the industry right now – and that the number of platforms are growing, Mackie and his team regularly review social media posts to keep up with what’s performing well and – perhaps most importantly – turn engagement into conference attendance.

“We have the biggest social media reach within the water sector in California, so we feel good about where we’re headed. Ultimately, you get out what you put into your branding. Once you find a strong and appealing message, it’s worth investing in. CWEA may be made up of many sectors, but our combined purpose is health and safety through clean water. That’s a simple, positive message; now we need to remind everyone of the importance of working together and joining the overall CWEA community.”