By Ashley Spinks, Communications Coordinator, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association
June 19, 2019
Six years ago at Nemont’s (Scobey, Mont.) Annual Meeting, Chief Executive Officer Mike Kilgore shared a heartbreaking story: His close friend had lost a child in a distracted driving accident. After his deeply personal speech to the cooperative’s membership, Kilgore sought out Gregg Hunter, Nemont’s public relations and marketing specialist. “We need to do something; we need to figure out how to do this,” Kilgore said of his desire to find a way to educate young drivers about the dangers of distracted driving.
Hunter and the marketing team had attempted to host safe-driving education sessions in the local schools in the past, but ran into obstacles with manpower, equipment and finding sufficient space to hold the seminars during bad weather (when the sessions were held outside). Kilgore assured Hunter, “We’ll find the money somehow, someway. I’ll go to the board, if you can find a way to do this.” Kilgore and his staff were motivated by a genuine concern for the safety of their community, and so Hunter did find a way. Nemont held its secondevent in May.
“This is a mobile network problem—it’s all about your wireless device, it’s all about your mobile phone.”
Hunter said that while typically a large-scale safe-driving event like the Save a Life Tour would be hosted by larger entities like state governments or insurance companies, the staff at Nemont felt a responsibility to get involved. “We have our own wireless network, so we feel that it’s our responsibility as a mobile provider to educate not only the youth but all of our communities about the dangers of distracted driving,” Hunter explained. “This is a mobile network problem—it’s all about your wireless device, it’s all about your mobile phone.”
During the Save a Life Tour, participants can operate custom-made simulators that replicate the experience of trying to drive while impaired or distracted. The program also includes speakers who have first-hand experience with the potential tragedies that can be caused by distracted driving, Hunter said. “They find guys who actually have had situations in their lives … [where] someone that they knew was involved in a distracted driving incident,” Hunter explained. “They have a story, and that’s really moving for the students.”
Nemont conducted the Save a Life program for the first time in 2014, and “it was great,” Hunter said, but the telco quickly realized that they hadn’t cast a wide enough net in recruiting schools to participate. “Right after, we started getting all these small schools [that neighbored] the bigger schools we were going into, asking when we were going to do it [for them].” Hunter realized that if Nemont did the program again, he would have to set the goal of reaching every single school in Nemont’s service territory—no small task, since it covers more than 14,000 square miles across multiple states.
Five years have passed since Nemont’s first attempt; Hunter aspires to host the Save a Life program at least every four years so that no student in Nemont’s cooperative territory graduates without attending. This year, the program expanded dramatically. According to Hunter, he reached out to 21 schools throughout Nemont’s service territory and had 15 participate. Nemont also paired the Save a Life Tour with another local event this year in Glasgow, Mont.—. The idea behind the Red Thumb campaign is to paint your thumb with red nail polish on the hand you use to hold your cellphone. Then, anytime you start to text while driving, you’ll be reminded of the risks.
After the Save a Life Tour in 2014, Nemont was contacted by the Valley County Health Department in Glasgow, and asked whether Nemont would like to team up on a Red Thumb campaign. Nemont agreed, and with the help of the Valley County Health Department, were able the to get several organizations and businesses involved. “We do several educational events downtown. … Each location has something to do with distracted driving,” Hunter said. Some participants show distracted driving videos, hand out related material or talk about the dangers of distracted driving. This year, the campaign included an event hosted by the Glasgow Police Department and Valley County Sheriff’s Department where the average distance traveled by a car while a driver is distracted was measured off with a ticker-tape in the local high school gymnasium. The Glasgow Fire Department joined in and did a presentation with the “Jaws of Life,” and the Montana Highway Patrol had a “seat belt simulator” that impressed upon young drivers the impact of momentum and the importance of seatbelts when a car tries to slow down or accidentally hits an object.
“We need to have someone who’s actually going to be there, to hear the good and the bad of what we do at Nemont, and then to bring that information back. … Don’t just sponsor stuff, hang a banner and walk away; show up.”
Approximately three hundred people participated in the joint Red Thumb-Save a Life event in Glasgow this year, and Hunter hopes to find ways to make the program available statewide. “We hit social media pretty hard this year when we were doing the campaign, [and] we had like 10 schools from Montana that reached out to us [with interest in participating.] These were schools from all across the state, even as far as Helena,” he said.
This distracted driving campaign would come in addition to an already full slate of activities and events hosted by the telco. According to Hunter, Nemont hosts, participates in or attends approximately 58 events every year, including parades, golf tournaments and cookouts. Hunter said his “marching orders” as Nemont’s point person on public relations have always been clear: “We need to have someone who’s actually going to be there, to hear the good and the bad of what we do at Nemont, and then to bring that information back. … Don’t just sponsor stuff, hang a banner and walk away; show up.”
Nemont’s strategy and deep involvement it its service territory is proof of what those in the rural broadband industry already know: small, community-based providers are institutions for local engagement in their towns and hubs.