Cheeky safety stuffers sent with weekly paychecks to construction workers of contractors belonging to the Mechanical Contractors Association of Chicago remind us how much Madison Avenue and workplace safety have in common.

Front of safety stuffer: Pucker up those lips and… (“playful but tasteful” illustrations accompany these tips, says MCA/Chicago)

Back: …learn CPR. It could save a life.

Front: Burning? Tingling? Quivering?

Back: It could be frostbite. Avoid it by wearing layers and heavy gloves when it’s cold.

Sex sells everything from Jaguars and jewelry to beer and hair blowers. Why not work site safety? asks MCA/Chicago.

Why not, indeed? Let’s apply sales and advertising principles to promoting workplace safety. Put on your marketer’s hat…

Positive impressions

Madison Avenue ad execs and workplace safety managers have more in common than you’d imagine. Both seek share of mind and customer loyalty. For both, being “out of sight, out of mind” is the kiss of death.

Both aim to create an appetite for their product, and want to own the space between their customers’ ears. Daily bombardment from competing messages doesn’t help matters. Top of mind awareness is the name of the game.

Have you thought of safety as a “product” — not just a set of rules and policies — and employees as your “customers”? Maybe it’s time to add “marketing manager with experience in promotional awareness campaigns” to your résumé.

Speaking of campaigns, what are you doing to “position” safety in your workplace? How are you building confidence and trust in your “product”?

How about creating a positive “impression” of safety? In advertising the rule is, the more impressions, the more they remember you. It takes up to 20 impressions (messages, signs, personal contacts, emails, etc.) to close a sale, according to David Sarkus, who markets his Safety Coach services.

Most people who try to make an impression give up after the fourth attempt. How’s your stamina?

Research your audience

Marketing safety, like marketing resorts, teas or ties, should start with some market research. How much do you know about your “customers” — your workforce?

Chances are, safety information “consumers” share many traits with the general buying public these days. Your employees are likely to be:

  • Skeptical — Only 50 percent believe the information they receive from management, according to a 2004 Watson Wyatt survey.

  • Cautious — Employees are not quick to commit. Seventy percent of U.S. workers are not engaged in their work, according to Gallup.

  • Jaded — Only 40 percent of workers believe management does a good job motivating the workforce. Too much lip service, too many quick fix programs, too many slackards held unaccountable. Maybe this is why only half of U.S. workers are happy with their jobs, down from 59 percent in 1995, according to The Conference Board.

  • Confused — Maybe this is because only about half (53 percent) of employees say their direct supervisor takes the time to explain company strategies and developments, according to a TowersPerrin survey. Only 51 percent say their company is open and honest. Less than half (45 percent) say senior leaders both talk and listen. Add up these communication lapses and you have a recipe for confusion.

    So this is the “marketplace” of moods, attitudes and beliefs you’re wading into with your safety messages. How do you connect with your target audience and make your message both believable and memorable — one that sticks in the top of mind?

    Reach customers early

    First, reach your “customers” early in their decision-making process — whether or not they’re going to buy what you’re selling, namely safety.

    When do your employees first form an opinion or make a decision about safety — your product?

    It could be the first time they walk through the front door and notice how clean, or unkempt, your workplace is. Housekeeping sends a clear signal.

    Or it might be the quality of their new hire orientation. Is it rushed along with little feeling or enthusiasm? Does the safety manager just stick his or her head in the door and say, “Talk to you later”? Is the safety film still in black and white?

    The quality of early safety conversations will be important. According to Internet marketing consultant Willie Crawford, any marketer trying to make a connection and make their message stick should show:

  • You understand what’s on your customer’s mind. His or her problems, needs, issues. In other words, get out on the floor, make regular safety contacts, ask sincere questions, and really listen. You shouldn’t come out of your office only to put out fires and conduct investigations.

  • Your thoughts are about “what’s in it for them.” Safety is not about you, it’s about protecting them, their careers, their incomes, and their families. Use “you” and “your” more than “I,” “me” and “my” in your communications, both written and verbal.

  • You have their best interests in mind. Don’t be a hero or a know-it-all. You’re an advisor, a resource, an honest-broker, a fact-finder, and yes, when needed, an enforcer.

    People spend a lot of time and energy thinking how to improve their lives, says Crawford. It’s human nature. As a safety pro, you have plenty of chances to show employees that you, too, spend a lot of time and energy thinking how to improve their lives. That’s what safety is about. Show how safety can help meet their goals and you’ll own the space between their ears.

    Learn from human nature

    Except for certain Ph.Ds in white lab coats, no one studies human nature more than advertisers. Here’s some of what they’ve learned that can help you sell safety:

    People are not impressed by receiving the same message again and again. Safety meetings and toolbox talks with nothing new to say are sure ways to lose the share of mind battle. Recycle old compliance topics and war stories and watch safety drop out of sight, out of mind.

    This calls for more than stringing up a new safety banner at the front gate each year.

    Walk around the shop and make “personal calls,” those one-on-one safety contacts.

    Use your company web site, annual report, newsletters and email to present safety communications. Arrange a safety meeting around the growing number of live safety phone-in or desktop seminars.

    Customize and personalize your training content and communications whenever possible. Search the ’Net for interesting, bizarre and informative safety news, statistics and research from around the world. Use search words such as “ergonomics,” “workplace accident,” “safety culture,” and of course “OSHA.” But spell it out, there is an investment analyst named Joe Osha. Really.

    Advertisers have learned that repetition, persistence, and variety — mixing up your messages — matter. Many people aren’t in the mood for whatever it is that’s being sold — reading lamps, Dali prints, bed and breakfast inns… and safety — when they first hear the message. You want to create what marketing consultant Mark Abraham calls a “dripping tap of information” to reinforce your message.

    When it comes to safety brand awareness, you want your customers to think of safety not just as rules and regs, but a necessary part of their job that is caring, creative, responsible, helpful, positive, fun, serious, and significant.

    By the way, how do you do all this without making yourself a pest, or a safety nanny?

    Use tact and a sense of timing. Know when to make contact and converse with someone out on the floor and when to pull back. When to cut a lecture short. Learn how to edit yourself, sometimes a challenge for knowledge-filled technical experts. Again, present yourself as someone who is there to help, to provide answers and info, to educate, not intimidate.