CAMPAIGNS: Cartoon hero aids Florida elections

PR Team: Pasco County (Florida) and Ron Sachs Communications (Tallahassee, FL) Campaign: Introducing Florida's New Voting System Time Frame: January - November 2002 Budget: $151,000

PR Team: Pasco County (Florida) and Ron Sachs Communications (Tallahassee, FL) Campaign: Introducing Florida's New Voting System Time Frame: January - November 2002 Budget: $151,000

After the embarrassment of the 2000 Presidential election, Florida officials swore to overhaul the state's voting procedures. Each county received funds to achieve a smoother election process in 2002, but how they spent that money was left largely up to them. Election officials in mid-state Pasco County used that money the same way many others did - by purchasing state-of-the-art, touch-screen voting machines called Votronics. But they also decided to dedicate a portion of the money to a voter-education campaign, hoping to familiarize residents with the new equipment before they ever entered the booth. Ron Sachs Communications, a small, Tallahassee, FL-based agency, was brought in to do the job. Strategy "Pasco challenged us to come up with a campaign that would invite voter interest in the election by generating interest in the voting system," says agency president Ron Sachs. So he and his crew, which included senior account managers Marah Binder and Cathy Schroeder, brainstormed on ways they could not only inform, but also entertain, their target audience. Given the nature of the campaign, they also knew repetition of their message was vital. They had to make a population of 360,000 citizens of all ages, races, and backgrounds intimately familiar with a machine and a process with which they would have no experience until Election Day. Tactics They started with a cartoon. Votie Votronic is a cartoon superhero who personifies the power possessed by each individual voter. Sachs and company created Votie to explain how, "with your finger, you have the power to make democracy happen." Votie popped up all over Pasco County - in commercials, on billboards, in local movie theaters during previews, and even in 15-second videos that appeared on gel screens at convenience-store counters. The spots featured a caped Votie, index finger displayed proudly, operating the new touch-screen voting machines - over and over and over again. The message was simple: "You have superhuman strength with just one touch!" The spots ended with a reminder to register to vote, and featured a website address where people could learn more about the new machines. The PR team backed up Votie with aggressive media outreach. They made news with frequent press conferences, they invited members of the press to photograph the new machines as they arrived in the county, and they submitted op-ed pieces bylined by the supervisor of elections. They also took pains to cover the entire media landscape, targeting everything from family publications to local radio shows. "We reached virtually every living, breathing voter several times with this message," claims Sachs. "It would be hard for a voter to be alive in Pasco County and miss these messages." Results On primary day in September, Broward and Miami-Dade counties - two familiar names from the 2000 election fiasco - were once again unable to pull off a trouble-free election. Part of the reason, at least according to local media, was that despite bringing in exactly the same machines used by Pasco County, they didn't devote much time or resources to voter education. So once again, Broward and Miami-Dade were subject to the snickering of the national media. The voting in Pasco County, however, was hailed as flawless. "Unlike Broward and Miami-Dade counties, which famously failed their sacred responsibilities to voters Tuesday, Pasco has the winning combination of a voting system and an elections office that works," wrote The Tampa Tribune. Future The campaign will continue into the general elections in November. But if the primaries are any indication, Votie's work here is done.

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