Youth Outreach: Declare Yourself prompts US youth to get out and vote

When Norman Lear purchased the Declaration of Independence in June 2000, the television producer and philanthropist wanted to make sure the historic document would continue to serve the social good.

When Norman Lear purchased the Declaration of Independence in June 2000, the television producer and philanthropist wanted to make sure the historic document would continue to serve the social good.

So he took it on a three-year, cross-country road tour, which would ultimately culminate in a record-breaking voter-registration initiative for young adults. The result was Declare Yourself, a yearlong, nonpartisan initiative targeting voters ages 18 to 29, with special attention placed on college and high-school students. "[Young people are] more likely to be long-term voters if they vote for the first time at 18," says Christy Salcido, communications director for the campaign. And while voter turnout was important, the campaign's primary focus was to engage young people in the political process. "Our goal was loftier than the election," says Doug Piwinski, SVP at Bragman Nyman Cafarelli (BNC). "The challenge isn't to simply engage voters every four years. That's not enough." Strategy The Declare Yourself PR team built the campaign on the findings of seven months of research. Most young people, the research showed, are interested in the political process, but they don't believe they know enough to participate in it. Young voters are turned off because they feel "politically incompetent," Salcido says. "We took an approach of not only using entertainment and celebrities, but also education." TV, the web, campus tours, and even clothing became the vehicles for delivering the message. "We wanted to reach young people where they get their news, entertainment, and information," Salcido says. "We worked very hard to make Declare Yourself a one-stop shop" for election information. Tactics Leading up to the election, Declare Yourself reached out to young people with the help of partners like Clear Channel Entertainment, Tower Records, and Yahoo. Fashion designers, such as Isaac Mizrahi and Todd Oldham, created special edition voting-themed T-shirts, which were sold on the Declare Yourself website. The Daily Show ran a series of humorous PSAs. Dave Chappelle, Christina Aguilera, and Cameron Diaz served as celebrity spokespeople. The PR team also brought its "Power of the Spoken Word" tour to 20 college campuses, bringing together poetry, hip-hop, and voter-registration tables. It also arranged college "voter parties" through online community Friendster. As Election Day approached, Declare Yourself sent registered voters e-mail reminders with voting tips "in their vernacular," Piwinski notes. "The internet was obviously effective." Results More than 1 million young people downloaded voter-registration forms on Declare Yourself's website, and 83% ultimately registered. Of those, 76% voted in the presidential election, according to a post-election study. "The challenge was always, will they come out?" Piwinski says. "It was an incredible number." "In one year, we were able to achieve the results that we set out to do," Salcido adds. One ongoing challenge is to counter cynicism in the media, which focused on the fact that the percentage of young voters stayed the same, even though raw numbers were greater than in 2000, says Piwinski. "From a media perspective, we kept getting lumped into trend pieces on the youth votes," he says. Future Post-election surveys reported that 75% of young voters and 45% of young non-voters plan to vote in the next presidential election. "Young people do have a strong sense of civic duty," Salcido says. "They're not as apathetic as some people think." "The question is what we can do the other three years, before the rhetoric and before we get lumped into partisan politics," Piwinski says. PR team: Declare Yourself and Bragman Nyman Cafarelli (both Los Angeles) Campaign: Declare Yourself Time frame: November 2003 to November 2004 Budget: About $500,000

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