CAMPAIGNS: NC Cash, citizens reap the rewards of outreach effort

PR Team: Capstrat (Raleigh, NC) and North Carolina Department of State Treasurer Campaign: NC Cash - Unclaimed Property Program: Hunt for Lost Treasure Time Frame: October 1-31, 2003 Budget: $250,000

PR Team: Capstrat (Raleigh, NC) and North Carolina Department of State Treasurer Campaign: NC Cash - Unclaimed Property Program: Hunt for Lost Treasure Time Frame: October 1-31, 2003 Budget: $250,000

Giving away money would seem to be an easy task. Yet last year, nearly $600 million in unclaimed property sat in North Carolina's treasury waiting to be claimed. The Department of State Treasury estimates that nearly one in eight people statewide are on the giveback list. But in 2003, only about $20 million was returned, whereas more than $96 million was brought into the fund. The property, derived from forgotten bank accounts, lost stocks and bonds, and neglected safety deposit boxes, among other sources, is held at the Treasury indefinitely until it is claimed. While in limbo, the funds earn interest for the State Education Assistance Authority (SEAA) to provide tuition assistance for college students. For fiscal year 2003, more than $36 million in interest was earned. "My impression was that there was just a lack of awareness," says Capstrat account director Billy Warden. "I have been in North Carolina for close to 20 years, and I had no idea that this existed." Strategy Although interest from the unclaimed money goes to a good cause, people still have a legal right to their property. "We believe very strongly in the mandate that the law has given us to be custodians for the fund," says Julie White, communications director for the Department of State Treasury. The treasury directed Capstrat to develop a plan to raise awareness for the unclaimed property, drive people to the website, and reunite $3 million with its true owners during the month of October 2003. Previously, the highest monthly total return was $1.5 million. Tactics After researching similar giveback campaigns in other states, Capstrat settled on a plan that combined paid media, earned media, and informal viral marketing. They sent out direct-mail notices and developed a paid TV and radio PSA. Capstrat then planned a kickoff press conference, and Treasurer Richard Moore declared October Unclaimed Property Month. Later, he went to people's front doors, trailed by the media, to personally hand recipients their claim checks. For a campaign that on its face sounded too good to be true, "the state treasurer was our stamp of credibility," Warden notes. All of the outreach efforts spurred viral marketing on the website. Capstrat found that people would not only search for their own names, but also for their friends and families. "What we found was once people got to, they stayed," says Warden. "You get to break the good news to Uncle Joe, and maybe share in the payout." Results Overall, the campaign outpaced objectives, with more than $3.8 million returned in October. The highest single payout was $138,483.37 to an anonymous recipient. The Department of State Treasurer processed 4,330 requests and answered more than 15,000 phone inquiries. The press conference drove 26 placements on statewide TV, and the in-person check-distribution events with the Treasurer led to 44 TV hits and 30 print stories. Earned media accounted for 3.4 million impressions. The day the first story ran in the News & Observer, website traffic jumped 100,000 visits. It experienced more than 1.3 million hits during October, up from the normal 170,000 per month. Future The website will remain active and the giveback campaign will continue throughout 2004. Based on survey results, White intends to focus this year's paid ads more on TV and less on radio and print.

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