WASHINGTON: The US Census Bureau is tapping into grassroots partnerships and social media as part of a two-year, $312 million integrated communications campaign for the 2010 Census.
With a year to go, the federal agency is expanding its media profile and kicking off a number of PR initiatives to ensure that the public is aware and educated about the upcoming census, said Stephen Buckner, assistant division chief for the Census Bureau's public information office.
The purpose of using partnerships and social media for the “It's in our Hands” campaign is to ensure that the federal agency's main message – to encourage participation in the census – comes from trusted community members and influencers.
“The third-party credibility factor really comes into play about the census,” added Buckner. “It's one thing for the federal government to say, ‘You need to participate in the census.' It's another thing for your school leader, the business you frequent, [or] your elected official at the local level... to come out with that message.”
Much like the 2000 Census, communications efforts are focused on providing a coordinated message and using partnerships to influence the general public, said Randy Sands, EVP at Weber Shandwick, which is the PR and partnership provider for the effort.
WS is one of 14 subcontractors working on the effort with Draftfcb, the ad agency which was awarded the $212 million contract in September 2007. Draftfcb and WS are both owned by Interpublic Group.
Jack Morton, also part of IPG, is handling experiential marketing.
Funding from the federal stimulus package now makes the account worth $312 million, explained Buckner. The amount added to the PR budget was not available.
The PR team is currently providing messaging and toolkits in 19 languages to the bureau's partnership specialists, which are then given to local and national partners like Wal-Mart, General Mills, and Sprint.
It is also preparing for a number of media briefings with multicultural media. The first national partner meeting is scheduled to be held March 30 in Washington, said Buckner. WS is providing support for campaign events.
The information can be used to educate member or employee audiences, as well as customers, and is tailored to fit the local ethnic and cultural groups, he added.
The communications plan noted that since 2000 distrust in government is up because of 9/11, the Iraq War, and Hurricane Katrina; people are more concerned about confidentiality; and certain populations worry about immigration policies.
For certain immigrant and cultural groups, like Hispanics and Muslims, who might not speak with government officials or provide personal information for the census, the role of partnerships is especially key.
“No longer is it just the government pushing the information out,” said WS' Sands. “We're hoping to engage our partners and get them telling our story.”
While partnerships were a key communications tactic in 2000, social media and online PR tactics are new for the Census Bureau.
The PR team developed campaign pages for MySpace, LinkedIn, and Facebook. It used a YouTube channel to post informational videos for the Census Bureau to provide to its national partners, as well as more specific videos that tailor messages for individual ethnic populations, said Buckner.
The PR team is now focused on gaining new partnerships and increasing the bureau's media exposure. It is reaching out to tech giants Yahoo and Google. It also plans for the first time to reach out to the PR and ad industries, through individuals and associations, as well as their clients, added Buckner.
The campaign will begin to target the mainstream media and public in early 2010.