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San Diego Association of Governments 2020 Census Marketing and Community Outreach Campaign

The Challenge

NST was engaged by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) to conduct targeted outreach to local communities least likely to self-respond to the 2020 Census to help encourage a complete count in the region. Historically, these hard-to-count (HTC) communities have included, but are not limited to, people living without broadband internet access, individuals with limited English proficiency, children under the age of five, renters, foreign-born residents, or people living close to or below the poverty line.

A complete and accurate count in the census helps determine how more than $675 billion in federal funding is distributed to communities, with money supporting numerous public programs, including roads, schools, hospitals, housing and many other services. Results are also used to reapportion the House of Representatives, determining how many seats each state gets.

NST was initially tasked with planning a series of "Be Counted" events to provide an opportunity for members of HTC communities to attend, learn more and complete the 2020 Census questionnaire on-site. In response to the state of California and San Diego County’s guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19 — and the need to limit public gatherings and community events — NST quickly changed its strategy to emphasize outreach tactics that highlighted safe options for completing the 2020 Census online, by phone or mail.

The Tactics

NST developed an outreach plan designed to target HTC populations and supplement existing work being done by a coalition of local partners, including the following tactics:

  • A comprehensive toolkit with 2020 Census resources and plug-and-play content to make it easy for multiple parties to share pertinent information with key target audiences in HTC communities.
  • A direct mail campaign that distributed postcards to local HTC communities to encourage them to complete the 2020 Census. ZIP codes were selected based on individual census tracts with the lowest response rates.
  • A comprehensive digital campaign with The San Diego Union-Tribune that included homepage takeovers on both the English and Spanish websites, targeted programmatic display ads and dedicated emails to encourage residents to submit their census questionnaires online.
  • Flyer and collateral development in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, Tagalog and Vietnamese distributed through The Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank’s community distribution programs to encourage the completion of the 2020 Census.

The Results

  • As a result of NST’s postcard distribution, data from the state of California showed the collective self-response rate in the ZIP codes that received the postcards went from 50.9 percent on June 8, 2020 to 52.7 percent on June 14, 2020, a 1.8 percentage point increase. By comparison, the ZIP codes that did not receive the postcards had a 0.4 percentage point bump during that time.
  • The digital campaign with The San Diego Union-Tribune generated more than 1.3 million impressions and 6,800 clicks to the and websites.
  • More than 26,000 census flyers were distributed through three separate food programs with the San Diego Food Bank.
  • NST’s outreach efforts resulted in more than 1.4 million collective touchpoints with elected officials, military and veteran’s organizations, community groups, and HTC populations.

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