The 2020 Census is one of the most important civic events for ensuring proper funding in our communities and representation in our government.
Every person must get counted. However, before the census, the President and the Federal government tried to suppress Latinx participation through a citizen question (though it was later thrown out). Then the census itself rolled out amidst a global pandemic. The City of Grand Rapids understood the need to ensure our city’s most hard-to-reach populations were adequately informed about the census, understood its impact in their community, and simply fill it out. They called upon Well Design Studio to help them reach these populations.
Adapting to a New Normal
The original full plan involved dozens of informational community events, billboards lining the highways, census workers helping at libraries, and census parties across the city. However, the COVID pandemic meant that there could not be gatherings, and highways were empty because of stay-at-home orders. It meant that we needed to adapt to the situation, so we adjusted our ad buys to reach them on social media, TV and Youtube. Once the stay-at-home orders were lifted, we expanded the reach to more outdoor advertising — all of this advertising done in both English and Spanish, and in some cases, Vietnamese.
The City of Grand Rapids is not alone in having these state-defined “hard-to-reach” communities. The suburbs of Kentwood and Wyoming also have large hard-to-reach populations as do other areas across Kent County. These communities also needed to do outreach, but their communications efforts were stifled by the need to speak to residents about COVID-19. So Well brought together these three cities and the county to propose a regional approach to advertising in order to pool the ad buy together to make larger purchases and spread the message further.
A Counted Community
Through relentless campaigning over six month, nearly everyone in our community not only knew the census was happening but, more importantly, understood the need to respond. In Grand Rapids, there was a goal set of 80% response rate, and even during a global pandemic, we helped them achieve a 93% response rate.
Our regional collaboration ensured a consistent message across the county. The larger ad buys allowed us to dive deeper into television advertising and expand the outdoor advertising once the stay at home order had been lifted. This together ensured that Kent County outpaced the entire state for self-response for the census achieving a 78.4% response rate compared to the statewide 71.1%.
In a surprise move the U. S. Census director announced that the final Census count would be shortened by one month, and therefore adding to the challenges that the pandemic had already created for communities like Grand Rapids, Well Design’s Raul Alvarez (while on contract with the City) proposed and created an aggressive 4-week campaign to address this challenge. This campaign included an assertive media relations strategy, a targeted multimedia campaign focused on Latinx/Spanish-speaking media, and a well-planned and executed grassroots effort that consisted of recruiting community volunteers to conduct door-to-door canvassing in historically undercounted Census tracts.
This campaign was kicked off with a successful press conference that included members of the City’s Complete Count Census Committee, community partners and the Grand Rapids Public Schools and the media. This aggressive strategy and campaign, aimed at sending a sense of urgency message to these targeted communities to be counted before the shortened count data of September 30, successfully complemented Well Design’s ongoing multimedia campaign and proved successful and pivotal in helping surpass the City’s Census count goal of 80%.