Division A - Public Relations Programs
Category 7 - Promotional/Marketing
Successfully Changing Your Most Important Citizen Service
City of Tallahassee; VancoreJones Communications, Inc.

Dick Pope All Florida Golden Image Award
Golden Image Award

Research/Situation Analysis: Since 1992, the cost of solid waste services in the City of Tallahassee has remained at a rate of $15.30, despite the dramatic increase in operational costs over the past 15 years. As the costs for fuel, labor and landfill fees continuing to increase, the City decided to re-evaluate its solid waste utility services. Politically, the concept of changing trash collection – something every citizen can relate to – was an extremely sensitive concept because it had the potential to generate strong citizen discontent if not handled effectively. The City’s current service consisted of a twice-weekly pickup for garbage, and every other week curbside pickup for recycling, yard waste and bulky items. One garbage pickup was “backdoor” and the other was “curbside.” “Backdoor” pickup, a service nearly unique to Tallahassee, was when a solid waste technician retrieved, emptied, and replaced the garbage bin to the customer’s “backdoor.” This was the primary way 70% of residents had their garbage removed.
In order to find the best solution to satisfy both the City’s operational costs and its 47,000 customers, the City conducted a survey of 400 residents to determine their preferences for change. Because the survey found that residents were more willing to accept a change in service level (60%) than pay more for the current services (24%) and were more likely to increase their recycling efforts with more frequent recycling pickups (65%), the City chose to reduce its service to a once-a-week curbside pickup for garbage and increase recycling from once every two weeks to once a week. This was the best option to reduce costs while helping the City become more environmentally-friendly.
With a May 1, 2007 date set for the new service to go into effect, the City’s focus turned to how to educate and get its customers to adopt a once-a-week curbside pickup schedule. This was going to be a new concept for a majority of customers to become accustomed to, so it was essential to make the message as direct as possible to minimize confusion and problems.

Objectives: 1) Ensure that 99 percent of the city’s 47,000 customers were aware of the change to weekly collection prior to the service change on May 1. 2) Limit the number of customer calls with questions about the change to no more than 1 percent of the customer base (470 calls) a day during the first two weeks following implementation of the change. 3) Increase participation in the City’s recycling program by 50% within two years.

Implementation: The challenge for the City of Tallahassee in public relations campaign was how to get
47,000 customers to modify their behavior. The solution was to develop and deliver a multi-layered communications campaign incorporating direct mail, the Internet, media outlets and community outreach. A variety of print materials were used to directly communicate with customers, including container stickers for garbage bins, updated solid waste calendars and information guides, and utility bill inserts. A solid waste-specific webpage was created on the City’s website, Talgov.com, and a program about the new service changes aired on the City’s television channel, WCOT. Advertisements were run on several popular local radio stations the week prior to implementation, targeting audiences that the survey showed were the most resistant to the change. The City also reached out to the community through events, such as the Earth Day and Cash for Trash events, as well as through presentations at neighborhood association meetings. A pre-recorded phone call from Mayor John Marks served as a last-minute reminder to customers the day before their new service pickup was to begin, reminding them to roll the containers to the curb for collection the next day.

Evaluation: Customers were exposed to at least 10 print publications, four days of advertisements on 7 popular radio stations, and four articles in the Tallahassee Democrat prior to May 1. Success of the City’s solid waste campaign was determined by the number of calls to the City’s call center and the set-out rate of recycling containers, which indicated the level of effectiveness of the communications plan. All goals were met and far exceeded expectations! There was not one complaint by a customer saying he/she was not aware of the change received at the call center. The City received an average of 165 solid waste-related calls per day during the first week of implementation, rather than the anticipated 400-500 calls a day. During the first week, only 12% of calls were garbage schedule inquiries; the second week, calls dropped to an average of 147 per day, with only 9% of those calls inquiring about pickup schedules. Additionally, residential participation in recycling during the first week doubled from the same time period in 2006 and the amount recycled exceeded last year’s amount by 70%, already meeting the 2-year goal.

Budget: The City spent approximately $118,500 on a communications campaign that reached 47,000 customers—a cost of $2.89 per customer. Approximately $63,400 was spent on print communications; $15,000 on radio; and $5,000 on automated phone calls from the mayor. Additionally, the solid waste citizen survey cost $10,000, and $25,000 was spent for communications consulting with VancoreJones Communications, Inc., a local firm.