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
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
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.