Division A - Public Relations Programs
Category 8 - Public Affairs
Escambia County Office of Public Information & Communications

Award of Distinction

Research/Situation Analysis: During the last nine years, a one-cent local option sales tax on retail purchases has generated more than $350 million for Escambia County. Approved by voters twice, once in 1992 and again in 1997, the tax was set to expire on May 31, 2007. Escambia County held a special election on March 7, 2006 to ask voters to approve a referendum to extend the tax until 2017. In January, research was conducted by a political action committee by a local research firm. More than 1,000 phone calls were made by the firm to secure approximately 450 completed phone interviews, collected equally from the five commission districts. The survey revealed:
The county had two large hurdles to overcome in passing the referendum. First, 2004 and 2005 were very active hurricane seasons, which according to experts caused a 30 percent increase in the cost of living. Next, citizens did not trust county government as four out of five county commissioners were indicted and removed from office for sunshine law violations and bribery in 2002. The office of public information was tasked with creating a campaign to educate voters and help pass the referendum.

Objectives: Campaign objects: 1) To create tools that educate both voters and the media on the sales tax, address voters' concerns of wasteful spending and deceit, and focus on the projects that have largest support; 2) to pass the referendum to extend the local option sales tax with a minimum of 50 percent vote; and 3) to not exceed the budget of $60,000.

Implementation: To educate the public, a campaign titled "Your Penny at Work" was implemented. Seven tools were created to explain how tax money had been spent, how their quality of life had been bettered, and what continued improvements would take place if the tax were extended. All tools highlighted the projects that voters found to be most important. The public relations tools included:

Evaluation: An education campaign was designed that 1) used seven tools that focused on the projects that had the highest approval ratings, informed voters and the media on what improvements had been made with their tax money, and how funds would be spent if the tax were extended. 2) The local option sales tax referendum was by passed by 64 percent of the voters, exceeding the goal by 14%. 3) The total cost of the campaign was $59,373.26, $626.74 under budget.

Budget: Research- no cost, survey paid for by a PAC. PR tools (printing only, layout and design completed in house): signs & banners- $4,076; bumper stickers- donated, no cost; "report card"- $15,000; tri-fold brochure- $1,746; printing and postage of mail out piece- $38,551.26; web-based fact sheets- no cost. Total campaign cost- $59,373.26, an anticipated return on investment of $349, 940,6262.74.