Division A - Public Relations Programs
Category 8 - Public Affairs
LOCAL OPTION SALES TAX CAMPAIGN
Escambia County Office of Public Information & Communications
Award of Distinction
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
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.
- Residents indicated that past wasteful
spending (34 percent), cost of living and high taxes (15 percent), poor
past performance (13 percent), and deception (9 percent) as reasons to
vote against the extension.
- Citizens ranked improved roads and
traffic flow, emergency medical facilities and equipment, drainage and
storm water projects, and fire stations and equipment as the best use
of tax funds.
- Many residents were unaware of the one-cent sales
tax, in fact 43 percent had no awareness, 8 percent had heard or read
almost nothing, and 34 percent had heard or read a little.
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:
- A "Report Card" listing all the currently funded projects was printed
and 99,708 citizens were reached when distributed in a Saturday issue
of the Pensacola News Journal (circulation of 45,322 with 2.2 readers
per copy) approximately one month before the election.
- 200 "Your
Penny at Work" signs and banners were placed on all ballparks and
buildings throughout the county for approximately four months before
the election to highlight projects made possible by tax funds.
- Over 200 Bumper Stickers were placed on all vehicles purchased with tax funds.
- 15,600 quad-fold brochures outlining future projects if the sales tax
was extended to 2017 were printed. The brochures were distributed by
hand at county meetings, offices, libraries, parks, chambers of
commerce, elected officials' offices, by request, and at all speaking
- A mail out piece was designed and mailed out
approximately three weeks prior to the election to 102,043 households
outlining future projects. To keep costs down, a list of only
registered voters was obtained and only one copy per household was
- Fact Sheets- Thirteen informational fact sheets were
posted for three months on the county's web site. A new fact sheet was
added weekly and a corresponding e-mail was sent to a distribution list
of approximately 125 media and residents directing them to the site
where the fact sheets were posted. The sales tax site received 4,580
- Using the talking points developed, county representatives
attended eight debates and speaking engagements the last seven days
prior to the election.
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
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