Crossroads Communications

3 Lessons from Successful Public Information Campaigns

March 13, 2024

National elections may get the most attention, but the decisions made at the state and local levels of government have the most impact on the day-to-day lives of citizens. That means local governments are often in a unique position to make the most impact through thoughtful investments in their communities’ long-term needs – and these investments are always decided, in some way, by a vote.

Municipalities are generally restricted by law when it comes to ‘Vote Yes’ campaigns. Taxpayer dollars cannot be used to tell people how they ‘ought to vote’ and for good reason.  Governments cannot tell voters how to vote, but they are legally and morally obligated to educate their constituents on the propositions they bring before voters. To achieve a positive outcome for those propositions, governments can inform their communities about an issue or need through an effective public information campaign. Campaigns like this can be challenging to execute well, even if city managers and staff have experience in public information initiatives. Help from an experienced municipal marketing agency like Crossroads Communications can make the difference in a public information campaign. Here are the most important lessons we’ve learned from the many public information efforts we’ve completed:

1. Meet people where they are.

When local governments call a vote, there’s a reason—city managers and staff have identified a need in their community that requires a vote of the people to address. The next step is to educate and inform the public about the issues and their impact on the community—now and into the future. Meet citizens where they are by bringing the message to them in various ways, encouraging questions and feedback along the way, breaking down the details, and hopefully turning citizens into advocates to help the campaign succeed.

2. Establish a home base for the campaign.

Once people are aware of the upcoming election, they need a place to go – a source of accurate information about the campaign. A website tied to the education effort is an invaluable way to create an informational home base where people can find everything from project lists and presentation slides to frequently asked questions and public meeting dates. The campaign’s home base will also be the first and most important place to update as the campaign progresses and more information becomes available—building trust in government over time.

3. Give the campaign time.

Crossroads has executed many public information campaigns, and the challenge we most often encounter is time. Building trust, communicating thoroughly in multiple ways, and transparent citizen engagement all take time; plus the time it takes to get a campaign off the ground behind the scenes. While we’ve executed successful campaigns with less than eight weeks to work, we recommend at least twelve weeks of runway before the vote. Ideally, engagement begins 6 to 12 months ahead of a planned vote with public input, project refinement, rough estimates, necessary background information, and so on.

A bonus lesson we’ve learned over time: for voters (or donors) to say yes to an ask, three things must be true:

Crossroads has worked and continues to work with municipalities, publicly funded agencies, and non-profit organizations to engage their communities on various issues—bond elections, sales tax elections, sales tax extensions, capital campaigns, and more. If you’re facing an upcoming election or education effort and want to discuss the options, we can help.

See our election results.

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