Census ‘Counts’ on UGA Students

A team of public relations students created a hyper-local, grassroots campaign to promote the 2010 U.S. Census in the Athens area. The students received a national honor for their work, which resulted in a potential return of more than $5 million in federal funding to the community.

The team’s iCount campaign focused on the student population at UGA as well as hard-to-count populations within Athens such as the Latino community. Steeped in extensive scientific research, the team took a four-pronged approach to increase knowledge of the Census, communicate its benefits, educate the community about the new short form and increase likelihood of participation.

“Through a series of media placements, campus and community events, social media sites and extensive word of mouth, we exceeded all of our campaign goals,” said recent graduate Kristin Ballard, account executive of the iCount campaign. “We’re proud that in a short 28 days we achieved more than 700,000 potential impressions of people seeing our campaign message.”

The UGA team obtained more than 3,500 signatures of local citizens pledging to participate in the Census. For every person in Athens who goes uncounted in the Census, the community loses $1,697 in federal money that is used to improve schools, roads, community parks and more. The students collected more than 3,500 signatures of people pledging to participate in the Census, which represents a potential return of more than $5 million in federal funding to the community.

“There was a 109 percent increase in knowledge about the Census among college students and a 98 percent increase in Latino awareness about the Census during the campaign,” Ballard said.

In addition to Ballard, the team included Courtney Garmhaus of Litchfield, Mich.; Debbie Ebalobo of Masinloc, Zambales, Philippines; Magan Cowart of Milledgeville; and Bridgett Johnson of Brunswick. The team was advised by Kaye D. Sweetser, assistant professor of public relations.

The students credit their Grady coursework with preparing them for this ultimate public relations campaign experience.

“I used parts of every single Grady class I’ve ever taken,” said Garmhaus. “We did primary research that I learned in PR research, writing tactics I learned in PR communication and created the book with programs I learned in graphics. Without my Grady education, we couldn’t have created such a well-rounded, well-thought-out campaign.”

For their efforts, the students won first place in the national Bateman Case Study Competition in Washington, D.C., on May 14. The competition, sponsored by the Public Relations Student Society of America, uses a single national client. The UGA team competed against 67 other schools this year and was selected for the finals as one of three teams to present to the client and PRSSA.

“We were absolutely thrilled and impressed with the professionalism and creativity these students brought to communicating the importance of the 2010 Census to their fellow students and to their communities beyond the campus,” said Census Bureau spokesperson Stacy Gimbel. “They took the challenge to heart and not only proved their public relations skills, but also helped ensure their communities are accurately counted.”

The UGA team won $2,500 for first place. The prize money was presented to the college’s chapter of PRSSA, which sponsored the team, to reinvest into future chapter programs.

“The quality of our students at Grady is in part a testament to the high level of mentorship and professional development opportunities our students receive through the UGA PRSSA chapter,” said Sweetser.