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  • Writer's pictureMeredith Montalto

New Census Awareness Effort Seems to Understand What Counts

The rollout of the 2020 Census is officially underway. I am fascinated to see how this massive national advertising and communications endeavor unfolds in real time, as well as the lessons learned when the effort concludes.

Reporting on the public education campaign about the census notes that it is a $500 million national ad campaign involving 13 communications firms. Material will be disseminated in English, plus 12 additional languages.


Think about how much has changed in the decade since the last census. The consolidation of the media landscape, polarization of the public attitudes on politics and the rise of newly formed social media platforms will make this effort look so different than it did just 10 years ago. Here’s what I see that I like so far:

1. The campaign slogans: “Across America, we all count,” and “Shape Your Future,” are concise, compelling and convey the two core messages of the census: (1) Everyone counts – both literally, and in the broader sense that no matter your age, race, locale or income level, you as a person matter in this country. (2) Data collected by the census is used to make funding decisions for programs that impact almost everyone – and you can play an active role in how these programs reach you (or don’t) by participating. It’s your future, and you participate in the effort to determine what it will look like.

2. I love the videos that accompany this campaign. The three included in this Philadelphia Inquirer story showcase an array of diverse communities and languages. They speak to the issues and programs that should be of significant interest to the people viewing them. They’re vibrant and project a sense of something you want to be part of. And, they cut to the heart of what makes a great public education and engagement campaign – appealing to what matters in people and their families in everyday life.

3. There’s a great diversity of outlets, platforms and partners being engaged and leveraged by the 2020 census effort. You can no longer simply check a box by placing a story on the 5 pm network newscast and expecting the public will be educated and informed about an issue. People receive their news and information differently, especially in today’s social and digital era. I took a class in grad school titled, “Reaching Diverse Audiences,” and the census is a true case study if I have ever seen one.

So I love that beyond media, the Census is engaging “trusted community groups,” and that libraries are playing a role in educating the public as well as providing computers for them to actually fill out the census. “Libraries act as a resource for people who could otherwise miss out on the count, such as those who are homeless or who don’t have internet access at home,” according to the WITF story. As someone who has always loved libraries, I especially love this brilliant move. As someone who is always engaging third party allies and partners and building coalitions for my clients, I give this effort a gold star.

And of course, engaging high profile messengers and trusted voices always helps a cause. Case in point: the fabulous Second Lady of Pennsylvania, Gisele Fetterman, a vocal advocate for immigrants and their interests, is embarking on a statewide tour to educate and inform people about why participating in the census is so important. I cannot think of a better person to spearhead this effort in our commonwealth.

So when you go to fill out your census form, take note of how and where you saw the video, text, news story, or who you heard from. An important learning opportunity is unfolding for communications professionals across the country, and I can’t wait to understand more about what worked and didn’t when this effort wraps up.


Meredith Montalto is a Director in Ceisler Media's Philadelphia Office.


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