Census' Revamped Marketing Efforts Replace Sampling

The U.S. Census Bureau plans to step up its marketing plans to increase awareness of the decennial Census and boost response rates.

The marketing plans are part of an updated Census 2000 operational plan that Kenneth Prewitt, director of the Census Bureau, presented to William Daley, the Secretary of Commerce, last month. The updated plans come on the heels of the recent Supreme Court decision that requires the Census Bureau to conduct a traditional head count of all the 100 million addresses for congressional reapportionment.

“We will be doing enhanced advertising to get people to cooperate with the census — instead of having to go back and knock on the door and ask questions — and be more forthcoming with answers,” said Lee Price, chief economist at the Commerce Department. “American society is changing in ways that make it harder to do a good census. Many people are not home, they have trouble with creditors, they are immigrants, and some people have a general hostility toward people asking them questions. All of this will make it harder to conduct the best, most accurate census.”

The Census Bureau has moved up the start date of its educational marketing campaign three months to November and it will run until January. The campaign will target the historically undercounted population, specifically the African-American, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaskan native populations. The broad-based advertising campaign will range from broadcast TV, radio and print ads to billboards and transit advertising. It will focus on what the census is, why it's taken, and how it benefits Americans.

From April to July 2000, the Census Bureau will launch a follow-up advertising campaign aimed at households that did not respond by mail, explaining that they will be visited by an enumerator.

“We weren't going to do a follow-up message originally,” said Ken Meyer, chief of the Census 2000 publicity office. “Our original plan called for sampling that universe of nonrespondents. But, since the Supreme Court said that we are not able to do that, and that we have to contact everybody who didn't respond, we decide to use broadcast advertising to blanket the community.”

Consistent with what was announced last year, the Census Bureau will send advanced, First-Class letters to all 100 million U.S. households from February through April 2000 motivating them to fill out and send back their census questionnaires promptly. The actual census questionnaires will be sent via First-Class mail in late March 2000.

“[Households] will get an advance letter that tells them that the questionnaire is coming, along with some information including how to get a foreign language questionnaire if they need it or a number where they can call for assistance,” Meyer said. “There will also be a phone number in the mailing that they can call for assistance if they need help filling it out.”

In early April, Americans will receive a follow-up postcard that either thanks them if they have returned the questionnaire or remind them to do so if they haven't yet.

The Census Bureau also will continue its plans to send long forms to 17 percent of all housing units. These forms are important to direct marketers because they collect enhanced social, economic, financial and physical characteristic information, as opposed to the short form, which collects only name, sex, age, relationship and race for each household.

The Census Bureau is using Young & Rubicam, New York, as its advertising agency and there are no plans to change the its $100 million advertising budget. However, Rep. Carrie Meek (D-FL) and Rep. Dan Miller (R-FL), who is chairman of the subcommittee on the census, recently introduced the America Counts Today Initiative, designed to enhance traditional enumeration methods for the 2000 Census. If passed, it will add $300 million to the current advertising budget targeted to hard-to-count areas.

Prewitt, who announced these plans at a press conference at the National Press Club late last month, also said the Census Bureau plans to produce a second survey using statistical sampling.

“It is the task of the Census Bureau to produce the best numbers possible, not to decide how it will be used,” said Prewitt. He said he based his decisions on lessons of the Census Bureau's dress rehearsal, which confirmed the need to use sampling to reduce the undercount.

In addition, the Census Bureau is launching “Census in the Schools,” an awareness-based direct mail program this month aimed at teachers in 40 percent of U.S. schools that are in hard to enumerate areas. Teachers in these schools will receive educational materials that can be used as part of their lesson plans in an effort to raise awareness amongst students, who will be responders in the next census.

“[The mailings] will allow teachers to integrate the census and census concepts into their lesson plans and core curriculum, where they can replace lessons in math, civics or social sciences, for example, with census concepts,” said Meyer. “Instead of teaching place values in math, for example, they can look at population increases and decreases.”

The Census Bureau is teaming up with Scholastic Inc., New York, the children's publishing company, on this project. Scholastic's database will be used as the main source for teachers' names and addresses, and they will be verified via the Census Bureau's 12 regional offices The program will cost the Census Bureau about $15 million.

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