There has been little doubt that Election Day 2000 would be one of the most critical and definitive events of the new Millennium for all minorities, African Americans in particular. On both the local and national levels, the outcome of this election would address such key issues as education, affirmative action, racial profiling and the future composition of the Supreme Court. However, many research organizations and the media projected that African-American voter turnout would be extremely low and therefore a non-factor in the 2000 Presidential election.
In 1996, 54% of the nation’s eligible African-American voters participated in the electoral process, but a poll published by Time Magazine in September showed that less than 45% of African Americans planned to vote on November 7, 2000.
For its entire 91-year history, voting rights has been an integral part of the charter and mission of the NAACP. Therefore, this year, the organization mounted the most extensive “Get Out The Vote” (GOTV) campaign, ever, seeking to significantly increase the total number of African-Americans voters going to the polls on Election Day.
Walls Communications, Inc. (WCI) was retained by the NAACP to assist with this extremely important campaign by providing the organization with a wide range of communications services specifically targeting the Southern States of Alabama, Florida, Maryland, Kentucky, Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina. The initiative was simply called the Southern States Voter Project 2000. A separate organization called the NAACP National Voter Fund targeted the “battleground” states of Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.
The primary public affairs objective for the NAACP’s Southern States Voter Project 2000 was to aggressively convey to the target audience that (1) this particular election would be critical to all African Americans and that (2) every single vote would count.
African Americans who were eligible to register and vote in the Southern States of Alabama, Florida, Maryland, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina.
Our past experience and research had shown that the targeted audience (1) viewed the NAACP in positive light as the primary agent of change for the African-American community; (2) listened to “urban” format radio stations in large numbers; (3) were heavy viewers of cable television programming; and (4) actively read their local African-American weeklies and/or HBCU (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) school papers.
Working with the NAACP and an African American Public Relations Alliance (AAPRA) partner, Circulation Experti, Walls Communications devised and implemented a comprehensive communications plan that would saturate the targeted African-American communities with print, broadcast, billboard and website information conveying the NAACP’s GOTV message.
It was our desire to convey the NAACP’s message through as many venues as possible; and to set it apart from all the traditional political campaign rhetoric that saturated the airwaves and print mediums. Therefore, whenever possible, we sought “partnerships” in this effort. The umbrella theme for these partnerships became “Lift Every Voice and Vote,” a spin-off from the popular African-American anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” “Lift Every Voice and Vote” thus became the prevalent perceived theme for all African-American get out the vote activities during the political campaign season, giving the NAACP’s efforts extended visibility.
In an effort to achieve the campaign’s ultimate objective, increasing African-American voter participation, Walls Communications first produced and placed a series of radio and television PSA’s featuring NAACP President Kweisi Mfume and NAACP Chairman Julian Bond (refer to accompanying CD and videotape).
In September, a WCI media relations team was dispatched to Selma, Alabama to assist the NAACP with GOTV efforts in that city. The re-election of a controversial mayor mandated the involvement of the NAACP and provided an early test case for the organization’s GOTV strategy. To support this effort, WCI produced and placed a series of TV and radio spots (refer to accompanying CD and videotape). In addition, WCI generated local/national media coverage of NAACP efforts related to the election.
On the earned media side of the overall national campaign, WCI developed and managed an NAACP GOTV website (see enclosed graphic); placed GOTV news articles that appeared in African-American weeklies and HBCU campus papers nationwide (samples attached); along with AAPRA partner Circulation Experti, coordinated the development of a voter education supplement/series that appeared in Black newspapers (see attached clip); generated local media coverage for a GOTV Southern States “bus tour” (see video); generated local media coverage of four Black college town hall meetings (refer to CD); produced/distributed a video news release on the NAACP partnership with the popular “Tom Joyner Morning Show” (see video); produced a 21-site GOTV videoconference featuring Mr. Mfume and Mr. Bond (see attached photo); and produced/coordinated a series of Election Day satellite media tours featuring Mr. Mfume (see video). The overall effort resulted in a New York Times article (see attached clip).
With regard to paid media, with Circulation Experti, WCI developed and placed three print ads (see attached slicks) that ran in African-American weeklies, HBCU campus papers and Jet Magazine; outdoor billboards and bus ads (see attached slicks) that appeared in key southern markets; and a :30 television commercial (see video) that was placed on cable systems in all targeted Southern States. In addition, Walls Communications produced and placed radio commercials (refer to CD) that ran on popular urban stations in the targeted markets within the Southern States.
The biggest obstacle in this whole endeavor was time. WCI was not officially contracted to provide any services until September 1, with an election looming just two months away.
EVALUATION/MEASUREMENT OF SUCCESS
All in all, the campaign was extremely successful. Our goal was not to get any particular candidate elected, but to turn out the Black vote.
With regard to earned media, the NAACP GOTV website got more than 1 million “hits” and was responsible for registering more than 20,000 new African-American voters.
Television coverage of the NAACP’s Southern States efforts were featured on CNN, MSNBC, Fox Network News as well as on local stations in Birmingham, Montgomery, Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, Fort Worth, Youngstown and Fort Lauderdale, garnering more than 2,132,570 audience impressions. NAACP Southern States GOTV-related print stories appeared in more than 400 newspapers, with a combined circulation of approximately 19,193,400.
Radio coverage of NAACP GOTV activity in the Southern States garnered 31,768,900 audience impressions during the two-month life of the project. Coverage included the Tom Joyner Morning Show, the American Urban Radio Network, CNN Radio, the Black Southern Radio Network and numerous local stations throughout the south.
Paid media included print ads that appeared in African-American weeklies, HBCU campus papers and Jet Magazine, accounting for a total circulation of 10,906,264; outdoor billboards and bus ads that appeared in Southern States markets with combined populations totaling more than 59 million; television spots reaching a potential audience of more than 7,689,300; and radio spots with a total market penetration of more than 40 million.
As for the measurable results of this overall campaign, in the states of Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, a total of 3,598,528 African Americans voted in the 1996 elections; in the 2000 Presidential Election, 4,777,056 African Americans voted. An increase of 33% or 1,178,528 voters! The states showing the most marked increase were Texas and Florida respectively. Black voters in Florida increased from 536,815 to 892,955; a jump of more than 66%. African-American voters in Texas increased from 561,164 in 1996 to 968,283 in 2000; a whopping 70% increase!