Sunday, April 04, 2010

I REALLY Want to Take the Census

By Katie Hornstrom

I’ve been looking forward to filling out my 2010 Census since January. I count it as my civic duty and I want to represent my community, even if it’s just on sheet of paper. However, I’m finding a very large disconnect between the information being promoted at a national level and what is being communicated locally.

We have been bombarded with messages from the U.S. Census Bureau about the importance of the census through the news media, radio spots, billboards, print ads. The Census Bureau has a fantastic website with some great widgets you can download. The director writes a blog, there are interactive forms and tons of wonderfully produced materials like videos from real people.

With all that I’m sad to report, as of Census Day, I have yet to even receive my Census form.

Throughout my experiences with the 2010 Census process, I am constantly reminded of one crucial aspect of our business: if your front line staff, your people on the ground, aren’t communicating correct information then all of your efforts, and your clients money, are wasted. It doesn’t matter how much you spend on advertising, website, promotions, news stories, radio spots, etc. if the nuts and bolts information gets lost.

I have been incredibly disappointed with the entire Census process, particularly communications, as I’ve experienced it.

For example, several weeks ago the Express-News ran a story about how the Census was having a hard time filling jobs.

Yet, several friends and I applied for a part-time Census jobs in February, assured the job training would be available during non-work hours only to be called mid-March on a Wednesday informing us the training was scheduled the following Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. How much of our wasted taxpayer dollars could have been saved on at least four applications with just a little correct information? How many others were in the same situation?

My current dilemma is just trying to get a straight answer about where to get the form that never made it to my house (census forms aren’t delivered to p.o. boxes). I’ve checked online, I’ve called different offices, I’ve gotten five different answers from four different people (one woman I spoke with was just guessing and suggesting places for me to go).

I’m someone who wants to fill out my form! Can you imagine the response of somebody who is ambivalent? What if this were your organization? I certainly wouldn’t buy a product if I couldn’t find out where it’s sold!

Texas was recently singled out by Census director Robert Groves chastising us as one of the lagging states in returning their Census forms.

I take exception to his position. While I understand there are some people who just haven’t bothered, many of us might not have been properly reached. While I obviously can’t speak for the whole state, I would like to inform Mr. Groves that numerous citizens here in rural south Texas have yet to even receive their forms and are having a hard time just finding out correct information from his bureau. If you notice, the two biggest lagging states are Texas and Alaska, both with large rural populations. Maybe we’re not the problem, but how we’re being reached is.

This experience is a big reminder to me, to all of us, that maybe instead of chastising or bemoaning our target audience, we look internally to see how we could be doing better a better job getting correct information out through our fellow employees who work directly with our consumers. We can shout all day, but if our front line staff isn’t shouting the same messages, then nobody gets heard. And Mr. Groves, I’m still waiting to answer those 10 questions.

Katie Hornstrom is PRSA San Antonio's Byline Editor and Communications Representative for Medina Valley Electric Co-operative.