The Okaloosa County School District was in dire need of funding for infrastructure. Aging schools, coupled with a lack of adequate capital spending for repairs, meant that Okaloosa school buildings and busses were falling apart.
School Cents Makes Sense advocated for a referendum on the election ballot that, if passed, would implement a half-cent sales tax to benefit Okaloosa's school infrastructure needs.
As a long-standing member of the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber, the Bit-Wizards team supported the campaign's digital marketing needs, which began in early 2020.
The School Cents Makes Sense campaign required building and maintaining a complete digital presence from the ground up. The Bit-Wizards Digital Marketing Team needed to create the campaign image and educate voters on why they should vote "yes" in November 2020.
Bit-Wizards had several significant challenges to overcome to promote this campaign successfully:
Local History & Perceptions
Public opinion concerning the school district was mixed due to much-publicized yet unrelated issues regarding former elected officials, which led citizens to be less likely to vote for the needed funding. Many citizens also had misconceptions about how the funds would be used.
Recent economic hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic added to the unease around additional taxes. For many, the temporary implementation of online learning also increased skepticism toward school infrastructure spending.
Election & Ballot Fatigue
The 2020 Presidential election was a significant distraction to the local referendum, so Bit-Wizards needed to drive continued awareness for the entire campaigning period, which kicked off in January and ended in early November. The referendum was the 20th and the last item on the ballot; therefore, the Bit-Wizards team needed to build enthusiasm for the referendum to combat ballot fatigue.
Party affiliation posed another precarious challenge. Some studies suggest that Republicans and Democrats tend to have similar levels of support for some education-related issues such as universal vouchers, raising teacher pay, merit pay, etc. However, as the Brookings Institution states, "the biggest partisan gap here concerns spending... There are differences on other issues... but these differences hardly pit the parties in opposing corners of the ring. In only one case does the majority from one party oppose the majority from the other. Nearly three-fourths of Democrats favor more spending on public schools, and 54 percent of Republicans oppose it."
Given that registered Republicans in Okaloosa County outnumbered Democrats by almost 3:1, an attempt to increase education spending would likely be met with considerable resistance. The campaign messaging needed to be crafted to appeal mostly to conservative voters.
Moreover, a separate local political action committee was working in stark opposition to School Cents Makes Sense. This other PAC launched a rival campaign across the county, posting videos on social media and putting up yard signs to discourage voters from approving any additional school spending. The Bit-Wizards team would continue to pivot to combat this messaging up to election day.
To effectively educate citizens on the Okaloosa County School District's needs, Bit-Wizards launched a comprehensive print and digital campaign to encourage a "yes" vote on the referendum. This process began by creating a suitable logo and visual identity for the School Cents Makes Sense campaign. The campaign grew to include a website, billboards, yard signs, infographics and data visualizations, flyers, animated videos, postcards, email marketing, social media promotion, and multi-media advertising.
The original logo the PAC used was not sufficient to establish an emotional connection with voters. The Bit-Wizards team executed a thorough design process, sketching and iterating options before arriving at a final design.
Logo Production Time-lapse Video
The visual identity needed to establish a mental connection between this referendum and the students' well-being. To do this, the team created three unique stylescapes to establish potential options for all of the marketing materials.
Concept three (listed last above) was chosen by stakeholders as the favorite. Visual motifs such as clouds, sun rays, and rounded arrows helped produce a positive and uplifting association. Vibrant, high-contrast primary colors helped reinforce that association and ensure that print media stood out among the sea of other political advertising.
After the branding was established, the team immediately began to organize information into a coherent architecture that would eventually become the website’s structure. The digital marketing team constructed wireframes and content, which the frontend development team used as blueprints to build an information-heavy website using Vue.js and Microsoft Azure.
Our design and development team collaborated to ensure an eye-catching design that also promoted a positive user experience. The development team built a custom interactive map that displays all schools in the district and the repairs needed for each one.
In conjunction with the website's launch, the team built a strong social media presence, included a wide array of graphics for Facebook, addressing topics such as:
When and how to vote
The age and condition of our schools
School performance and funding compared to other counties
What the funding could and could not be used to purchase
- Frequently asked questions about the referendum
Along with the Facebook page, the team built and maintained a Facebook Ad Campaign to support the visibility required to spread the word within the county to vote yes. These ads promoted Facebook page likes, visits to the website, video views, and visits to the campaign's "Donations" page.
Because there were so much in-depth data surrounding this referendum, the Digital Marketing team created custom data visualizations to make the data easily digestible and resolve any potential confusion for voters.
These graphics were integrated into the website, social media, and a printable infographic.
Digital billboards were created and appeared across the county to drive traffic to the website and promote a "yes" vote. Large text and simple graphics ensured the artwork would be easily read from a distance. Clean, eye-catching yard signs and large canvas signs were also distributed and posted around the county.
To appeal to a broader demographic of voters, the team designed a full-page ad for the Northwest Florida Daily News and a direct mailer, which was sent to all registered voters in Okaloosa County. The team also designed letterhead and single-page flyers to ease access to and sharing of information by volunteers in the community.
An email marketing campaign helped drive traffic to the website and encourage people to post yard signs at their residences and businesses. These emails went out to members of the Fort Walton Beach Chamber, parents, and volunteers.
Our team created several video projects to serve various purposes. Due to the large quantity of information surrounding this referendum, it was clear the campaign needed a tool that would summarize all the data into a single concise message. One of the Bit-Wizards digital marketing team members donated personal time to build an animated video to accomplish this task (below). The video is included on the website and was promoted across social media organically and through paid advertising.
Additionally, our team worked with Marcus Chambers (Okaloosa County School Superintendent) and Michelle Anchors (Anchors Gordon Law Firm) to produce a Q&A series to continue to rectify the continued misinformation surrounding the campaign.
Measurable Advertising Results
The campaign’s social media advertising saw positive results. The traffic-generation campaigns reached 18,377 people with click-through-rates between 4.36% and 5.41%, which is fairly high, considering the average click-through rate for Facebook ads across all industries is 0.90%. Additionally, a brief, separate ad ran to promote the explainer video. Of the 14,000+ impressions, the video received nearly 10,000 ThruPlays—roughly 70% of all impressions!
On November 3, the Okaloosa County School Board referendum passed with 56% of the vote (62,653 to 50,140), making an exciting victory for Bit-Wizards and all supporting the School Cents Makes Sense campaign!
Bit-Wizards decided to show its appreciation to Okaloosa voters by posting “Thank You” billboards around the county. The Bit-Wizards digital marketing team is immensely proud of this success and are thrilled to have shared our skills and knowledge to help the local community.