Big’s inventive pandemic pivots across its AlabamaCounts! Census 2020 integrated communications campaign — implemented on behalf of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) — earned a top regional award at the recent Southern Public Relations Federation’s annual Lanterns event, held last week in Panama City, Florida. 

The Big team received a Lantern Award, the highest in category, in the Community Relations and Public Service tier for its holistic Alabama Counts! Alabama Census 2020 efforts. Big also earned an Award of Merit in Special Events for the AlabamaCounts! Census Bowl competition — a unique community relations tactic where counties across the state competed against each other in a bracket-styled completion — implemented at the end of the campaign. 

“We are extremely proud of the work we do for the State of Alabama and particularly for the state’s 2020 Census efforts, as we knew what we stood to lose if we did not secure an adequate representation of our population,” said John Montgomery, Big founder and CEO. “2020 and the pandemic threw us imaginable curveballs, but we pivoted and delivered, helping to secure a better future for Alabama and its people.” 

Backed by solid research done in 2019, Big developed a targeted and integrated paid media, owned content, earned media, web and grassroots campaign that launched in early March 2020 and targeted 5.4 million Census completions by Aug. 31. But, as COVID-19 effects quickly altered many planned efforts and caused the Census end date to move multiple times over the course of the next six months, so too did Big’s overall approach. All departments had to think fast, quickly pivoting original plans and reformatting implementation to fit the COVID reality. Through an unrelenting 2020, Big was ultimately able to take Alabama from one the lowest states in Census response rates to one of the best, not only achieving — but surpassing — original measurable objectives.

“A successful count in the 2020 Census was paramount to Alabama’s future. This effort became immensely more challenging with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic right at the start of the count,” said Mike Presley, unit chief of Communications and External Affairs for ADECA. “Big was a key player to the success of Alabama Counts! by designing and executing a strategic campaign to educate and persuade Alabamians of all backgrounds to participate in the 2020 Census. Big also helped Alabama Counts! pivot quickly to creative strategies and tactics that reached Alabamians in an ever-changing pandemic environment.”

Outside Census-related accolades, Big earned an Award of Excellence in the Tactics category for its development of an overall organizational crisis communications plan for America’s First Federal Credit Union (AmFirst). Armed with organizational research and a deep-dive into perceived threats, Big developed a comprehensive AmFirst crisis communication plan that included the identification of an internal Crisis Communications Team and accompanying crisis roles, classification of tiered crisis scenarios, designation of key media spokespersons, creation of templated crisis holding statements and press releases, formalization of an internal communications structure, development of a companywide media policy, and legal counsel alignment for plan consistency with applicable laws. 

The SPRF recognizes outstanding work in the field of public relations and strategic communications through its annual Lantern Awards program. Public relations practitioners from across the nation judge entries on their individual merit. Awards — including Awards of Merit, Awards of Excellence and Lantern Awards — are given annually.

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Rebekah Weinberger

Business Development Specialist