On November 6, 2018, Hillsborough County Referendum No. 3 passed with 56.35 percent of residents voting ‘YES.’ The Strengthen Our Schools (SOS) Campaign was a political campaign initiated and funded by the labor union HCTA and public donations. The SOS campaign engaged with HCP Associates to promote and spread public awareness about the referendum.

The Hillsborough County Public School System is the eighth largest school district in the United States with over 250 K-12 schools. The district serves almost 200,000 students, approximately 16,000 teachers, and 4,500 educational support personnel. This initiative worked to provide optimal learning conditions for the Hillsborough County Public Schools.

The referendum upped the Hillsborough County sales tax by half a penny, with all the funds going towards a growing list of deferred maintenance projects. Prior to the election, the Hillsborough County School Board released a full list of school improvement projects that included: replacing air conditioning systems, enhancing classroom technology, repairing leaky roofs, and the funding of more classroom space to prevent overcrowding.

In only eight weeks, HCP Associates was tasked with the objective to brand, position, and market in order to boost support and earn votes from Hillsborough County residents. This campaign involved a wide range of components in order to gain traction.

The goal of the SOS campaign was to educate “all” voters with the facts and figures that supported the need for the tax. About two weeks into the campaign, HCP was notified that Referendum No. 3 would be at the bottom of the ballot; even below the transportation referendum.

With thousands of yard signs, hundreds of thousands of direct mailers, thousands of social media posts, digital billboards, Google AdWords, programmatic banners, endless people-on-the-street video interviews, weekly town hall meetings and dozens of bi-partisan endorsements, HCP began to focus on a regional public relations strategy that would prompt people to “Vote from the Bottom Up!” One of the most popular press releases distributed statewide on PR Newswire explained the differences between referendums and amendments.

By the end of the campaign, HCP’s tactics reached nearly six million unique impressions. Despite the number of challenges we faced, our efforts were successful and Hillsborough County Referendum No. 3 passed.