What’s Your Watershed Moment?


As SGA’s first and longest-standing clients, the Los Angeles Stormwater Program (LASW) has accomplished a lot in terms of educating the LA city residents about stormwater pollution prevention. Most recently, SGA helped LASW create a series of whiteboard videos to help residents discover their watershed moment.

The series features six videos, the majority of them being 30 seconds or shorter. These bite-sized animated shorts each had a singular focus to ensure that the messages were clear, educational, and impactful. One explains what watersheds are and the importance of protecting them, while the others each discuss one of the top five pollutants (as identified by the California Coastal Commission): dog waste, used oil, over-watering, pesticides, and litter. Each video is about a person who didn’t understand how their behavior affected the environment and then learning about a simple change that could make a big impact. The medium of whiteboard animation was chosen because of its slow reveal. The viewer incrementally sees the design elements build upon one another until the final “big picture” is revealed. This method allows viewers to learn at the same pace that the videos teach while watching the story develop.

Once the videos were created and published to the LASW YouTube page, the next step was getting it in front of the community. SGA launched a promotional Google Ads campaign which lasted six weeks, achieving 10.8K views for all six videos at a minimal cost of only 4-5 cents per view. This strategic campaign allowed us to exceed the initial goal of 1,000 views per video by understanding the target audience for each video, the time of day that audience would be most effectively reached, and the proper ad format that would be most engaging.

Not only do these videos continue to educate LA residents, they are also being used as a training aide at the LA Stormwater Program call center, which handles pollution prevention-related calls from residents. Check out the videos below and discover your watershed moment!

5 Effective Persuasion Techniques

In a world of logic, persuasion would be a lost art. To state your case, you’d simply make an argument grounded in facts, trends, and case studies, and voilà, people would do the right thing. Litterbugs would learn that 80% of the trash floating around in our oceans starts on land, and—just like that—they’d never toss another gum wrapper on the sidewalk.
In reality, however, getting people to actually change their attitude and/or behavior requires finesse. The ultimate goal of every public outreach campaign is behavior change. By using the Community-based Social Marketing methodology at SGA, we’ve become pretty savvy on the best ways to get people to act differently.  Whether you’re trying to save the planet, convince your boss to kick in for a raise, or persuade your sister to watch your dogs for the weekend, these four techniques will help you get results.

Remember the rule of three.  People can hold a limited amount of information in our short term memory. Three bits of data is about the max, before we start getting fuzzy. What’s more, when we have to choose between too many options, we tend to get frustrated and back off from making a decision at all. Stick to threes. When crafting an argument or a message, give three reasons. When asking someone to make a decision, give only three options.

Establish a common ground. Science has shown we relate more strongly to people like us. This includes personal characteristics like gender, race, age and values, as well as seemingly random similarities. One study found that people were more likely to complete a survey when asked by someone with a similar name (e.g., Cindy Johnson and Cynthia Johanson) than a completely different one.

Say it simply. There are two key parts to this one. First, when you want something, just ask. We tend to think persuasion means trickery (it doesn’t) and that makes us weave an elaborate narrative instead of just coming out with it. And second, say it using straightforward, commonly used language. There’s no need to dust off the SAT vocabulary list to prove you’re deserving or intelligent or committed. Complicated language is more likely to confuse (and annoy) whoever you’re trying to convince.

Monkey see, monkey do. People tend to follow others (bandwagon effect) more when they don’t have sufficient information to make a decision on their own. Telling or showing your audience other people who are engaging in a similar behavior may make the difference. This could be done by spotlighting community champions in the area or getting a list of testimonials or endorsements for your cause.

Take the glass half full approach. Working on environmental issues means we come across a lot of heartbreaking data. From the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to the alarming rate of coral reef extinction worldwide, we’re up to our ears in the dark side of the story. But when we’re trying to change behavior in lasting ways, we stay positive. People want to feel good about the decisions they make. Focus on how their small action makes a huge difference or how this one change benefits them and aligns with their personal goals and criteria.

Sweet Santa Clara: What to do About a Sugary Problem?

Current American diets and lifestyles leave our minds highly susceptible to hijacking. Ever heard of glucose, fructose, sucrose, maltose, lactose, dextrose, and starch? They’re all sugars, and adding them to common food products is a cheap way of making those products more “craveable.” The problem with hiding sugar in popular drinks and foods is that over-consumption can lead to adverse health effects from liver and heart disease to diabetes and obesity.

The World Health Organization sets the healthy limit for annual sugar consumption at 20 pounds, but in a typical year the average American consumes 57. In Santa Clara County, an average of 31% of adolescents and 54% of adults are obese, but those numbers are even higher in the Latinx community where 41% of adolescents and 72% of adults are obese. The CDC has also reported that over their lifetime, over 50% of the Latinx community are expected to develop type 2 diabetes (compared to 40% of all US adults).
Seeking to address this growing public health crisis, the SCC Public Health Department tasked SGA to create an educational campaign exposing the negative effects of sugar found in various juices and other sugary drinks. The campaign goal was clear: influence the attitudes and intentions of Latinx adults regarding the number of sugary drinks (e.g. soda, sports drinks, etc) they provide to children in their care.

There’s one consistent truism when it comes to conducting outreach—listen first, then act.
The Cut The Sugar campaign placed a premium on listening to input from the priority population during ad development. In collaboration with a local community group, SOMOS Mayfair, SGA used focus groups in both Spanish and English as well as intercept surveys to develop the ad campaign. The feedback from this research guided the overall appearance, tone, and messaging to reflect subtle nuances that emerged as being necessary to effectively reach our priority audience. The multilingual Cut The Sugar campaign consisted of outdoor print ads, ad scripts for radio, and digital ads. There was also a public outreach component which featured large inflatable blow-ups and alternative drink tastings deployed at community events. These items opened the conversation about the health risks associated with excessive sugary drink consumption.
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In order to assess the impact and effectiveness of the campaign, intercept surveys were conducted to measure factors related to Latinx caregivers’ provision of sugary drinks to children in their care. These surveys were given to individuals in the same geographical location where the campaign ran over the course of three months and were then analyzed for statistical significance. Results were differentiated between people who had seen the ads (AKA exposed) and people who had not seen the ads (AKA comparison group). The main findings showed that:

  • People who were exposed to the Cut The Sugar campaign planned to give 46% fewer sugary drinks to children in their care than people who had not been exposed to ads.
  • 54% of respondents who saw the ads reported giving fewer sugary drinks to children in their care than they had at the same time the previous year, whereas only 20% of the comparison group reported a reduction in sugary drinks.
  • When asked to identify which of the beverages from a list were considered sugary drinks, people exposed to the ads were 33% more likely to be able to identify sugary drinks correctly than those in the comparison group./li>
  • 60% of respondents reported the most important motivator for reducing the number of sugary drinks they gave to children in their care was to decrease the risk of their child developing diabetes, with 42 respondents ranking this at #1 and 97% of respondents selecting this as a motivator.

Have questions about our data or approach? Feel free to email us at info@sga-inc.net.

SGA to Speak at 22nd Annual Energy, Utility & Environment Conference (EUEC)

SGA founder and president, Stephen Groner, will speak at the 22nd Annual Energy, Utility & Environment Conference (EUEC) held February 25–27, 2019, at the San Diego Convention Center. Entitled, “From Data to Insights to Stories that Reach Your Audience,” his presentation will focus on getting technical information to stakeholders so as to encourage engagement with critical issues. This presentation looks at ways to change the outreach dynamic. The key element is repositioning the dialogue and building messages around the audiences’ narratives of how they see themselves and who they aspire to be. His presentation will take place on Tuesday, February 26, 2019 at 4:30pm.
“Knowing how to tell your story is critical for gaining public trust and support,” Groner says, “without it, well-intentioned plans can end before they begin.”
Stephen Groner is the founder of S. Groner Associates (SGA), a marketing and research firm that designs communications campaigns targeting community and environmental issues. Mr. Groner is an environmental engineer by training. He previously worked at Los Angeles County Department of Public Works managing environmental issues. During this time, he helped build their community engagement program and worked on some of the largest behavior-change-focused environmental marketing projects in the country. Mr. Groner is also active in the community—he was a founding board member of the US Green Building Council’s Advisory Board for Zero Waste, and currently serves on the boards of non-profits such as the Friends of Ballona Wetlands, and the Downtown Long Beach Alliance.
This year’s EUEC keynotes include representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, San Diego Gas & Electric, and the California Air Resource Board.

About SGA
Founded in 1998, S. Groner Associates (SGA) is a full-service strategic marketing and communications corporation with an emphasis on public education and outreach, and promoting the public good. We are especially adept at digital engagement. Almost all of our clients are government agencies and the vast majority of our work focuses on increasing community participation with issues that promote change for the betterment of the community and the environment. For more information, visit sga-inc.net.

About EUEC2019
EUEC2019 is the 22nd Annual Energy, Utility & Environment Conference, the largest professional education, training and networking event of its kind held in the United States. More than 400 expert speakers will make presentations on current alternative energy technologies, strategies and regulations that impact operations, management and compliance of electric utilities. For more information, visit www.EUEC.com.

Putting Our Money Where Our Hearts Are

Our purpose at SGA is to build better communities. The way we do this is by partnering with clients and only taking on projects that align with our core principles, inspire change, and ultimately helps make this world of ours a little better. Our clients know we are a triple bottom line company (people, planet, profits) and understand they are getting a team whose commitment and passion to the project are almost as ingrained as their own.
Whether its environmental projects (such as stormwater pollution prevention, recycling, green infrastructure, food waste) or applying our public engagement and community awareness expertise towards public health, capital improvement, transportation, social responsibility, and children and family projects—we put our money where our hearts are.

Our actions don’t just stop at the client and project level. We talk the talk, while walking the walk. Our company volunteers time and resources to charitable and environmental causes, we have employees who live and teach about zero waste lifestyles, commute to work using alternative methods (such as bicycles, on foot, or with EVs), and as a team, we aim to reduce the amount of waste we’re contributing to the world.

As of November, SGA also became a California Green Business to show our commitment to doing what we can for our planet. Being a certified green business means we’re conserving energy and water, reusing materials, recycling, helping to prevent pollution and complying with environmental regulations in the areas of waste, energy, water, pollution prevention, and air quality.

Together, our clients and SGA are making a difference. This difference is the reason why we do what we do. It’s not always easy—actually—it’s never easy, but it sure is rewarding!

SGA After 20 Years: Where We Are Now

There’s an old saying: Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.

SGA was started on the premise to do good, to make communities better, and to protect the environment. Pretty ambitious—right?  Through sheer determination and persistence, we have turned that ambition into action.

Over the past 20 years, SGA has been selective about the projects we pursue. We choose projects that align with our core principles. While this might limit our workload, we’re OK with that. In fact, we’re more than OK with it. We work on projects that make a difference. When clients hire us, they know they are getting a team whose commitment to the project is almost as ingrained as their own.

So what’s the state of SGA now? We are still committed to environmental projects such as stormwater pollution prevention, recycling, and waste reduction. However, we have broadened our environmental projects to now include sustainability issues, green infrastructure,  green building, and food waste.

Since one of our core principles revolves around the betterment of communities, we have applied our public engagement and community awareness experience towards public health, capital improvement, transportation, social responsibility, and children and family projects.

We are proud that we have been able and continue to diversify our projects to help the communities we live in. Our ability to stay true to our core principles have allowed us to find allies who share our commitments. It’s nice to know that we are not alone.

Together, our clients and SGA are making a difference. This difference is the reason why we do what we do. It’s not always easy (actually—it’s never easy) but it’s rewarding. For us, growth is measured by impact and change.  While this metric might sound lofty, it has sustained us for twenty years and will continue to do so for another twenty.

Tips & Tricks to Launching a Successful Email Marketing Campaign

Lasting relationships. Trust. Loyalty.
These are all elements that a successful email marketing campaign can help you build with your audience. Whether you realize it or not, email marketing is still one of the most used and effective marketing tactics out there according to Smart Insights, a learning platform for digital marketing. Its effectiveness is tied to the fact that it’s an immediate mode of communication, cost-effective and as wide-reaching or targeted as you need it to be.
Who wouldn’t be interested in utilizing such an approach?

If you’re just beginning your email marketing journey or have years of experience under your belt, everyone can do with a few reminders for best practices to implement in their campaign. As trends fluctuate, ideas fall out of style and new concepts replace old, the dos and don’ts of the business change as well. That’s why SGA is here to provide you with our (current) top 7 tips for a successful email marketing campaign.

1. Subject Line
What’s the first thing you notice when you receive an email? The subject line, of course! It can either be the reason your email is read or ignored. That is why it’s crucial to think about your subject line and how it relates to your readers. Is it catchy? Is it short and to the point? Is it easy to understand or does it captivate the audience in a way that makes someone want to learn more? Getting a subscriber to open your email is the first barrier you must overcome to have a successful marketing campaign. Consider A/B testing different subject lines to see which resonates better with your audience. A/B testing, also known as split testing, is a way of working out which of two campaign options is the most effective in terms of encouraging opens or clicks.

In an A/B test you set up two variations of the one campaign and send them to a small percentage of your total recipients. Half of the test group is sent Version A, while the other half gets Version B. The result, measured by the most opens or clicks, determines the winning version. This is then sent to the remaining subscribers. This is a quick and easy way of ensuring your subject line is a winner.

2. Design
If you don’t take your email design seriously, then neither will your subscribers. This may be obvious, but always double-triple-quadruple check for spelling and formatting mistakes. Break up paragraphs and use bullet points/numbering so your reader’s eyes don’t tire. Use legible and larger fonts (14-16pt). Less obvious tips? Images are a great addition to emails to add visual stimulation, but be careful to not go overboard. When using images, use them sparingly and thoughtfully and remember to include descriptive alt tags for email subscribers that disable images in their email browser. Keep your email width to about 600px to make sure it’s seen in its entirety, no matter the device it’s being read on. And while links inside the body of the email to more information are great, avoid including attachments. This will flag spam warnings which increase the likelihood of your email never being seen at all.
The most important point to remember? Your email design should reflect your brand. Consistency with style, color palette, and overall design should follow your brand standard to make sure readers instantly recognize your email before reading any of the content.

3. Personalize
Subscribers don’t want to know (or have to think about the fact) that they are being marketed to. Make your emails as personal as you can to ensure this. Try to understand your subscribers and who they are. Make your emails about them. This could mean addressing the subscriber by name in your email or personalizing the content to their specific interest or location. You want them to feel like you care (and you should care!). The email should be the start of a conversation with your subscribers that potentially leads into a long-lasting relationship. And NEVER send emails from a “no-reply” email address, this sends the exact opposite message.

4. Timing
You don’t want to bombard your subscribers with emails, but you don’t want them to think you’ve forgotten them either! You may want to start with only 1 or 2 emails a month. Keep your email timing as consistent as possible. You will also want to consider the day and time you send out your emails. While studies vary significantly when it comes to the best time to send an email, the tried-and-true strategy is to send out email blasts in the middle of the week and in the middle of the day. Generally, somewhere between 1pm – 3pm is what works best for email marketing (although some also suggest mornings between 9am-11am).

5. Mobile-Friendly
Our lives have become mobile-friendly, so your email marketing campaign should too! With over 55% of people checking their email on their smartphone or tablet devices, your templates need to be mobile-friendly. Buttons should be easy to click on a mobile device, emails should be short enough that subscribers don’t have to scroll for long, and links should easily transition to a mobile-friendly landing page.

6. Call To Action
A call to action (CTA) is an easy way for you to encourage your subscribers to delve further into your brand. It’s how you can get them to interact with your content. It tells them where to look and what to do next and sometimes that’s all anyone really needs. Make sure your call to action is clear and concise and make sure that it is a relatively simple and actionable ask. You don’t want to ask for too much up front, as that can scare subscribers away. Below are examples of some creative and interesting CTAs.

  • See What’s Next
  • Join Millions of Others
  • Reserve Your Spot
  • Learn More
  • Don’t Miss Out, We’re Just a Phone Call Away
  • Give Us A Try
  • Talk To Us

7. GDPR Compliant
As a relatively new policy, it is important to make sure that you are aware of the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and comply as needed. GDPR took effect in Spring 2018 and means that subscribers will have to explicitly opt-in to receive your emails and explicitly consent to having their personal information made available to you. Although this law is only specifically for European Union (EU) citizens at the moment, we believe being in compliance with this new regulation is incredibly important regardless of location. Not to mention, even if you are not an international organization, there is still a chance that you will have an EU subscriber on your list and you will be held liable. So, for your own safety and to respect your subscribers, we encourage you to take this last tip as seriously as the rest!
As you can see, there are many, many different aspects to an effective email marketing campaign and strategy. These useful suggestions should get you well on your way to a successful campaign. SGA Marketing creates, manages, and executes various email campaigns for our clients. We utilize these tips and more to ensure our messages are getting through to the right audience. As things change with time (and technology), we also make sure to stay up-to-date with trending best practices. If you need help crafting the perfect message and creating a strategic email campaign, or simply have questions regarding the content you’ve read here, please contact us today.

My Road to SGA: Judy Seitelman

(This is the first in a new series of biographical pieces to introduce you to the SGA staff.)

For 28 years, I worked independently as a management consultant focusing on strategic planning, new program development, marketing – including events, policies and procedures, and specialty documentation. My clients were primarily in higher education, but others were in credit card operations and processing, human resources management, hospitality, and forensic accounting. I also worked for several years as a technical writer for hardware and software companies.

Beyond the office, my environmental awareness kicked into high gear when I had children. Their school community service requirements forced me to open my eyes to the importance of promoting social and civic action early and often. We went to beach cleanups, helped with plastic bottle and aluminum can recycling on campuses, learned about waterway pollution at the local aquarium, and became regular household recyclers.

Becoming energy efficient started slowly with turning off lights, not running the water when brushing teeth, and cutting back on heating and air conditioning (wearing sweaters and opening windows, respectively). Later we changed out our old light bulbs to new, energy-savings types, and we switched to rechargeable batteries. In 2007, my husband and I decided to invest in home solar panels for two reasons: to save money on electricity over the long haul, and to be a part of the energy-savings solution. Just recently, we took another eco-friendly step as you can read here: “Tips Before Taking Out Your Greenway Lawn.” I have a near-zero water, lawn-less greenway that has cut my water and maintenance bills in half.

Just as my kids kick-started my better world thinking, they also precipitated my move to SGA. When my daughter moved out of the house, I decided it was time for me to seek greener pastures. (To be absolutely truthful, when I was offered my SGA job, my daughter said, “you have to say yes.”) Just as working on my own suited me as I raised a family, so does working with an intelligent, kind, and like-minded group of individuals as we try to make the world more livable for everyone. At SGA, the company seeks to motivate environmental behavioral change that improves households, neighborhoods, cities, and counties, one by one.

Tips Before Taking Out Your Greenway Lawn

California residents know that having an environmentally friendly lawn is important during this ongoing drought. However, before you dig up the lawn and make changes, have a plan in place. I did, but I also learned a few lessons along way. Here, I offer some insight that might save you from headaches.

Knowing I could do more to save water beyond our low-flow showerheads and low-water toilets, the L-shaped greenway lawn bordering the street was fair game for saving on weekly waterings.

Deciding to go lawn-less, I had two goals:

1) Save water.

2) Save money by having lower water bills and by reducing gardening expense by selecting every-other-week maintenance for my remaining landscaping.

Before deciding how to go about the task, I did a fair amount of internet research. I looked around my neighborhood, snapped photos and figured out what I wanted to do. I spoke with my gardener and a landscaper, and I checked with the city to learn about suggestions and rebates.

The easiest (though not cheapest) route was to remove the grass and plants completely. (Your city may require a percentage of planting in order to qualify your project for rebates). Just four bubbler sprinklers now support two, native, drought-tolerant trees in wood-chip planter areas. The remaining greenway contains decomposed granite with intermittent three-piece pathways of bouquet canyon stone.

The good news: I am saving water and money (though it will take a while to recoup my investment).

Not-so-good news: I need to tuck away some money to improve my design because it didn’t work out exactly as I envisioned it.

What you can learn from my mistakes:

1)    Think about the daily foot traffic along your greenway. If you have a lot of pedestrians, consider how they might impact your landscaping choices. In my case, once the rains began, the decomposed granite proved to be an irresistible target for footprints and gouges. In all fairness, passengers exiting cars along the no-longer-greenway had no choice but to step onto the wet surface. In retrospect, it’s not the ideal surface to use in this much-traveled space.

2)    Consider how a zero-plant greenway will affect your home’s curb appeal. I have abundant plants surrounding my home; nonetheless my initial reaction to losing the border greenery was “uh oh.” Incorporating even a few drought-tolerant plants along the greenway would introduce some height variation to the border; I’ll plan to purchase a few when the budget allows.

All said, once my new trees mature and I’m able to install enough stone and a few plants to eliminate the foot traffic and curb appeal issues, I’ll feel good about having made changes that are water-wise, functional, and attractive.

Sign up for SGA’s newsletter to keep up with the latest in community-based social marketing and behavior change.

How We Turned Data to Narrative in Downtown Long Beach

Did you know that between 1902 and 1969 the Pike in Downtown Long Beach was the most famous beachside entertainment area on the West Coast? So famous, in fact, that Midwesterners wanting to escape the brutal winters flocked to the warm seaside port city, helping to coin its moniker, “Iowa by the Sea.” Then, oil was discovered, aerospace companies moved in and the city became known for little else than the industries it hosted.

Today, Long Beach has emerged as a vibrant, ethnically diverse, pet-friendly and bike-friendly city. Often hailed as one of the best cities to live in the US, Long Beach is the next Oakland. Despite these modern-day accolades, Downtown Long Beach remains somewhat unknown to non-residents, and some say, overshadowed by the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles.

SGA partnered with Downtown Long Beach Associates (DLBA), a nonprofit dedicated to improving business activity in the area, to find an explanation for this discrepancy in perception. DLBA has been critical in transforming Downtown Long Beach into a place where locals thrive and people want to visit. “Creating a vibrant urban center isn’t achieved through creativity alone,” says Kraig Kojian, President and CEO of the Downtown Long Beach Associates (DLBA). “Data is essential so that we create grounded policies and make reasonable decisions.”

“SGA tackled difficult questions: What makes people visit DTLB? How we can harness our biggest fans to expand our base?” explains Kojian. “Finding the answers to these questions can ultimately foster an engagement that lifts up our most devout supporters while bringing those on the fence in.”

We started with a survey to gather hard data that would give us a sense of how Downtown Long Beach (DTLB) visitors “use” the area. We spoke to 323 visitors at 10 different downtown locations in fall 2014. We segmented them into residents, visitors, tourists and workers and asked about their frequency of visits, types of businesses they supported and how they felt about recommending DTLB to a friend or someone they know, among other things.

So we gathered the data. Now what? Data in and of itself don’t mean a whole lot. The trick with these types of research projects is to distill the metrics into narratives that tell a story.

In DTLB, we found that residents were the biggest promoters of and spenders in DTLB; visitors had the potential to bring in more revenue as they are large in numbers, come frequently and could potentially settle down in DTLB; and most importantly, residents and visitors liked DTLB for the authentic experience that gives the town its vibe as a hip enclave of young, creative professionals who love their community.

“Whittling down complex data into simple concepts is what is expected from data analysis,” Kojian says. “Data that can’t be shared across platforms and explained to different groups—from residents to board members to other organizations—is rendered pointless. SGA’s staff understood that the ability to share this information was key. We look forward to working with them for the next two years on upcoming surveys.”

We look forward to it, too. With big ticket retailers such as H&M and Nike planning on moving into the Pike and a new hip foodie restaurant popping up in DTLB every week, we expect visitors to become as invested in Long Beach as locals already are.