Reach Your 2022 Goals With SGA At Your Side

Happy New Year! 2021 was full of its ups and downs, but here at SGA, we are looking forward to making the most of 2022. 

This past year, we’ve continued to foster old partnerships as well as begun new ones. We’ve continued to grow our clients’ presences both online and in their communities. We’ve embarked on many exciting new projects, including rolling out organic waste recycling outreach programs across California, helping cities and counties do equitable outreach to disadvantaged communities, and expanding our public health outreach experience. In 2022, we’re looking forward to continuing to partner with our clients to build better communities through marketing and community outreach.

Here are some ways that we can help you achieve your New Year’s Resolutions in 2022:

  1. Better Understand Your Community’s Needs: A lot has changed in the past couple years, and your community’s needs may have changed as well. We can help you better understand how to reach your key audiences and what their needs are through audience surveys, focus groups, and interviews.
  2. Elevate Your Brand: Is one of your goals for 2022 to let your community know what you do and better represent your mission? Need a new tagline, messaging strategy, or website revamp? We can conduct a review of your outreach efforts, give feedback on what’s working and what can be improved, and help you create a memorable and impactful brand.
  3. Engage More With The Community: Do you want to get out there and engage more of your community? We develop robust community outreach and engagement plans to engage diverse audiences. We build partnerships, hold community events, and practice community-based social marketing to understand barriers and motivators that affect your communities.
  4. Grow Your Online Presence: We can help you reach your digital marketing goals, whether it’s reaching a certain number of followers, launching a new Instagram account, driving traffic to your website, or getting more people to engage with you through online ads. 

To learn more about our social marketing service and how we can help you help your community, visit our new website, which we have re-launched for the new year! And if you’re ready to get in touch with any questions or a project you’d like our help with, you can contact us here.

Overcoming the Knowledge Curse

In Margin Call, Jeremy Irons plays the CEO of an investment firm that’s about to go under because they have a problem so complex, most of the staff doesn’t understand it. At 2 a.m. Irons says, “Maybe you could tell me what is going on. And please, speak as you might to a young child. Or a golden retriever. It wasn’t brains that brought me here; I assure you that.”

People with great expertise often find themselves unable to explain what they are doing to anyone else. This is because the brain’s shortcuts for storing and organizing complex information create barriers to communicating clearly to anyone else.

We see this happen in our work all the time. For example, SGA did public outreach for a regional infrastructure project. When residents told our clients they were afraid the project could trigger landslides, our clients waved them off. To our clients — a team of engineers who’d spent years on this project studying the geology and consulting with even more specialized experts — landslides were clearly not an issue.

However, this answer only angered residents. The engineers were so in the weeds on the technical issues, they completely missed the real question, the emotional side of the community’s worries. They were saying: “Don’t worry about landslides. We are the experts. If landslides were a problem, we would tell you.” But what the community heard was a lack of concern and condescension.

When we were brought in we worked with them on that real underlying question – the community’s worries. Instead of framing the question around the technical issue, “what is the probability of a landslide.” We shifted their answer to an agreement about the concern… “We too are concerned about landslides and that is why we brought in experts and have extensively studied this issue and here is what we found…”

This helped them address the broader issue and more importantly the emotions of the question and not just the technical information. In the next community meeting, the reaction had flipped almost 180 degrees from feeling disrespected and angry to one of gratitude and appreciation.

Engineers, scientists, lawyers, accountants and other experts fill the ranks of government and are who we usually work for. Many clients are like those engineers: So immersed in their expertise, it’s understandably hard to put themselves in the shoes of people who haven’t had their training or experience.

Harvard Psychology Professor, Steven Pinker, who studies language and the mind says it is common for experts to have trouble communicating what they know. It’s called “the curse of knowledge.” It happens because the same mental processes that help experts organize data in their brains get in the way of their ability to present what they know to others.

One of these tactics is called “chunking,” a process “in which we package groups of concepts into ever further abstraction in order to save space in our brain,” according to a The Farnam Street Blog’s post on Pinker’s findings.

Another reason why this emerges is through jargon. Language short-cuts within a given expertise. Jargon is often looked down upon, but it is actually very valuable. Where it becomes problematic is when those in the know (Curse of Knowledge) are speaking to people outside of the field and the language becomes meaningless.

When the government starts educating people in neighborhoods about a new project, the knowledge gap can be immense. The city officials know everything about the project, and are comfortable speaking about it amongst themselves in their private language. But good communication is all about knowing your audience and breaking the “curse” (of knowledge), so your audience understands you.

With help from Professor Pinker, here are six of SGA’s best practices to overcome “the knowledge curse.”

  1.  What is your audience’s concern? Look at the issue from their point of view. Relate the issue to their narrative of how they see things
  2. If you must use technical terms, define them.
  3. Use concrete examples.  Remove abstractions from the conversation by providing an example that someone can visualize. The better they can see what you are talking about the easier it is for them to understand.
  4. Spell out acronyms at least once. Never assume your reader knows what the acronyms stand for.
  5. Ask you answering the right question.When we are steeped in solving a problem and creating solutions we are usually answering the question HOW? How do we build something, how do we draft the policy, etc. But when an outside audience is engage they usually ask questions about WHY? Or WHAT? Why is this important to me or What do I need to do next. When we talk to an audience outside our field answering the right question is easy to miss.
  6. Get a second set of eyes to read over your presentation and see if they understand it. According to Pinker, “The form in which thoughts occur to a writer is rarely the same as the form in which they can be absorbed by the reader.”

For more insights on communications, here are some other recent recommendations to articles and books that have recently inspired us at SGA:

A still very relevant summary of current research into the social evolutionary reasons behind human irrationality, by one of our favorite New York Times writers, Elizabeth Kolbert.

“Providing people with accurate information doesn’t seem to help; they simply discount it. Appealing to their emotions may work better, but doing so is obviously antithetical to the goal of promoting sound science.The `challenge that remains is to figure out how to address the tendencies that lead to false scientific belief.”

  • On the topic of public sector communications challenges, check out the Planet Money Podcast Episode on why the State of California couldn’t get eligible state residents to sign up for what was, in effect, free money.

Using Emotional Connections With Audiences to Create a Successful Digital Marketing Campaign

At the digital  California Stormwater Quality Association (CASQA) Virtual Conference, this fall, SGA debuted a poster for the San Bernardino County Stormwater Program’s annual Valentine Gram Canister campaign. 2020 was the second consecutive year of the Program’s campaign, where dog owner subscribers to the Program could send a free digital valentine gram to a friend that contained a link to a free dog waste bag canister. This year, the Program offered a special heart-shaped canister clip along with the canister during the month of February.

In the campaign’s first year, the Program sent out 268 free canisters. This year, the campaign saw a 51% jump to 405 canisters requested and distributed. The goal of this campaign was to get new dog owners opted into the Program in a more organic way. We wanted to get our subscribers excited about the campaign and get them to share about it with their friends, who would take their recommendations to opt into our campaign far more seriously than any of our ads. As a matter of fact, the Program does zero advertising for the campaign — just the enewsletter to its mailing list — and otherwise, it’s spread by word of mouth. As for stormwater messaging, the canisters come with a note from Spot, the Program’s mascot, that reminds its new canister owners to clip the canister to their leash and thanks them for keeping our waterways free from pet waste.

With a fun incentive and attractive campaign branding, a friendly message from dog mascot Spot, and an easy-to-follow workflow that lets subscribers send a message to their friend, the SBC Stormwater Program used a campaign to get residents excited while promoting the social norm and usage of picking up after your pet.

Social Distancing & Behavior Change

6 feet, 3 Canadian geese, 2 meters or one alligator apart.

With the sad news of a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in LA County, the continued reminder to stay 6 feet apart is ever more important. As some normalcy slowly returns (well…in fits and starts!), getting new behaviors to stick long-term is the next big global experiment. And a challenge it will be as quarantine fatigue increases and shaming people doesn’t work.
So far, it has been interesting to see how the three key factors for effective behavior change have been used:

1. Short and Sweet Reminders Stick

When a new behavior, like staying 6 feet apart, goes against our innate social nature (who doesn’t want to hug their friends or enjoy a social summer BBQ!) behavior change can only be truly effective when its reminders are simple and easy to remember.
Although we still have so much to learn about COVID-19’s transmission (with new findings coming every day), the blanket rule of staying 6 feet apart (or washing your hands for the amount of time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice) helps people to change as we do so. But an aphorism is just the first step. We are visual species and, in reality, many have found it hard to know exactly how far apart 6 feet is.

2. Iconography for Impact

People remember 80% of what they see and do, and only 20% of what they read. Given how much more powerful a visual can be than words, it has been interesting to see the creativity some countries have used to try to visually reinforce the 6 feet rule. Canada especially has been on top form:
icon of two people with 3 geese between them to emphasize the distance

Source: globalnews.ca/news/6969090/coronavirus-social-distancing-2/

3. Storytelling: “If I look at the mass, I will never act.” (Mother Theresa)

It’s easy to feel apathetic when one hears a statistic, but when one hears a story from a nurse, it helps humanize the overwhelming pace, scale and complexity of the COVID-19 pandemic. Stories help us build empathy. We humans take action because of emotions, not because of numbers.
The right image can tell an entire story. The images of frontline workers, at the start of the pandemic forced to wear trash bags as makeshift PPE shows so much more – their sheer grit, dedication, sacrifices, missed time with their own families and the stress and grief they face every single day.
3 nurses wearing trash bags and PPE

Source: CNN.com March 26, 2020

So much of our work at SGA right now is testing and applying communication techniques in what has been a worldwide experiment in getting social distancing to stick. We have focused on helping our clients adjust their messaging to fit in with our new long term reality (such as the dilemma of reusable grocery bag bans!).
In this uncertain time, my hope for us Angelenos is that we continue to figure out together how to counter quarantine fatigue and keep the crucial importance of social distancing top of mind for everyone.
From my makeshift kitchen table/office, staying socially close and one caribou apart.

-Stephen Groner-

image of signature in blue ink that reads


light colored dog laying in green grass; baby with blond hair has hands on the dog and is looking at the dog
This past ad campaign we did for the Contra Costa Clean Water Program showcases the power of having the right visceral visual. Want to see more examples from our work? Read our recent blog article on the Power of Visuals Over Words.

Hero Photo Source: www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/04/canada-yukon-coronavirus-caribou?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

A Lesson from COVID-19 for Earth Day


The spread of COVID-19 has resulted in arguably one of the largest mass behavior changes in human history. Its ripple effects have impacted every aspect of our daily lives.

From reminding people that only toilet paper is flushable (#WipesClogPipes), to helping people get child support after losing a job, to educating them on how to store household hazardous waste while HHW centers are closed, we have been working with our clients to help their communities adapt to this once-in-a-generation event.


Cognitive psychology research shows that people are far more willing to change under uncertainty when they are confronted by concrete and relatable concepts, rather than abstract ones. I certainly know that for myself and my family, the consequences of COVID-19 feel tangible, urgent, and scary.
In contrast, climate change is, for most people, still very much an abstract concept. So much of the work we do at SGA is using market research to figure out how to make this concept and long-term environmental issues personal, urgent, and actionable to every community.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we are inspired by the speed of global behavior change in recent weeks. This pandemic stands as a profound example that global environmental behavior change is possible and that the goals of Earth Day are achievable.
For all our government and non-profit friends, if you need a sounding board or just want to talk through how you will adjust, please feel free to reach out (SGA is providing assistance as a way of giving back during this time of crisis).

Physically Apart but Together as a Community


The evolving COVID-19 pandemic presents unique difficulties for people everywhere- we are all living in unchartered territory and with unprecedented worry. While we all stand tall in the face of this challenge, this season has also been a visceral reminder of how interconnected we are.
This concept is the very keystone of SGA’s work.
Everyday and in every single moment, we are now reminded that a sneeze can have a ripple effect through one’s entire community. Likewise, one’s individual daily actions, from recycling to not pouring engine oil down a storm drain, all help the greater good. Positive behavior change is built on the power of solidarity. As we all adjust to these profound social and economic changes, our hope is that this renewed appreciation for our fragile web of interconnectedness is protected.
Community engagement and connection, even with the hurdle of physical distancing, is as important as ever.
If you need a sounding board, or just the time to just talk through how to adjust, we would like to offer our help (at our expense as a way to give back during this time). SGA is here to stand with you as we maneuver through this season of uncertainty together.

Spinning 3 Websites in 6 Months

Good web design is like a spider web: what appears to be simple, functional, and delicate should also be intricate, elegant, and strong. And like an excited spider who’s just caught an unlucky fly, web design is one of those things that gets our team really fired up.

It requires the perfect mix of left and right brain — from planning the overall architecture of a site, to considerations about user experience and design, to coding and the final, fine-toothed top to bottom review. Over the last 6 months, 3 sites that we designed from the ground-up have gone live. These websites have ranged in complexity, breadth, and purpose. Keep reading to find out why we spun them!

1) RethinkWaste

RethinkWaste represents and manages the waste from 12 member cities in San Mateo County. SGA was brought on to redesign its website to improve usability and meet the communication needs of its service area community. After designing this new website from the ground up, here’s what Rethink had to say about us:

[box] “SGA, specifically the amazing Suzi, helped us not only meet our needs with an aesthetically pleasing and easy to navigate website on the front and back end, but they also created a custom section to house our important meeting agendas and staff reports. This has helped us improve our transparency as a public agency. Our new and improved website communicates, educates and engages with our community better than ever before.” — Julia Au, Outreach & Communications Manager, Rethink Waste[/box]

2) Lincoln Stormwater

The City of Lincoln’s Stormwater program used to be hosted on a small subsection of the City’s website. SGA was brought in to create a dynamic hub for stormwater-related information, resources, and content relevant to the city residents. In addition to the new website, which we designed to deliver simple, easy-to-understand messaging about stormwater management, we designed a new logo to cement the program’s credibility and integrity.

3) Bayfront Canal & Atherton Channel Flood Management and Restoration Project

The last site SGA recently worked on is a microsite for a flood management project occurring within several diverse communities that are subjected to annual flooding. The purpose of the site was to establish an official, designated area where the County of San Mateo could post project updates, and where residents could visit for up-to-date and reliable information. The site needed to be designed in a user-friendly way that remained intuitive across diverse audiences, clearly communicated the problem and proposed solution, and reduced the potential for uncertainty. You can view our work here.

Like our sites? Want to know more about their structure, our process, or availability to design your dream site? We’re listening! Email us at info@sga-inc.net.

Save on Taxes While Saving the Environment

We’re going to risk saying the one word that will probably cause you to stop reading: TAXES!

Are you still with us? Great! It’s time to stop make taxes…taxing. Did you know going green can be good for the environment and for your tax situation? We know it’s hard to think green, when you’re not seeing a lot of green; but there are a lot of tax benefits available if you know where to find them. So we did the work and found some of the best green tax incentives you can take advantage of:

  • Donate to a Green Charity. Here are a few non-profits that could use your help. Of course, donations are tax deductible:
    • Ocean Conservancy
      Charity Navigator Rating: 90.9%
      Uses the best in science-based solutions to tackle the biggest threats to our ocean. One of the few non-profits dedicated to marine ecosystems.
    • Sierra Club
      Charity Navigator Rating: 94%
      Successes range from protecting millions of acres of wilderness to helping pass the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act.
    • Natural Resources Defense Council
      Charity Navigator Rating: 96.4%
      NRDC works to safeguard the earth—its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which life depends using judicial and legislative positions.
  • Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit
    Act before December 31, 2019 to claim a federal tax incentive that covers 30% of the cost of a solar electric and solar water heating systems to any owned home.
    For a list of other energy tax credits and how to claim them, click here.
  • Electronics Recycling Through a Non-Profit Such as All Green
    The key here is reusing over recycling slightly outdated electronics. There is tax credits available to encourage consumers to donate functioning electronics via nonprofits such as All Green. “The IRS makes this credit available so that individuals are more likely to put an item into reuse as soon as possible while it has the highest fair market value,” said All Green’s Arman Sadejhi.
    For more information, check out the Internal Revenue Service’s Guide to Charitable Contributions – Publication 526 – at irs.gov.
  • Electric Vehicle Incentives
    If you buy an electric vehicle, you may be entitled to a tax credit of up to $7,500. The tax credit begins to phase out when a manufacturer sells 200,000 qualified vehicles – after that, the credit begins to shrink.
  • Non-business Energy Property Credit
    If you pay for certain qualified energy efficiency improvements in your home, you may be able to take a credit equal to the sum of 10% of the amount paid or incurred for those improvements (not including installation). Qualified improvements include adding insulation, energy-efficient exterior windows and skylights, exterior doors, and metal or asphalt roofs designed to reduce heat in your home. A credit is also available for certain high-efficiency heating and air-conditioning systems, as well as high-efficiency water heaters and stoves that burn biomass fuel (including installation). The lifetime limit for these improvements and systems is $500.

You might be thinking…what about the bike I bought to ride to work instead of using my car, the organic food I buy, or the rain barrel I purchased to capture rainwater? Unfortunately, those are still not tax deductible. But guess what? You’re reducing your carbon footprint and more importantly, these are savings that will help everyone.

So think about the future because going green in 2017 will save you much green in 2018!

How Consuming and Wasting Less Means Living More

Take the opportunity of a fresh, new spring season to reaffirm your environmental goals. One way you can become an environmental hero is by reevaluating ways in which you can reduce waste in your everyday life. According to a study conducted by Duke University, the average person generates 4.3 pounds of waste per day. That’s about the weight of three basketballs per person being thrown into landfills every day.  We are producing 1.6 pounds more than what was produced per person back in 1960. But don’t despair! Spring is all about renewal, so here are a few beginning steps that you can take to make a difference:

Avoid Disposables

  • Bring a portable reusable bag with you everywhere you go or at least have it readily accessible in the car. If you go shopping, you’ll be able to easily retrieve your reusable bag. Next time the cashier asks plastic or paper, your response will be “I have my own bag.”
  • Bring a portable water bottle with you. Not only will you save money, you will break the cycle of plastic consumption.

Buy/Wear Second-Hand Whenever Possible

  • Fast fashion is the second biggest polluter in the world next to oil. Clothing made via the fast fashion method are not durable. As we buy more and more of these types of clothing, we are increasing our consumption of unsustainable clothes.
  • Visit thrift stores to find unique clothing while saving some money and the environment
  • Borrow clothes from friends or set up a clothing exchange where everyone can share items together. Not only will you expand your style options, you’ll also make a tangible effect on the amount of pollution produced by new clothing manufacturing.

Make the Transition to Digital

  • Cancel paper subscriptions of magazines and newspapers and switch to digital
  • Use audiobooks and ebooks. If you must have a paper copy, visit the thrift store to give old books another life.

The less we consume the less we waste. You don’t have to aim for a perfect, zero-waste lifestyle. Every little bit of trash that is diverted counts. So the next time the waiter asks if you need a straw, just say “No thanks.”