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).

How to Avoid Being Mistaken for SPAM

Now that I’ve got your mouth watering, I’m here to tell you something less savory: only about 85% of the emails you send in your newsletter campaign actually reach the inboxes you’ve sent them to. That means that a whopping 15% of all the emails you send get flagged as spam and filed away in the dreaded “spam folder” (even when you’re not attempting to blackmail strangers in exchange for bitcoin). So how do you get past tough spam filters and land safely in the inboxes of your audience? Keep reading and we’ll tell you!

There are over 150 known reasons that emails can be flagged as spam and these are changing all the time—even words like “Dear” can trigger spam filters. Beyond your choice of words, there are lots of small inclusions that will result in your emails being flagged as spam. Whether it’s sending emails too frequently (or too infrequently), designing emails that aren’t mobile responsive, or emails with too many images—ever-changing spam laws can feel impossible to keep up with.

So, what can you do? The first thing you might want to consider is email authentication. Authentication basically tells your Internet Service Provider (ISP) that emails are coming from your brand. If you’re interested, SPF & DKIM are the Gold Standard for email authentication; if you’re lucky enough to have a subscriber list that’s over 50,000 you’ll want to authenticate with DMARC. But make no mistake: authentication is only the bare minimum needed to make sure your emails are not marked as spam.

Once your email is authenticated, you’ll want to constantly work to improve your reputation data. Reputation data lies at the micro-level of each subscriber and is based on your relationship with that subscriber. Depending on both the actions of the email recipient and your actions as a sender, your reputation data will either build in a positive or negative direction. The following scenarios outline how particular actions relate to your reputation data:

Very Positive Signal

Positive Signal

Negative Signal

  • The recipient responds to your email.
  • The recipient moves your email to a designated folder.
  • The recipient opens your emails consistently.
  • The recipient clicks around your emails.
  • The recipient forwards your email to someone else.
  • The recipient deletes your email without opening it.
  • The recipient marks your email as spam without opening it.

If you notice engagement drop, or that a lot of your subscribers aren’t opening your emails, you could develop a poor sender reputation which could start to trigger spam filters. A “re-engagement campaign” is an effective way to prevent this from happening. “Re-engagement” essentially entails sending an email that asks the inactive people on your list if they’re still interested in your content.  It can look something like this one we designed for a client:

Recipients that don’t respond to the email are removed from your list. Cleaning your list will momentarily decrease your number of subscribers, but your reputation data is likely to improve. When it comes to sending emails and measuring engagement, remember this: quality emails sent to a slightly smaller but more interested audience will garner more impressive results than frequent emails sent to a disengaged list.

The last thing you can do to decrease the chance of inadvertently designing spammy emails is to consider user experience. Design your emails with the knowledge that engaging subject lines, readable layouts (design mobile first), personalized emails, and organic email lists (avoid buying lists) will improve your access to inboxes as much as authentication will.

As spam filters become further refined we’ll all have to worry about having our emails misdirected away from inboxes less and less, but for now, we’re lucky enough to have these solutions!

Was this article helpful? Let us know what you think by emailing us at info@sga-inc.net.

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!

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.

San Bernadino County Wins Outstanding Stormwater Project

SGA is immensely proud to have worked on the re-branding components for the San Bernadino County, “Where Water Meets Community” outreach campaign. Identified by the California Stormwater Quality Association (CASQA) as an outstanding stormwater program, the campaign consisted of a complete brand overhaul to help engage and educate the community in stormwater pollution prevention.


SGA was brought in by San Bernadino County (SBC) to help rebrand their long-running stormwater program because it had reached a “plateau of involvement.” The existing programs were very good, but they lacked a unifying message and strong motivators for citizens to get involved. After all, communities change, and so does the messaging that will successfully work to mobilize them. SGA partnered with SBC to find messaging that would resonate with their communities—without having to reinvent the wheel. Giving credit where credit is due, the public education materials SGA came across were stellar. What changed was the way this information was communicated to the public. The new branding was community-centered and fun—developed to tap into the pride that residents’ already had for their communities. After much deliberation, the rebrand was launched under the unifying brand: “Where Water Meets Community.”

With data, of course! The new campaign increased stormwater pollution prevention awareness which saw significant increases in public engagement. From pre-to-post rebranding, Facebook followers increased by 143%!

Average website visitors increased by 49%, the average page views went up by 41%, and the e-newsletter subscribers saw a total gain of 46%.

The rebranding efforts for the program showed a rise throughout the household hazardous waste and pet waste outreach programs. Fecal contamination in local streams from improper disposal of dog waste is one of the most widely spread sources of bacteria pollution in the County. After the rebranding and reformulating the messaging to revolve around protecting the community and keeping the County clean and beautiful, the distribution of dog canisters increased 373%.

The biggest measurement of successful for SGA—our client’s happiness!

Upon finalizing the details of the new brand with the client, SGA went to work developing a massive multi-media campaign guided by this new unifying messaging and modern design. This campaign included an overhaul of County’s website, a pointed social media campaign, and brand new HHW and pet waste outreach campaign materials. See a few before and after examples here.

While rebranding is not a new concept for commercial entities, it is something that can prove challenging for public agencies. Branding, in the first place, is hard enough. It takes a lot of time, energy, and resources. So—why lay it all by the wayside and start anew? Simply put—because rebranding enables an organization to make itself relevant and get noticed. While rebranding isn’t easy, if its done thoughtfully and correctly, the benefits will certainly outweigh the cost.

Say…Engagement! Let the Photos Do the Talking


How many of you constantly take photos of your family members and pets, or an exquisitely prepared meal, or a stunning sunset? Many of us at here SGA admit to having taken more than one photo like this. As visual creatures, humans are drawn to photos more than words. That is why photographs are the most-read parts of any publication. In terms of community engagement, using visuals like photographs can generate broad interest and increase awareness. Text-only documents or materials often fall into the TLDR group – “too long, didn’t read.” SGA recently held a photo contest to promote stormwater issues for the Orange County Stormwater Program. “Plants, Camera, Action!” was the theme and showcasing residents’ California friendly plants and landscapes was the goal. Here’s a summary of how we did it and the results we achieved. And of course… lots of photos!

First, why? Because stormwater pollution is a pressing issue.
Stormwater pollution is especially important in California due to many residents’ close proximity to rivers, bays and the ocean. When it rains, the water that washes off streets or driveways picks up trash and other pollutants on its way to storm drains. It then flows directly into these bodies of water with little to no treatment! This affects both the health of our planet AND the health of you, your family, your friends, even your pets!

So what does this have to do with SGA’s “Plants, Camera, Action!” photo contest?!

Well, planting and maintaining a native California plant landscape throughout your yard can help mitigate stormwater pollution. California native plants tend to be more drought resistant than non-natives, requiring you to water less. Less watering (and less overwatering) reduces the amount of water going into storm drains and therefore reduces the amount of trash and pollutants going into our local bodies of water!

Second, how? Promotion, promotion, promotion.
We promoted the contest via Facebook, our website and the OC Register, hoping to give all Orange County residents a chance to see and enter the contest.

Three awards were given:
Most beautiful photo of a California friendly landscape award
Most beautiful photo of a California friendly plant award
People’s Favorite award

Third, who? Orange County Residents with California Friendly plant gardens.
There were 137 entries from residents all over Orange County, ranging from La Habra to Irvine to Aliso Viejo. Check out the rest of the entries here and maybe you too, will be inspired to make beautiful California friendly changes in your own yard!

And the winners are….




Most beautiful photo of a California friendly landscape award: Nina, San Juan Capistrano









Most beautiful photo of a California friendly plant award: Tommy, Laguna Hills











People’s Favorite award: Donna, Huntington Beach





How Does SGA Love the Ocean? Let Us Count the Waves!

When it comes to promoting environmental awareness, it turns out, we are not oceans apart. On May 25th, SGA, in conjunction with LA City Sanitation, helped prepare and organize the 24th annual Kids Ocean Day Adopt-A-Beach Clean Up at Dockweiler State Beach. The theme for this year’s beach clean up was “Come Together for the Ocean” and that’s what 4,000 Los Angeles students, teachers, and volunteers did.

So was it worth the weeks of preparation and planning, the exhausting day of organizing kids, teachers and volunteers, and the day-long promotion on social and traditional media?  The answer is unequivocally YES!

“I love participating in Kids Ocean Day. Seeing the smiles on the kids when they first get out of the bus really makes it all worthwhile. Those smiles remind me why we do what we do: to protect our environment and create a better place for generations to come,” Carolina Gonzalez, SGA Project Manager.

It was an incredible feat, but in the end, teaching school kids about the adverse impacts of pollution to the oceans and watersheds made it all worth it.  Students apply what they have learned in the classroom by using the beach clean up as a powerful and actionable step towards a healthier environment. The collected trash reduces the amount of non-biodegradable materials entering the oceans.

“Kids Ocean Day is one of my favorite events all year. After studying about ocean and water pollution in school, these kids get to take action about it, while seeing others join together to do it too. For some of these kids, it’s their first time at the beach. It’s great when kids get to see that what they’re learning in the classroom is relevant to the world outside of their school grounds and that they can make a positive change by taking an action as simple as picking up a piece of trash,” Angie Lee, Senior Outreach Specialist.

Education is an essential part of environmental stewardship. In an era where more and more children are disconnected from the environment, it is important to make a real investment in hands-on environmental education and outdoor learning. Studies have shown that environmental education engages students in learning, raising test scores, and encouraging youth to pursue careers in environmental and natural resources. This event gives us the opportunity to  communicate the importance of responsible environmental governance to those who will be doing the governing long into the future.

3 Steps to Pedal Forward and Make Positive Change

May 19th is Bike to Work Day!  At SGA, we believe that bicycling is a great way to demonstrate behavior change. Remember when you were a kid and you first learned how to ride a bike?  At first, you were scared: Don’t let me fall!  Of course, you fell.  But then you got back up because you were motivated: Learn to ride a bike by yourself.  This whole process involved removing barriers, while promoting motivators. In essence, the steps needed to change behavior.

So how do you remove barriers to get people to bike more or to get them to change? Here are three wheely good ways to overcome barriers:

1) Remove the perceived danger of riding by making the experience positive. A short bike ride can:

  • Break down old perceptions: hard and scary
  • Create new perceptions: easy and fun

2) To overcome resistance, start with baby steps. Overcoming one small step of the task is easier than tackling the whole task at one time.

3) Make bicycling a social norm. Get beginners to team up with other bike riders.  If they are the only person riding, it feels odd, but if they see more people doing it, the more normal it becomes.

While it’s important to overcome barriers, it’s also crucial to promote the motivators. We asked SGA staff what their motivations were to bike to work. Here’s what they said:

“I love riding my bike to work. I ride to work to help create a friendly biking culture in Long Beach. Our city has this big goal of being named as the most bike-friendly city in America. It’s up to us to make this dream happen.”  Joy Contreras

“Biking to work makes me feel good, charges me with positivity, and allows me to enjoy the outside. I also want to show my daughter that cars aren’t the only way of transportation, especially for short distances.” Anya Liddiard

“I ride to get one less car off the road and a little bit less carbon going into the air. I ride 10 miles each way which gives me time to clear my mind and gets in my daily exercise in one fell swoop.”  Stephen Groner

Changing behavior isn’t easy, but it can be done.  Remember, change is like riding a bicycle. Hard at first, but easier as you practice.

Learn How Effective Messaging Can Shape Pro-Environmental Behaviors

What messaging do you think works better: “Help save the environment,” or “Join your fellow citizens in helping to save the environment?” If your answer was the second choice, then you’re in agreement with research that shows specific messages — the right specific messages — are much more likely than abstract messages to shape behavior.   At SGA, crafting the right messaging is what we do.  Whether it’s recycling or water conservation, we have a good understanding of the psychological drivers of pro-environmental behavior.

In celebration of World Parks Week, we want to share our approach on how to establish positive environmental behavior changes as social norms in protecting one of our most cherished national treasures: parks.  While we encourage more people to visit parks or appreciate nature more, we want them to do so in an environmentally-friendly manner.  How can this be achieved?  By making environmentally-conscious behavior a social norm.  From our years of experience, we have learned how to harness the power of social norms and social motives to encourage behavior change.  When people are figuring out what to do in a new situation, they take their cues from what seems to be other people’s normal behavior — the social norm. Thus, messages that say, “Everybody’s doing it!” to promote conservation-minded actions tend to be most effective.

Norms can be injunctive (i.e. most people approve of taking steps to protect parks) or descriptive (i.e. most people take steps to save parks). Our experience has shown that creating a social norm works best when injunctive norms are aligned with descriptive norms (most people both approve of this behavior and actually do this behavior). To apply this principle to protecting our parks, instead of saying “Stay on trail,” we would make it a social norm and say, “Join the many who have stayed on the trail to help protect the park and natural vegetation.” Even a slight variation in wording can shape behavior powerfully. That’s why crafting the right messaging is important.

So the next time you want to want to encourage behavior change, think about adopting the power of social norms into your messaging.  Given the urgency of conserving natural resources, this approach can help all interested parties, public and private, to more effectively promote pro-environmental behaviors.

SGA’s ‘Whistle While You Work’ Vol. 3

Break out of your normal pattern of thinking. According to an article published by The New York Times, when the mind is wandering, music can bring you back into focus and “make a repetitive job feel more lively.” Enliven the post-Holiday lows, expand your mind and listen to SGA’s personally curated playlist to boost 2017 as a year of energetic change in the world.
SGA’s “Whistle While You Work” Vol. 3

STAFF Songs in Playlist (Title/Artist)
Lauren The Imitation Game Soundtrack
Megan “Work on It” by Alicia Keys 
Jackie “Selfish” by Slum Village ft John Legend & Kanye West
Angie “Blessings” by Chance the Rapper ft Jamila Woods & Byron Cage
Carolina “You Can Go Now” by Schmieds Puls
Paloma “History Has It’s Eyes on You” by John Legend
Joy “There You Are” by Pogo
Ly “Dancing On My Own” by Calum Scott
Jessica  “My Favorite Part” by Mac Miller ft Ariana Grande 
AND “Say You Won’t Let Go” by James Arthur

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