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.

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

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

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

How Can Social Media Contribute to a Sustainable Society?

In his book, Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Dr. Doug McKenzie-Mohr claims that social media is most effective when it supplies an actionable and convenient solution to a large and abstract problem. It’s easier for us to imagine that using fewer paper towels (for example) will help prevent deforestation than it is to understand how a donation is going to be used to “save the polar bears.” Polar bears are not only far away, but they’re outside of the average person’s realm of experience, whereas paper towels are not—chances are you’ve used one in the last 30 minutes.

McKenzie-Mohr’s point here is simple: addressing a problem through small, local, and convenient steps is going to be far more successful than attacking a problem head-on. News Flash: your audience is just as overwhelmed by the problem as you are; do everyone a favor and break your issue up into digestible chunks. While it may seem roundabout, sometimes you need to mask the overwhelmingly big picture for a while in order to get the ball rolling.
This alone, however, is often not enough to catalyze behavior change and/or action. What does it mean if you’ve done the work of successfully dissecting your problem into a series of actionable steps and you’re still not getting traction with your audience? First of all, pat yourself on the back—you did a lot of hard work, and rest assured it won’t be in vain. Second, take a step back and assess the way you’re interacting with your audience and the problem at hand. It’s important to tailor your message to your audience because, ultimately, it needs to grab their attention and speak to them. And if your presentation places either you or a de-personalized behavioral ideal as the hero of the story, you’re probably not going to be getting much traction with your audience. They are neither of those things.

It’s important to remember that your “audience” is an audience in name only—they are individuals and they are the heroes you are looking to write into your story. They are people that you believe have the power to address the problem that you are presenting, and it is your job to help them realize their own potential. One of the easiest ways to engage an audience is to get them to use their own networks to spread your message. How to do this? Elevate the voices of the community! Highlighting community champions creates the appearance that change is coming from within the audience, that the ball is already rolling, and social media is the perfect tool to leverage this perception and spread your message.

Think about how you might share a similar style with your friends or like the same music. People can have powerful influence over each other, and the same idea applies to environmental behaviors when you start to do things like recycle your bottle or pick up a piece of trash after seeing a friend, family member, or role model do it. In the social media world, we see more posts about potential actions and behaviors from more connections than we’d ever get from face-to-face interaction. Indeed, Facebook is the new town square—providing the means for people to share stories and have public discussions from a boundless place with no physical location. It is not only a powerful tool to organize and catalyze grassroots activism, but a fertile proving ground in which to test your ideas and watch the good ones grow.

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!

How Do We Motivate Behavior Change?

In the late 1960s, Stanford University professor Walter Michel began his now classic “Marshmallow Experiments.” He offered four and five-year-olds a choice: they could either have one marshmallow now (he put it in front of them) or, if they waited 15 minutes, they could have a second.

Not surprisingly, most of the kids couldn’t wait and chose to gobble down the first marshmallow. But a few showed restraint. Michel observed that the children who waited to double their marshmallowy profits had found ways to distract themselves and focus on something else.

Michel followed these kids throughout school, college and into early adult-life, and found that (on average) the kids that could delay gratification did much better in school, at work, and even in their marriages than those who gobbled down that first marshmallow.

So what does this mean? It’s simple. Delayed gratification is difficult while instant gratification is obtainable and easy, making it hard to see the benefits of long-term payoffs. Saving money for retirement, exercising for optimum health, and making changes for the environment are all extremely difficult because we don’t get an instant pay off. We have to consciously work for something we cannot initially see.

Behavior change campaigns need to be conscious of this reality in order to be successful. Although most people can understand the long-term benefits of a change, changes like this are not as compelling as something with instant gratification. Successful behavior change campaigns allow audiences to celebrate small, incremental wins that bring them closer to the bigger picture and the overall goal.

Let’s take clean water, for example. Many people state that they are motivated to keep their creeks, rivers, bays, and oceans clean. That’s a huge goal and it can take a long time to see noticeable changes. But choosing to pick up your dog waste all the time in order to keep stormwater clean (and ultimately larger water bodies of water), is an incremental step towards accomplishing that larger goal. Personal barriers (like “I don’t have a bag,” and “other people leave their dog waste”) and motivators (“I want to be a good neighbor” and “this protects my kid”) are way more powerful when it comes to the smaller actions that contribute to the larger goal.

So how do you keep an audience engaged with a campaign goal as big as keeping the ocean clean? You use your resources and social media platforms to constantly motivate your audience by allowing them “little wins” that move everyone toward the larger goal.

Start conversations over social media that allow your audience to engage. If you’re trying to clean the ocean, encourage your followers to make Facebook pledges to pick up after their pets, and make your quippy sound-bites educational! Show your audience how their small actions will collectively make a big difference, all while helping keep lawns lush and shoes clean.

Always think big—but remember to start small and add on from there. Count every step, celebrate every win, and make it a big deal! Despite how far a single action/change may feel from a long-term goal, celebrating the little wins keeps your audience engaged and ready for the big win up ahead.

Happy or Happenstance?

In recent years, happiness has become an increasingly popular topic in the field of psychology.  But as many researchers have found, it’s a tricky topic to study. Happiness is easily misread, difficult to measure, and often created by counter-intuitive actions.

One researcher at the University of California Riverside, Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, has made some significant strides towards understanding what makes us happy. And based on her research of thousands of individuals she’s created an interesting guide to understanding what it is, and what it isn’t.
Her research suggests that:

    • half of our happiness is determined by our genes,
    • 10% is based on the life circumstances we find ourselves in,
    • and 40% is based on our attitude and the choices we make.

So, while 60% of our happiness is out of our control, 40% is very much in our control. That 40% might seem like cause for celebration, but Lyubomirsky also found that many of the assumptions we hold about the things we believe will make us happy, may actually lead us towards greater melancholy. ~GASP~ Lyubomirsky also found that some of the social norms we are encouraged to embrace will likely be detrimental to our happiness in the long-run.

Lyubomirsky debunked 3 common myths:

Myth #1: Homeowners are happier than renters.
Contrary to what we hold to be true as part of the “American dream,” researchers have found that homeowners are actually less happy than renters. They derive more emotional stress from their homes than do renters, and they spend more time on housework and less time interacting with friends and neighbors.

Myth #2: Getting a good education is the key.
Turns out the more educated people are, the less satisfied they are with their lives. The enhanced satisfaction that we might derive from our advanced degrees appears to be outweighed by our increased aspirations and their attendant risk of disappointment and regret.

Myth #3: The young have more fun!
The media tends to portray 20-30 year-olds as the pinnacle of life exuberance, fun and happiness. Yet, as Lyubomirsky finds, “A 22-year study of about 2,000 healthy veterans of World War II and the Korean War revealed that life satisfaction increased over the course of these men’s lives, peaked at age 65, and didn’t start significantly declining until age 75.”

In general, what Lyubomirsky found is that life is less about ownership or accomplishments than it is about the richness of our experiences, the friendships we make along the way, and the mindset we approach our day-to-day life with—no matter your age. So, the next time you have a choice between buying the latest gadget or spending money on an outing with friends, go with the people. And when you’re thinking about your next job, focus on vacation time, flexibility, and office culture, not just the salary, title, and position.

We all want to be happy, but it’s often difficult to parse cause from effect. What initially seems like an obvious improvement in our lives, may turn out to be a short-term jolt that quickly fades away.

Thinking back on your life what has made you happiest? What are your keys to success? Do these findings resonate with you? Email with your thoughts and feedback.

Sports and Essential Communication Lessons: What Football Taught Me About Marketing

Walking through my neighborhood on a Sunday morning is no longer a time for quiet self-reflection. House after house, cheers of excitement and shouts of anger escape through insulated walls and double-paned glass. This can only mean one thing: it’s football season. The bright flat screens that peak through neighbor’s windows and the individuals glued to it all sport matching jerseys as they high-five or fist pump in unison. Sports, like football, are an incredible study of human behavior, especially with all that you can learn and apply to concepts such as communications and marketing. Here are a few you may find intriguing:

1.) Play to Group Identity: Football season combines the power of patriotism with the addiction of being a sports fan. In his book “The Righteous Mind,” Jonathan Haidt talks about humans having a “Hive Switch,” in essence where people naturally move from self-identity to group identity.  It is not only a very seductive and powerful shift, but an important thing to remember when communicating with people. Reaching out to people through their group identity is an extremely powerful way to reach your audience.

2.) The Power of Emotions: I have to admit I am not a huge football fan but when I am at my parents house sitting next to my very serious Dallas Cowboy fan of a father you bet I am screaming at the TV screen as much as anyone else in the room. The community you form wherever you may be to watch a game—whether it’s at a family member’s home, a restaurant, a bar, or the electronics section at Target—is riveting. You catch yourself hugging strangers, yelling at your cousin, and standing on furniture that you definitely shouldn’t be standing on. It plays on your emotions: excitement, anger, happiness, fear, suspense. It brings us together despite who we are and what we look like. If you speak through emotions you can motivate and communicate in ways you did not believe possible.

3.) The Addiction of Suspense: One of the reasons I believe football is so popular in the US is because most games are equally matched and aren’t determined until the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Football games often have scores that are neck and neck separated by a touchdown or just a single field goal, and it makes you watch to that very last minute of the game (and sometimes overtime). So the audience has to deliberate: can their team make a miracle field goal or Hail Mary pass, or is it over? We are naturally drawn to suspense, we want to know what will happen, how things will change. While we always want to be clear in our communications, sometimes holding off on the punchline and building the drama of the outcome is a great way to engage your audience.

So here’s to football. Here’s to engaging communications. And here’s to finding an excuse to join a group of strangers on an autumn day to root for your favorite team.

What Data has Taught Us About Improving Outreach

The growth of social media and online outreach over the past 3 years has been astronomical. With a projected 2.77 billion social media users worldwide by 2019, social media campaigns are booming. We live in a generation where we check our emails constantly, share our meals on Instagram, update our family via Facebook, connect with friends through Twitter, and YouTube just about anything we want to expand our knowledge on. With this growth came a lot of good changes—but also many challenging ones. Facebook changed their algorithm, Instagram updated their feed order, and Twitter increased their character cap. What does this have to do with outreach?


So how do we stay on top of the changes and ensure our content is accessible? We gather and analyze the data. When utilizing the internet as a platform for your outreach it is important to know and understand the what, the why, and the when. Luckily you don’t have to figure that out all on your own. That’s right, you can improve your outreach by using the simple ideas listed below. These ideas will help you make sure you understand what you need for a successful digital outreach campaign: who to reach out to, the type of content to post, where and when it needs to be posted, etc. SGA has been testing online experiments for a while now and we’ve learned a lot about how to build better and more reliable outreach programs. Grab a pen and paper (or the notes tab on your laptop) and tuck into our hot tips!

1. Reach beyond likes and unique visitors. The biggest problem with using social media likes and website visits as a proxy for success is that you don’t know why people took the action. They could have been searching for your content and found it engaging. Or they might have randomly clicked on your website during a Google search and quickly left, never to return again. You just don’t know. While building a strong foundation of fans is important, it’s just the beginning. To build a community, you need to test how engaged your fans are through controlled messaging experiments. One key way of doing this is to make sure Google Analytics is set up on your website and to take the time to review the reports. Specifically acquisition, user behavior, and individual page views.

2. Embrace A/B testing. If you really want to understand the value of your likes, you need to see if they are repeatable. The key is to run two sets of posts—an A version and a B version (you can also run multi-variant tests if you want to move more aggressively.) Then see how each performs with your community over time. You can set these up on social media, websites and e-newsletters. For e-newsletters, send the two variations to a random subset of your subscriber list a few days before you intend to send out the newsletter. Then send the one that does best to the rest of your list. Different areas of your messaging that may benefit from A/B testing might include: subject lines, headlines, images, timing of posts, and calls to action.

3. Turn data into insights. Once you have some data to work with, you can look at the demographics of the people who engaged with your content, as well as the content that received the best response. Facebook and Twitter insights and Google Analytics can tell you loads about your followers. Understanding the type of content that resonates with them will help you understand how to inspire them with behavior change messaging. This data allows you to paint a more robust picture of your audience, which you can incorporate into outreach both offline and online.

4. Create a call to action. Find the route to engagement by asking your fans to do something. When determining your call to action, be sure it’s something you can measure. How else would you know if it worked? Don’t be afraid to start small and increase your goal as you get a better grasp on what’s working. Ask fans to opt in to your emails, or to post their own content sharing actions they have taken. One of our projects for the Orange County Stormwater Program asked people to post photos showing how they were saving water in their yards. By having residents publicize their actions we not only created an opportunity to verify behavior change, but we started building a social norm for the action and engagement in general.

As changes to our media outlets ramp up in 2018,  it’s important to know where to start and how to collect the right data for outreach. With simple experiments, you can better understand your audience, their motivations and whether they’re buying your program’s message or merely window shopping.

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.