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How do you connect underserved populations to affordable phone access?

Creating a multilingual strategy designed to Connect California.

In 1983, federal policymakers established the Universal Lifeline Telephone Service (ULTS) to provide local, residential phone service to eligible households for a reduced rate.  At the time, carriers were responsible for ensuring that their subscribers were aware of ULTS.  However, when competition was allowed in local telephone markets, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) decided it was necessary to undertake its own public education program about ULTS. They teamed with Ogilvy PR to create the commission’s first public education program on the issue.

Simply put, the number one reason for having a phone is to stay connected. Research confirmed that the telephone was the most convenient way for people to communicate – with their friends, family, their community and vital emergency services.  Based on this insight Connect California served as both the name of the campaign and the primary message for outreach.

To address the diverse needs of its audience, Ogilvy PR developed an integrated campaign in six languages consisting of earned media, community outreach and advertising. In order to successfully reach underserved populations who might not trust the government, the team developed partnerships with 50 community-based organizations to assist with outreach and education.

To help residents determine whether they were eligible for the program and select a ULTS provider, a multilingual call center was established. Designed with separate phone numbers to support various languages, the call center also served as interpreters for telephone companies that did not have operators who spoke a caller’s language.  Focus groups were conducted monthly to continually refine the intake process and evaluate media effectiveness.

As ULTS enrollment information is maintained by phone companies, the benchmarks for the campaign’s success were based on the ability to raise awareness and gauged by the number of calls made to the call center as wells as the paid media dollars leveraged.  During the course of the 6-month campaign, 20,670 calls were received – 345% higher than the original goal. In addition, the campaign leveraged $1.09 in ad value (almost a 100% return on investment) for a total media dollar value of $2.25 million.