By Lisa Hiebert and Aubrey Fonfara
In August 2018, the City of St. Paul transitioned from an “open hauler” garbage system to a new, coordinated citywide garbage program, which provided a designated hauler and collection day for specific areas throughout the city. The city was excited about the change, but it created a challenge for the communications staff: How do we introduce 74,000 households to one of 15 St. Paul garbage companies?
‘St. Paul, meet your new garbage hauler!’
This was the primary message of a self-mailer that was sent to all participants, both property owners and their tenants, of the new program. The brochure was one of four direct-mail pieces built into our communications plan and budget, each of which had a specific purpose. This brochure had to provide each St. Paul household with specific information unique to their new garbage service, including their:
- New garbage company and contact information.
- New garbage cart size being delivered to the property.
- New garbage collection day and pickup location.
We also needed to communicate a detailed timeline of how we would swap out nearly 150,000 garbage carts throughout the city in three months, introduce additional garbage services, and answer other questions that we were hearing from residents. One option was to send a customized letter by doing a mail merge to provide each household with the information. Not only was this not in our budget, but we wanted to be sure the unique household-specific information was easy-to read and highly visible for residents as soon as they took it out of their mailboxes.
Simplifying the information
Instead, we got creative! We chose to design an oversized trifold brochure, which would stand out more than a traditional letter. All project management aspects of the piece — including overall strategy, writing, editing, and graphic design, were done in-house by the St. Paul Public Works staff.
The design was a challenge, as we needed to present a huge amount of complex information in a comprehensive, digestible, and visually appealing way. Similarly, we needed to make this important piece inclusive to all residents, including those who do not read English. We accomplished this in three ways.
First, we used plain language principles to turn essential information into “steps” for residents to understand the actions they would need to take. These were accompanied by graphic illustrations and organized into a timeline.
Second, we included our standard translation language inside the brochure in English, Spanish, Hmong, and Somali as a footer with a phone number residents could call for questions with an interpreter. The brochure directed all residents to learn more about the new garbage program on our website, which also provided full translations of all the content (and more) in Spanish, Hmong, and Somali.
Third, we wanted all residents to know who their garbage hauler was and what cart size they would be receiving. We were already planning to have the mailing address custom printed, so we decided to print the household-specific information on the mailing panel, too. This was an inexpensive way to provide the unique garbage hauler, cart sizes, and collection information for each property.
A little more direction
We knew that simply printing the information with the mailing address wasn’t enough. We needed to do everything possible to ensure residents would actually flip the mailer over and look. Using our program-branded arrows and colors, we included instructions in four languages with arrows directing the reader to check the back of the brochure to see their garbage service information.
On the back side of the piece, another bright blue arrow pointed to this information. Residents just had to let their eyes naturally follow the arrows to get the key information.
In the end, the form, function, content, and design came together for the “St. Paul — Meet Your New Garbage Hauler” self-mailer piece and accomplished the city’s goals: to provide a customized direct mail piece to each household, sharing the specific details of their new garbage hauler, cart sizes, and collection day, along with a detailed timeline. This innovative mailer also won a 2019 Northern Lights Award from the Minnesota Association of Government Communicators for best one-page communications piece.
Lisa Hiebert, APR, is public information officer and marketing manager for the City of St. Paul Public Works. Aubrey Fonfara is a freelance graphic designer and former recycling specialist with the City of St. Paul.