The Importance of Knowing Your Audience
Lost In Noise
Tweets. Posts. Podcasts. Videos. Papers. Magazines. Books. Google.
Life inundates us with information that seldom holds our attention, that becomes noise. We recognize the noise - it's poorly written, poorly shot, poorly produced, and boring. A major problem for assessors is that too often the information they share with the public becomes noise and as a result, the public feel poorly informed. Resentment builds because property owners receive their tax bill and don't understand how the assessor determined their house's value and why they're being charged the taxes showing on their bill. Most likely the information is on the assessor's website, it's just not easy to find, to read, to view, or to listen to, and so it's been ignored. Property owners are upset and the assessor gets blamed.
Fortunately, assessors can reverse this type of situation by knowing their audience and taking time to make appealing content. When assessors know their audience and make good content, the perception of the assessor and the department changes drastically.
An Example of Good Communication
Colleen Healy, the Chief Assessor in Quincy, MA, knew exactly who her audience was in 2019 - her taxpayers, her city council, and other city leadership. She needed a concise brochure that explained the basics of tax assessing to this audience: the taxpayer so that they would better understand how the city derived property taxes; the city council so that they better understood the primary funding mechanism of the city budget; and city leadership so that budget discussions concerning the Assessing Department were more productive. After Quincy approached us, we helped Colleen make both her brochure, "Understanding Your Taxes", and the presentation she gave to the city council when it came time to determine the tax rate.
"Understanding Your Taxes" - initial brochure on the left and this year's cover on the right.
The first version of "Understanding Your Taxes" took two months to make. We strategized about the best way to get the brochure to the target audience. We wrote new copy. We created new infographics and built new graphs to make concepts easier to understand. Most importantly, we iterated through draft after draft. It took 10 layout iterations and 19 drafts to get to the final version of the brochure. Making good content takes time and effort.
No one expected the positive reaction Quincy received! Colleen first gave the brochure to each city council member prior to her assessing presentation and when she arrived to give her presentation, council members told Colleen they had never had an assessor present the assessment information so clearly or provide explanatory documents like her brochure. They thanked her for the great information and openly asked why other departments in the city weren’t doing something similar.
Quincy's CFO, the mayor, and the mayor's chief of staff also received a brochure. The mayor was so impressed by the brochure he had the finance office work with CIDARE to redesign Quincy's budget report. Later in the year, when Colleen went to discuss her department's budget, she was able to get her normal budget and additional budget to fund new data collection initiatives, in part because the brochure was tangible evidence that the assessing department used money effectively.
Finally, the brochure had a big impact on the public. After the brochure was placed on the front page of the assessors website, Colleen and her team soon had emails and phone calls from property owners that thanked her team for the clear information. An increased entrance rate for interior inspections and a reduction in complaints correlated with the release of the brochure, indicating that the better information helped prepare property owners for cyclical inspections.
We've helped Colleen rework the brochure and presentation every year since that first year (see the most recent version of the brochure here). The brochure continues to be an important communication for Quincy's office.
Having Similar Success
We believe any assessor can have similar success. It all starts with knowing your audience. Colleen came to us knowing what her audience needed in terms of content form, how to get the brochure into their hands, and what her goals were with the brochure.
Colleen also recognized she needed a partner. She trusted us to iterate the brochure to its final state while she controlled the vision and final look and feel but maintained her focus on assessing. You can do something similar, partnering with a firm that can do the design work while you provide the vision and oversight.
The Rewards of Cutting Through The Noise
When assessor information is relevant, property owners and colleagues read, watch, or listen to the material. Property owners are better informed and happy; local government leaders better understand how assessing works, making it easy for assessors to collaborate with other departments and advocate for themselves when budget time arrives. The overall perception of the assessor improves. No one will love the assessor, but respect will be given.