Lake County honored for 'Vote Like a Couch Potato' campaign
The idea to increase the number of people voting by mail dawned on Linda Musak as she drove to work at the Lake County clerk's office.
Where would lazy potential voters be found? On their couch, of course, with a big jar of cheese ball snacks in one hand and a TV remote in the other.
"It just sort of fell into place," said Musak, the communications director for Clerk Carla Wyckoff's office. "That was our hope, that it would appeal with a sense of humor to people."
Not only was it effective, but the resulting campaign snared a first-place Savvy Award -- one of three national top honors the county received -- from the City, County, Communications & Marketing Association as the most creative activity with the least dollars spent.
Winning a Savvy "tells citizens and elected and appointed leaders that your work to increase engagement, communicate effectively and infuse creativity is among the best in the nation," according to the organization's website.
Musak had a challenging task heading into the November 2016 election. Despite reporters flocking, candidates emailing, robocalls flying and social media bombarding voters with messages, turnout had not been increasing.
"To reach our non-energetic audience, we had to go where they were -- at home, on their sofa, with a remote," reads the award application.
A short video called "Vote Like a Couch Potato!" starring a faux Mr. Potato Head was created and posted on YouTube, the county website and in newsletters. It also aired several times on the county's cable channel before the election.
The campaign was expanded to include print, social media, fundraisers, and other meetings. A character wearing an authentic sack provided by the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association and sitting on a donated couch was set up at the Lake County Fair, where amused attendees were encouraged to take selfies.
During October 2016, that display was in the lobby of the county courthouse in Waukegan, where some newly married couples happily did the same after leaving the judge's chambers.
The $615 campaign outlay got some mileage as 36,763 ballots were mailed for the November 2016 election. That topped the 2012 total by 40 percent and was the highest number of ballots by mail for any election in county clerk history.
"It turned out that Lake County voters were proud to be couch potatoes," Musak said.
Lake County also was first among local governments representing a population over 126,000 for its interactive website and topped the competition for the "Meet Mitch and Hitch" video, which affixed GoPro cameras to two specially trained dogs used for comfort and companionship at the state's attorney's office.
Musak said she expects the Couch Potato to return before future elections. "Yes, it was fun and silly but it really did work," she said.