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"The Faces and Places of Affordable Housing" Poster Campaign

The Posters (click to enlarge)

Our Humble Beginnings

Since we can't go out for lattes and share our knowledge with you, we hope this website is the next best thing. How did this affordable housing poster phenomenon get started? It all began with a brainstorming session between a real estate guy and a planner. The goal was to help everyday community people better understand local affordable housing issues. The idea was a poster that showed the pictures - and wages - of teachers, retail clerks, firefighters, and others. The message was that "those" people are THESE people who need affordable housing. The real estate person was Larry Kendall, head of The Group, Inc. Real Estate in Northern Colorado, and an affordable housing advocate. The planner was Ken Waido, Chief Planner for the City of Fort Collins, who has worked for over 25 years on local affordable housing issues.

Four years later, their poster idea became a reality. In 2002, a series of three posters was distributed to over 750 sites in our region as the "Faces and Places of Affordable Housing" public awareness campaign.

The first poster dealt with the original wages and housing gap idea. The second poster highlighted key local homelessness facts. The last poster portrayed quality affordable communities that have already been built in our region. City staffers who were assigned to the project made connections with other groups who were interested in getting the affordable housing word out. The Northern Front Range Continuum of Care (folks across 2 counties dealing with the whole homelessness housing spectrum) and the Affordable Housing Coalition of Larimer County provided input on what was important to them. What started out as one poster turned into the series, so that everyone's message could be shared. Team members estimate that it took nine months to get the posters just right, as the group focused in on the specific messages they wanted to communicate. An ambitious distribution plan involved posting in some fresh places, while targeting high-traffic locations in two counties. In addition to the usual civic spots and grocery stores, we decided to place posters in faith communities, laundromats, health clubs, bagel shops, and other high-traffic, daily routine locations. The overall response to the effort has been favorable beyond our wildest dreams - not only from our intended audience, but from the many front-line folks in the affordable housing trenches. People have told us that these posters articulate what so many of them have wanted to share with people.

And we want to share the posters with YOU. Nothing's copyrighted (except for some of the photos - see Becca's technical section, "How to Make Your 'Own' Posters"), so use whatever you need for however you need it. In addition, here's some project management tips, some food for thought, some technical guidelines, and some gut-level sharing on what we did right and wrong. This is probably more than you ever dreamed was involved in the project, but it should give you absolutely everything you need (and more!) to make it happen. We've tried to divide it all up into sections, so browse what you think might apply to you. Hope it helps, and best success in whatever you do!

Outreach Philosopy

Many folks are looking for "calls to action" when they do outreaches. At this point, our call to action is awareness. We move a little slower in building the foundation than others because we're operating from a difference premise.

Colorado State University here in Fort Collins has a wonderful research arm called the Tri-Ethnic Center for Prevention Research. They started out doing prevention research on substance abuse issues for communities because substance issues ARE community issues. The Tri-Ethnic staff has imparted real wisdom in gauging and moving forward with where communities are "at" on certain issues. They've developed a wonderful tool called the "Community Readiness" model. In a simplistic take on their complex analysis, the bottom line is that before communities will address a problem, people have to first recognize that:

  • it is a problem
  • it is a local problem
  • it is everyone's problem (at least to some extent or impact)

Tri-Ethnic calls these and other stages of awareness and action "Stages of Readiness". They also offer a variety of technical assistance, and can cover some amazing ground for you in just 5 phone survey interviews. It's fascinating stuff! Check out their website at:

Without the benefit of a survey, but by a quick and dirty assessment of the symptoms, we knew that our community members realized that affordable housing issues are a problem, and that they are a local problem. However, awareness seemed to fall way short on the fact that lack of affordable housing impacts all of us in some way. So we focused our outreach efforts there.

Outreach Strategies

We wanted to give the average, everyday citizens in our area the opportunity to be exposed to messages regarding affordable housing strategies. Our goals were to:

Use "point of contact" as an outreach strategy. We just wanted people to see the posters. Therefore, we tried to pick locations where people really hang out. We aimed for a broad distribution base with faith communities, health clubs, grocery stores, bagel shops, etc. - as well as the usual civic locations such as libraries, town halls, and the like.

Keep the message simple. Make the posters graphically eye-catching. The communications "rule of thumb" is that if you haven't drawn people in and communicated your message in THREE TO FIVE SECONDS, you've lost your audience. Our posters are meant to engage people at different levels. There are different levels of "Message Layout" on the posters, both in text and graphics. The Message Layout levels range from very general to very specific. A person walking by Poster #1 (wage gap) could see the very general Level One Message Layout, which is the text: "The Faces of Affordable Housing in Northern Colorado", along with the pictures. Even if a person sees just those poster components, some truths have been communicated. Or a person might also take time to read the Level Two Message Layout on Poster #1, which is the line: "These people benefit our communities. Let's keep them here." That recipient would still get a vital part of the awareness message. Yet another person might be drawn in more, and actually stop and read the Level Three Message Layout: " It costs x dollars to rent or own in this community." They might make some personal connections with their own wage levels or wages levels within their personal circle of family and friends. Lastly, for the citizens who really need the facts and figures, and will actually take the time to stop and study Poster #1, there's the Level Four Message Layout, which shows the wage statistics on the pictures. Those can be compared with the local cost of housing.

Build coalitions. We hate wasting time and energy. Check out what other groups have for goals and values, and collaborate whenever possible. By switching the campaign idea from one poster to three posters, we accomplished the goals of three main organizations. It was also more cost-effective in terms of printing and other expenses. There's tremendous synergy in coalitions - use it.

Outreach Tactics

Here's what we did. What you can use depends on the size and nature of your campaign. Here are some nuts-and-bolts tips:

Build a distribution database (MS Excel works great). It should include the distribution site name; the address; the type of place (health club, civic); a contact name and phone number (if possible); distribution method (hand posting, mail); the name and affiliation of the person distributing (Jane Doe, Affordable Housing Coalition); and a space for notes (no mailbox, etc.). This allows you to keep efforts current. Delete any site that didn't work, but keep that information stored somewhere for reference. The database also allows you to do "sorts" by locality (town or municipality), or type of site (grocery store, faith community). This makes things much more manageable when you're signing up helpers, and trying to figure out who's doing what where.

Identify who your distributors really are. Here's where your task-oriented people rise to the surface. ("HEY, I'll make sure the posters get distributed throughout the entire town of Wazoo!")

Identify who your distributors are not. We identified some other groups we thought would be "naturals" in helping with the effort. However, their energies were focused elsewhere and the number of posters distributed via those links was disproportionate to the time and energy we spent (it would have been cheaper to mail the posters in this instance). We did not use those links in future distribution rounds.

Build enough time for distribution into your time line. Allow folks time to actually get the posters up. Be clear regarding your deadlines and expectations.

Set realistic time lines. We figured that the campaign would run around one year in length. We estimated that each of the posters would be up for approximately four months. It was a doable and realistic window. We pretty much held to it.

Decide the best distribution method. Because of our goals (we wanted to build coalition and relationships), we placed a high value on hand-distribution of the posters. For each round, we hand-posted anywhere from half to two-thirds of the posters. It saved us hundreds of dollars on postage costs. However, it was not always "efficient" in terms of people's time and energy. If you use 11 X 17 posters, figure additional postage fees into your budget. We also had to scout around for cheap mailing envelopes. Since they are odd-sized, they can be really pricey and break the bank. We ended up ordering large envelopes without fasteners, and we hand-glued the flaps. It literally saved us hundreds of dollars, so was worth the extra time and effort. You need to weigh the pros and cons.

Give distributors a number to call or an e-mail address in order to give updates or ask questions. Examples: "I put up posters in three additional sites. Here's the info." or "Such and such a grocery store didn't have a community bulletin board".

Provide posting date deadlines right on the posters. This may have been our best "added touch" internal idea in the whole project! See below: What We Did Right.

Educate, educate, educate. We attached a cover letter to every poster. When doing hand-postings, we tried to leave the cover letter with someone on-site. The cover letters reinforced key affordable housing messages, made our posting request very concrete and specific, and also provided a contact name and phone number for questions or concerns.

Make sure to print up extra posters. People will ask for them!

Outreach Decision Points

Poster Messages. Decide which messages you're going to focus on. Stick with it. Keep it simple. Make every word count. Make every picture count. The tendency is to try and say it all in one shot. Resist that urge.

Poster Pictures. Decide if you're going to purchase stock photos, or rely on a talented local photographer to do shots. You may have an opportunity to use services pro bono or at a reduced fee. Don't skimp on quality here! Remember that with local subjects, you'll need to use photo release forms. There's also a question of dignity and privacy. We chose not to go with shots of local subjects for that reason. We have horror stories of kids who've had to switch elementary schools, because classmates found out they were homeless.

Poster Contact Info. We used our local Information and Referral (I&R) agency phone numbers for contact information. We made sure the I&R employees were trained, knowledgeable and on board with what we were doing. It was a great way to "filter" contacts. The I&R folks were able to route callers needing actual housing assistance, those wanting to volunteer, and people just wanting more information. They did an outstanding job!

Poster Credit. Who are you going to credit with being involved in/endorsing the project and how? A sea of logos? A list of entities? A list of umbrella organizations which represent many types of members? Are they recognizable? Are they credible? We honestly did not have time to go to every individual organization to get their endorsement, but went the umbrella representation route.

Measuring Your Success. You will need decide whether you want to go the seat-of-your-pants route or be more scientific in quantifying the success of your efforts. If you have a college or university nearby, it might be a great way to pull in a marketing research class or similar group to use your campaign as one of their projects. Our idea had languished for so long, that we were more interested in just completing the project, and had no breathing room for adding another component to the mix.

What We Did Well

Graphics. We have some amazing in-house talent at the City of Fort Collins -- Becca Henry -- who did the top quality job on the posters. For the more technical aspects of this all, see the below section on: How to Make Your "Own" Posters.

Kept Our Word. We tried not to make any promises we couldn't keep, and worked hard to stick to deadlines and agreements at every level.

Posting Date Deadlines. Each poster contains the following text: "Please post until ______." This was done in consideration of all the poor church secretaries and business receptionists who have to act as "bulletin board police". It helped us to prevent unintentional sabotage (accidentally taking down posters too early), and to convince some wary partners that they weren't making a nebulous commitment in displaying the posters.

What We Wish We'd Done Differently

Removed the Logos. If we'd known the feathers they would ruffle, we would have taken the teeny-tiny logos at the bottom of the posters (giving credit to the two funding entities who actually put their money where their mouth was), and thrown those logos to the farthest ends of the earth. For example, it created barriers in the real estate community in one community. With one firm's "brand" on the posters, it was kind of like putting up a Chevy poster in a Ford dealership. Due to a few disgruntled citizens, and in getting advice from the local Board of Realtors, we chose not to put up posters in real estate offices ANYWHERE in Fort Collins. Real estate folks in other communities were more receptive. We told them they could chop off the bottom of the poster, or put a white address label over the logos if they wanted. Most were very gracious and open to the "greater good."

Created a Spanish Version. Our poster campaign was aimed at reaching "average" citizens in our Northern Colorado communities, who are mostly Caucasian. However, in not having a Spanish version of the poster series, we missed opportunities to build bridges with the Spanish-speaking schools, churches, and other similar pockets in our area. At the same time, to have a Spanish version printed -- especially with fewer numbers ordered -- would have significantly added to the project printing cost. In 20-20 hindsight, we could have pursued some creative options. For example, we might have printed some versions in-house that may have been somewhat compromised on graphics quality, but would have still been just fine as an outreach tool. In the past, when we have created various special versions of products, it seems that someone was still displeased or dissatisfied, so be aware.

Unexpected "Gifts"

A True "Champion" for the Campaign. Chris McElroy, The Group Real Estate, Inc., has been a true champion for the poster campaign. It's true that partnerships breed partnerships, and this is a sterling example. Chris is currently on the Board for the National Association of Realtors (NAR). With their current policy emphasis on affordable housing, they have been wonderfully receptive to this project. Chris has literally flown around the country, speaking to groups of thousands of realtors, and showing our posters. That's a lot of mileage off of our original $1,750 budget! Chris McElroy is truly one of those all-around good guys who's in it as a team player. Nice guys do sometimes finish first - Chris was awarded one of the coveted Hometown Hero awards from NAR. The moral? Look for who your allies might be. Welcome those champions who come alongside through no effort of yours, yet add immeasurably to the project. Try to give them what they need. (All Chris keeps asking for is more posters to show!)

A Message That Resonates with the Troops. We had no idea how beleaguered the folks working in the affordable housing trenches really are. We've had more calls from people who were so grateful just to use us as a sounding board for their fatigue and frustration. They've also taken the posters to decision-makers and others, and are breaking through some barriers. The simple, straight-forward messages of the posters seem be a clarified voice for what's on the hearts of so many people in the field who are doing really good things. They're the real heroes.

Anecdotal Successes. We taken some real hits for not being more scientific about this all, and "quantifying" the success of the outreach. It wasn't part of the plan for us, so we'll take what we can get. There's the story of the real estate receptionist who "got it" on just how important affordable housing is. Or the one about the small town grocery store owner who couldn't wait for the dear, sweet League of Women Voters volunteer to bring the next poster around, just so they could talk. Or the young, single mom who called because her grandmother had seen the poster at a local bank (we were able to hook her up with some housing options she hadn't known about).

Two Awards. We received national and state level awards! The campaign received a 2nd Place Silver Circle Award from the City & County Communications and Marketing Association (3CMA) in national competition. The project was also honored with a much-coveted Eagle Award from Rural Housing NOW! at its statewide "Colorado Housing NOW!" conference.

Pearls (free of charge)

Make sure everyone on your project team has "buy-in". Make sure that everyone, from the administrative person building the database, to the people hanging up the posters, are "on board." In the rush of things, we didn't take time to make work agreements, build "team" and get buy-in. Although not greatly noticeable to the "outside world", that lack of passion for the cause compromised the quality of the project and the process. Remember to say "thank you" in meaningful ways.

Make sure every key collaborator understands the message and the goal. Just basic stuff, but don't overlook it. Make sure everybody involved in the project - from development to distribution - is on the same page, knows the "key messages", and the general mission.

Stick to Your Guns. Be thoughtful and credible in your decision points. Get lots of initial input from everybody you can. Be flexible if it's timely in the process, and then -- stick to your guns! There will be nay-sayers at every point in the process, and folks who will challenge everything from your use of words to your use of statistics to your use of pictures. Stay on track. Don't get diverted or distracted.

Diversity Examples and Stereotypes. On Poster #1 (wage gap), we deliberately used what we thought was a pretty good, representative cross-section of pictures of young people, older folks, men, women, Caucasians and Latinos. Some people still thought the poster was not diverse enough. On Poster #2 (homelessness), we deliberately used a single dad to bring out a different angle on single parent families. Again on Poster #2, we chose not to use a beautiful picture of an African-American woman, since it was not representative of local homelessness statistics. We did, however, use a picture of an Hispanic woman, which was more reflective of local realities. Really think about what photos you're using and why. We also wanted to use photos that didn't show people who were totally down in the dumps, but who didn't come across as a bunch of artificial "happy campers", either.

Statistics. By the time we went to print, the statistics for Poster#1 (wage gap) were over a year old (but still very applicable). We chose to use the statistics as traditionally reported for one county to get the point across. We were trying to tell the story for an area that covered two counties and several towns and municipalities. We could have made ourselves crazy with averaging numbers, etc. and chose not to. We took flack for it, but were able to back up our reasoning. Be aware that this is the type of setting where all the old "bad blood" and in-fighting between entities rises to the surface, even if it has nothing to do with the issue at hand. Be on the lookout for "red herrings". Aim for good compromises, but don't end up compromising the product or the process.

Disclaimers. We used small-print disclaimers to more clearly explain our intent on two of the posters. It was probably bordering on obsessive-compulsive for us, but worked to satisfy the very few, but vocal critics. The disclaimer for Poster #1 (wage gap) explained our use of particular statistics. The Disclaimer on Poster #2 (homelessness) explained our use of stock photos versus local subjects.

People pleasers. Although you don't want to discount anyone, the supporting decision-makers and people who are truly vested in the project are the ones you have to really answer to. And YOU'RE the only person you see in the mirror when you wake up in the morning.


Feedback. A graduate student at the University of Denver used our posters as part of her affordable housing research with focus groups. There was a variety of positive and negative feedback. The constructive criticism included: credibility of statistics, needing people in the pictures on Poster #3 (Places of Affordable Housing), and too much information (Poster #3, Places of Affordable Housing).

Other Initiatives. There are others doing some great work with similar messages. Under the Communications Resources section, Housing Minnesota has developed some absolutely compelling messages for billboards and print ads. We've also heard that there's some wonderful things coming out of Maine, but we don't have any specifics for you at this time.

How To Make Your "Own" Posters

We are happy to let you use our success to promote awareness in your community. For more information on the design and technical aspects, feel free to contact us. We have provided much of this information below.

The photos used in most the poster series are stock photos purchased by us. Therefore you will need to purchase a set of photos for your organization, hire a photographer or think of another avenue. The 4 photos used on "The Faces of Homelessness" poster were purchased from Corbis. Another stock photo company you could try is iStockphoto.The photos used in "The Faces of Affordable Housing" poster were part of a photo collection from PhotoDisc called "Business and Occupations 2."

Printer Specs Digital Specs
Finished Size: 11" x 17" (no bleeds) Software: Macromedia Freehand 9
Paper: Any Standard White Gloss Coated Cardstock (10-12 pt) Photos: duotoned eps files
Inks: Black and PMS 1355 Main Font: Caxton BT
Photos/Coverage: half of the area contains a collage of duotoned photos, the remaining half is light text coverage Exportable Formats: ai, eps, psd, pdf, and tif

To keep printing costs at a minimum, we decided to use only 2 ink colors and the same paper for all 3 posters. We also kept costs down by printing all 3 posters at the same time, so the press was only inked once. When we had the posters printed in December of 2001, a local printer charged us $750 to print 1000 of each of the 3 posters (a total of 3000 posters).

For More Information

Please feel free to contact us with comments or questions. Please note this information was compiled in March 2003, pricing from vendors and links to outside sources are subject to change.