With a Clinton and a Bush both running for president again we are reminded of that famous Bill Clinton campaign admonition -- "It's the economy, stupid," a simple catch phrase intended to keep the campaign on track with what was really important to voters.
As public affairs practitioners we are often bombarded with the message, "It's the technology, stupid." And that's just, well...stupid.
Austin James has a brilliant essay that sets the record straight about the media's attempts to portray each election as the outcome of successful new technology. The "Facebook" election, the "YouTube" election, the "Spotify" election and so on. He calls it the "Bullshit Shiny Story Syndrome." He writes, "Technology cannot decide the election, because technology doesn't vote." More James:
There is no “old” or “new” media. It evolves and contributes. There isn’t an either/or scenario at play here. Radio did not displace door-to-door and Twitter will not displace phone calls.
And that is not stupid.
Earlier this week, and related, I attended an event hosted by the local Public Relations Society of America chapter here in Seattle. The guest speaker was Alex Thompson, vice president of communication and public affairs for REI. He spoke about the importance of PR helping organizations finding their core values, staying true to that and building communications around that core. This seems related, to me, to James' point. We have to first understand the value we bring to the marketplace -- political or commercial -- and what is really important and unique to us and our audiences. If we can make sure the message is the right one first, the "how" we communicate it will follow.
Make sure your public affairs campaign is keeping that focus, and is not being distracted by the newest bright shiny object.
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Do Grassroots Phone Campaigns Work?
A “call your legislator” campaign can boost the chances of a legislator supporting the relevant legislation by about 12 percentage points.
That’s the conclusion of an academic field study from Michigan State University, “A Field Experimental Study of the Impact of Citizen Contacts on Legislative Voting.” The study examined the effectiveness of an organized grassroots phone campaign, where an advocacy organization contacted a legislator’s constituents, informed them about an issue that their legislators would be voting on, and then transferred that constituent directly to the legislator’s office to share their opinions.
This is known as a patch-through phone call. As someone who has created an implemented patch-through phone call campaigns and seen them work, it is gratifying to see that academic research backs this up.
The estimated effect is substantial: being contacted by constituents increases the probability of supporting the relevant legislation by about 12 percentage points. -- Michigan State University Study
Patch-through phone calls have been around a long time as an advocacy tool. Many organizations may look past a phone campaign in favor of email-based efforts, where constituents are asked to send an email to their elected officials. I believe there is a place for all forms of contact, but do think phone calls are overlooked. Phone campaigns can be an important tool for amplifying an issue’s importance and for stepping the pressure on an issue that is close.
A ringing phone cannot be ignored. A ringing phone with a voting constituent on the other end of the line is even harder to ignore. The 12 percentage point gain created by phone calls to legislators is proof.
Here are a few tips that I believe can push that 12 percentage point advantage even higher:
1) Constituents only, please: It shouldn’t need to be said, but phone campaigns should only be engaging the constituents of a lawmaker to make the phones calls.
2) To sweeten the pot, making the calls come from registered voters – not just people who live in the appropriate district – is even better.
3) Let’s add more honey – calls from business, civic or local elected officials (like a mayor, city councilman, or county commissioner) can make those calls resonate even further.
4) Use live operators – while there are times when automated phone calls can be effective, as a general rule I think live operators are better, for several reasons. But the primary reason is that nothing is more effective than people talking to people. The personal touch will increase the voter’s comfort, enable him or her to ask questions and get the answers that will lead to a more informed call and better experience for the constituent and legislative office.
Note: If you need to activate more than once on the same issue, you could use the initial patch through call to create a second list, a subset – those most willing to engage – and use a more automated process, either an automated call to the advocate, text message or email, to engage them for the next round.
5) Feedback is critical – Make sure your program has a way to get feedback, from constituents and legislators. Call back a percentage of the constituents who agree to talk with their legislators and ask how it went. What happened when they spoke with their members’ offices? Also, have your lobbyist get feedback from the offices being called. How are the calls being perceived? (Although have your grains of salt ready, it’s natural for staff to grouse a bit about ringing phones). Use the feedback to adjust your campaign as needed to make it more effective.
Grassroots phone campaigns work and can be amazingly effective. What kind of results can you achieve?
Let us know your questions and comments!
Hikers and climbers are always prepared with the “10 Essentials” – those items deemed so necessary for their journeys that they never step on the trail without them. Equipment included in the 10 essentials cover basics like navigation, food and water, emergency shelter, proper insulation, and so forth. The 10 Essentials help guarantee that the destination is reached and journey is safe and everyone gets home.
Grassroots campaigns seeking to engage in successful advocacy should also adopt a set of essentials. As someone who has created, implemented and managed employee, retiree and member grassroots lobbying programs for more than 20 years, here is my list of 10 essential attributes that should be fundamental to any sustained grassroots advocacy program.
These are general guidelines…like the hiker’s 10 essentials it depends on the journey (goal) and the terrain and environment (political situation) to determine how to specifically deploy the 10 Essentials. But if you follow these guidelines your grassroots campaign will be rewarding for advocates and position you to achieve your goals.
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Scott Barker has more than 27 years of experience in public affairs communication. He has worked with Fortune 100 companies, senior level government officials, political leaders and candidates to deliver winning communications campaigns.