Advocacy Campaigns: Mad Scientist at Work
You know the image: White lab jacket, bubbling neon colored beakers, Bunsen burners. Cackling.
Like the obsessive scientist in the lab, those who work in issue advocacy spend our days combining various elements to get the right reaction. (The level of madness, of course, depends on the issue.)
But we toil and experiment because we know that if we combine enough of the right elements, we might be able to discover something that will change the course of history.
Different campaigns. Different formulas.
The late Senator Everett Dirksen used to say, “When I feel the heat, I see the light.”
What he meant by that was that elected officials act when they are made to act.
In this age of cynicism, it’s important to remember that calls, letters, and emails don’t go unnoticed by politicians—especially when those calls, letters, and emails arrive in great numbers and address the same issue.
How do advocates generate the type of volume that can get an elected official to “feel the heat” surrounding an issue without prompting too many letters from the opposition?
That takes some tinkering in the lab.
Each campaign requires a different formula.
Combine the right ingredients, and issue advocates generate the kind of heat that makes politicians take notice. Add too much, too soon, however; and they could be looking at shattered beakers and broken test tubes.
To mitigate that risk, professionals the industry refer to a sort of advocacy periodic table—only instead of chemical elements, this table includes advocacy components at their purest form.
- Paid Media
- Earned Media
These are the building blocks of advocacy. And just as in chemistry, each element of advocacy comes with its own characteristics, volatility, and shelf life.
As is the case with modern chemistry, our periodic table is expanding.
There was a time when advocacy was about finding the right messages and messengers. It was about learning the right combination of paid vs. earned media.
TV, print, direct mail, and radio were the only media. Even then, the wrong messages or the wrong combination of paid vs. earned media could spell disaster.
But today, innovators are constantly creating new compounds—new components to add to the traditional advocacy mix. From Instagram to Vimeo, each day brings a different digital platform for showcasing a message.
It pays to keep up-to-date on the trends to know where a campaign will find the right audience—and where it won’t. The correct combination of traditional, earned, and now digital and social media can mean a win if an advocacy professional puts money in the right places at the right times.
But be warned: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
Now that we’ve walked through the chemistry of advocacy, here’s some physics: Promoting an issue will produce push-back from the opposition, usually in proportion to how hard it’s promoted.
That means that even if an advocate knows where to find an audience, he or she might want to be cautious about engaging them too early. Mitigate the risk of a counter attack by building a coalition quietly at first.
Experiment with the media mix before you put in the big money.
Its the slow burn we look for in advocacy. The fireworks and the mad scientist cackling come later.