Five Key Ingredients to an Effective Advocacy Communications Plan

–In 2008, Samuel Wurzelbacher became Joe the Plumber, and through his eyes, Republicans effectively used Joe the Plumber to create engaging conversations about a typically dry and uninteresting topic – small business taxes.

  • –A few years later, on March 5th, 2012, the nonprofit Invisible Children released the now immensely popular video “Kony 2012” – a 30 minute film committing to drawing attention to the atrocities committed by Joseph Kony, and by October, over 97 million people (and counting) had viewed the video. Despite the criticism that arose shortly after, the campaign generated so many donations that the organization’s website shut down.

  • –And recently in the summer of 2013, Dogwoof Films told the story of Tillikum, a captive killer whale through the documentary Blackfish, garnered several awards, horrified millions of viewers, and arguably drove Sea World’s stock plunge and “loss of marketing partners”.

These brief anecdotes lead us to one of the most important steps to effective communications of public policy:

  1. 1. Make your issue a story. Regardless of how we feel about conservative tax policy, the Kony 2012 campaign, or captive orcas, we can all agree that their stories have been told in compelling ways that drove people to action. Effective advocacy communication doesn’t lie in educating the public –or even lawmakers– on the finer details of tax loopholes, international law, or environmental ethics. It comes from speaking in a language that yoga instructors, lawyers, line cooks and software engineers – all with varying degrees of experience, knowledge, and interest– can understand. The CEO of Soapbox Consulting put it bluntly: “Information stripped of entertainment is torture.”


  1. 2. But before you develop a story, you should assemble a team. A popular African proverb states that “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” There are very few causes that don’t have the support of an existing advocacy group, non-profit, or organization. It is short-sighted and some would even say arrogant not to consider other partners in your movement, utilize their research and learnings, and avoid any pitfalls they may have made. Any advocacy campaign should first study existing and former campaigns for that cause and where possible, work with those groups to amplify the voice of their own campaign. 501 Commons points out that “Community engagement efforts can broaden understanding of the issues your organization is addressing and, thus, increase people’s willingness to give of their time and money to support your cause.”


  1. 3. Who Are You Talking To and Where is Their Waterhole? Once you’ve reached out to potential partners and likeminded organizations, pinpoint your different audiences (e.g. California senior citizens in rural areas, parents skeptical of vaccination, legislators, etc) and identify where they can be reached. NPR Listeners often reach a different audience than fashion magazine readers. (Although, one should be careful to use research to draw these conclusions versus relying on assumptions!) While social media is an excellent tool to amplify and disseminate your message, it may not be the best medium to reach people without internet or smartphone access. The Prevent Cancer Foundation notes that “an integrated marketing and communications campaign maximizes both traditional (advertising, PSAs, media relations, direct marketing) and leveraged (social media, events, referral programs, partnerships) channels.” Fun Fact from the Congress Foundation:  All 100 Senators have a Facebook account and 90% of Representatives have a Twitter account. Find your audience, find their watering hole, and tell your story.


  1. 4. So you’ve found your audience, you know where they get their news, and you’ve told them your story. No what do you want them to do? They won’t know unless you, provide a clear call to action for your audiences. This could be an online petition, a vote on a ballot, attendance at a march, a donation, or a harder sell like a lifestyle change. No matter what your issue is, your call to action must be extremely clear, or you’ve just become Mother Goose – someone telling an audience an interesting story.


  1. 5. The final step mentioned in this article is one that is often forgotten. Measure your results and adjust accordingly. Think of your advocacy campaign as a living, breathing thing. Online campaigns are easy to track, while other channels may be a little more difficult to measure. Nevertheless, take into account the size and scope of your campaign and develop a plan for measuring the awareness and interest of your issue as well as people’s response. Bolder Advocacy recommends developing “long term as well as incremental goals.” Not only is this good for morale, it gives you the opportunity to d


Here’s a Bonus Tip: Hire a professional! If you or your organization is dedicated and committed to making change, hire an issue advocacy firm such as RALLY so that you can focus on the work surrounding your issue or cause.

As always, feel free to Contact Me for more insight, questions, or your comments.