Issue 19 - Jan-Feb 2012
|Every day, breaking news stories reach us through an increasingly wide array of traditional and social media channels. This issue of Spitfire Sparks looks at two recent headline grabbers - SOPA legislation and the Susan G. Komen Foundation/Planned Parenthood controversy - and offers a few communications lessons learned that could help you increase the impact of your next outreach effort.
Also on tap this month, we continue our election series by examining how to break into the conversation, a Spitfire shares insights from his personal experience using Change.org to petition Apple to improve worker conditions, and we break down how Greenpeace used an inexpensive mock website to grab the media spotlight from a deep-pocketed opponent.
By Monisha Som - Senior Account Manager
If they just knew X, they'd understand why our issue is so important! Sound familiar? Sometimes getting important audiences to care about an issue seems like a monumental task. Research and data may not make a dent in persuading audiences. When it comes to strategic communications, messaging needs to share the information in a way that makes the audience care - and that means building a bridge between an issue and the audience's values or beliefs.
On January 18, Internet users noticed that many of their favorite websites had either gone dark or showed only a splash screen on their homepages. This wasn't the result of a massive IT glitch, but rather thousands of activists finding an effective way to connect to their audiences' values and make a big impact on their issue. In the face of sweeping legislation known as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), more than 10,000 organizations used their websites to make sure their audiences understood exactly what was at stake - keeping the Internet free from censorship. Participating groups didn't want to risk losing their audiences in the minutia of the policy debate. Instead, they chose to put the focus on how the legislation (if passed) would directly impact their audiences: Websites that Americans rely on every day for information, communication and entertainment would be deemed illegal. Advocates took a dramatic step on January 18 to demonstrate the consequences of SOPA. Over 10,000 websites participated in a one-day online protest by either blacking out their sites or showing a splash screen with messages about the impact SOPA would have on a user's ability to access his favorite websites. With the wide range of websites participating in the protest, it was clear to all Internet users that even if they don't use Wikipedia or Reddit, SOPA would likely impact a wide range of frequently used websites. The SOPA blackout protest wasn't just a smart tactic, it also produced concrete results. The barrage of calls and emails to Congressional offices from constituents expressing their opposition caused six legislators to withdraw their sponsorship of the bill.
While the debate around SOPA is far from over, the recent actions of advocates already serve as an important lesson for success - find out what the audience really cares about and connect the issue to those values.
Reach Out & Influence Someone
Tips to Spread Your Message
How to Create a SMART Hullabaloo with Change.org
by Mark Shields - Director
It happened one Wednesday night. I was in my kitchen making hummus and listening to This American Life, which happened to be streaming from my Mac, through my Apple AirPort, as my iPhone sat on the counter. The episode was entirely about working conditions in the Chinese factories where Apple products are made.
I told a friend about the story, and my ensuing dismay, and she suggested that I start a petition at Change.org. Less than a month later, 225,000 people have signed the petition asking Apple to do better by their Chinese factory workers. Here are a few quick lessons learned that can be helpful to anyone looking to use Change.org to make change.
Don't Drink the Kool-Aid
Avoid Communications Pitfalls
When Supporters Revolt: Lessons from the Susan G. Komen Controversyby Jaymie Gustafson - Director and Sarah McLean - Account Executive
When the news broke that the Susan G. Komen Foundation would not renew grants to 19 Planned Parenthood affiliates, Planned Parenthood supporters reacted quickly and vocally. Advocates took to the Komen Foundation's Facebook and Twitter pages to express their outrage - taking Komen off guard with the backlash.
Thrown into a political battle despite priding itself as being bi-partisan and non-political, could Komen have diffused the situation? Here are three communications lessons social cause organizations can take from the Komen/Planned Parenthood controversy.
1. Maintain control of the message by being in front of the story.
By waiting nearly 24 hours after news broke to respond, the Komen Foundation let its opponent control the story. Komen's entire crisis strategy was reactionary, defensive and at times nonexistent, leaving supporters confused and uninformed about the reasons for the decision. When announcing a major decision that could upset followers or supporters, be up front and make sure your supporters learn about the decision, and the reasons behind it, from your organization.
2. Agree on what story to tell and stick to it.
The initial statement justifying the funding decision - that the Komen Foundation would no longer fund organizations under investigation - changed overnight when Komen issued a second statement claiming the decision was not only due to the investigation, but also because Planned Parenthood did not meet new Komen Foundation requirements and standards. Advocates quickly pointed to Komen as backpedaling on its justifications for pulling the grant. By sticking to one story and admitting mistakes upfront, Komen could have salvaged its reputation and respect among both Planned Parenthood and Komen supporters.
3. Don't underestimate the power of your community.
Once the word was out on Komen cutting its funding to Planned Parenthood, the social media world caught fire with both praise and criticism for Komen. Women and men of all ages overwhelmed Komen's Facebook site with 7,000 posts in 24 hours. But lost in the conversation were supporters of Komen's stance and anyone who could speak out in defense of the organization. By lining up advocates in advance of this potentially unpopular decision, Komen could have attempted to balance the conversation and addressed supporter concerns.
In the end, nothing Komen did could have completely avoided the controversy caused by its decision to defund Planned Parenthood - emotion and support on both sides of the issue are too high. But by planning in advance and being prepared for a potential public relations crises, Komen might have managed the controversy more smoothly and avoided some of the damage to its reputation.
Blazing the Trail to Election Day
Fourth in a series focused on preparing for Election Day.
Connecting the Dots: Leveraging Connections to Elevate Your Issue
The 2012 election cycle is officially in full swing. To help nonprofits get ready for Election Day, Spitfire launched a series of articles as a beginner's guide to election season. Our objective is to use the election as a platform to put your message in front of your top audiences.
In our previous article, we discussed the importance of knowing where your issue stands in the current debate and ways to evaluate how your issue is being framed.
The next step is to set the stage to not only make your issue a central part of the public conversation, but also ensure it is discussed the way you want it to be.
First, ask yourself, "Who has to take action to raise the profile of our issue in the election-year debate?" This could be the candidates themselves, the media or other organizations who are already engaged with the debate. Or it could be other players - other advocates, officials, or activists - who haven't carried your message before.
The next step is to determine whether or not you have direct access to those decision makers. If the answer is yes, then reach out! If the answer is no, you have a bit more work to do.
Not having direct access to your decision makers means that you will need to find other ways to reach them. Start by answering three important questions:
All that audience and issue research you have been doing will come in handy. Looking through media reports and other public materials on the candidates will give you a sense of which issues have been gaining traction in the debate and help you to identify opportunities for you to engage on an issue.
For example, if you work on child nutrition issues and you know one of the candidates has made education one of his or her signature issues in the past, you might have an opportunity to use your existing relationships with educational organizations to help you open a conversation with the candidate about healthier school lunches. Or, if you are trying to make sure reporters start asking candidates questions about your issue, you may consider connecting with a partner organization that is frequently quoted in the newspaper for advice on identifying and connecting with key reporters.
Sometimes this might be as simple as picking up the phone and calling an existing contact, but sometimes you may have to go through several levels of connections before you reach your ultimate decision maker. As you develop your plan for connecting the dots, it's important to have a clear idea of what you want each connection to do for you. Then, before you dial that number, consider all the reasons they might say "No," -- and come up with a plan for overcoming any barrier to action.
On a Shoe String
Low-Cost Strategies for High Impact.
Outsmarting the Big Budgets
by Samantha Yale - Senior Account Executive
Ever been frustrated that you can't match your opposition's ad buy? Bigger budgets don't guarantee that your voice will be heard, as Greenpeace recently proved in its spoof of the American Petroleum Institute's (API)'s Vote 4 Energy campaign. By monitoring its opposition and developing a clever media hook, Greenpeace was able to generate enough media coverage of its mock website (www.vote-4-energy.org) to rank it above API's real campaign website (www.vote4energy.org). Here's a cheat sheet on their strategy.
1) Anticipate and get smart on your opposition's next big move
The opportunity began when two Greenpeace activists heard that API was casting a TV ad, looking for regular faces for a new campaign highlighting how much voters cared about energy and oil access during the presidential election. To learn more about the ad, a couple of activists showed up at the open audition.
2) Change the dynamic by adding your voice
Since Greenpeace had inside knowledge of what API's TV ad would look like, it was able to roll out a very similar web-only video on the same day. On the day API held a press conference at the Newseum in Washington, DC to promote its ad and launch the Vote 4 Energy campaign, Greenpeace used a clever media hook to divert attention to its mock video and website. At the Newseum entrance, Greenpeace rolled out astroturf red carpet labeled with signs for all of the oil companies. This forced API President Jack Gerard to enter the building's back entrance. The astroturf underscored API's attempt to fake voter support for its agenda through the TV ad and visually drew reporters into the fact that there might be a more interesting angle to an otherwise drab rollout of a trade association ad campaign.
3) Make it more fun for journalists to cover your work
Reporters covering the API press conference found Greenpeace's work so interesting that they referenced the mock website and video in their Vote 4 Energy coverage. You can check out the coverage in the Financial Times, CNN, the Hill and the New York Times. This media coverage, coupled with blog hits and comments on online news sites, pushed Greenpeace's mock website ahead of API's site on Google searches.
If you want your message to get to the top, follow Greenpeace's lead: Anticipate your opposition's next big move and steal its thunder by parodying it and sharing it with the media. The keys to success here included good intelligence, the ability to act quickly and the patience to then wait in order to synchronize the spoof with the real ad launch date. Then get your allies on the blogosphere talking about it. Learn more at Greenpeace.
|Spitfire Strategies is dedicated to helping nonprofits and foundations create and implement high impact communications programs to achieve their social change goals. To learn more, visit www.SpitfireStrategies.com.|
By A Web Design