Issue No. 3
I am writing to you from... wait, where am I? Ah, the joys of business travel. Just this month, I have passed through nearly a dozen airport and train terminals. Thank goodness the warm weather means lighter packing. Some folks have suggested I try staying home more and use teleconferencing to connect with clients. This would certainly save time and money in the short run, but is a conference call really the same as a face-to-face meeting? In his new study, "Telemeetings: Dialing In, Logging On, and Nodding Off", Spitfire's longtime colleague and expert storyteller Andy Goodman suggests that taking the virtual route requires careful planning to be truly effective. For some good in-flight reading - or even if you are office bound for now - download a free copy of the report here.
Then read on to find tips in this issue of Spitfire Sparks about tackling your legislature this summer, recommendations for high quality videos and a new take on the press conference. We also offer a quick refresher on messaging and examine how the economy can actually help your communications.
Inquiries or ideas about Spitfire Sparks? Please send us an email at Sparks@SpitfireStrategies.com.
Making the Possible Actual
Summer Fun with Your Legislators
Schools are not the only things gearing up for summer vacation. Federal and state legislatures frequently observe a summer recess. But that doesn't mean it's time to take a break from your policymaker outreach efforts. In fact, fewer distractions and greater opportunities for public events make summer a great time to connect with your policy targets.
As the dog days of summer approach, Ed offers his top five summertime policymaker outreach ideas:
- Give thanks. If a policymaker has taken a principled stand on your issue, a short letter to the editor of his or her local paper is a great way to say thank you - and get yourself a little attention in the process. Whenever possible, thank them by name, as Kansas Action for Children does here.
- Extend an invitation. Seeing is believing. Inspire lawmakers by showing them the direct impact of your issue on the people they serve. While they are in the district for summer recess, invite them out for a site visit. (Bonus points if you turn the occasion into a media event - just make sure to give the policymaker's staff a heads up.)
- Get with the program. Contact your representatives' offices to ask if they have any public events planned for summer recess, then go to as many of these events as you can. Each event is an opportunity to make a personal connection. The more interest you show in their work, the better the chance they will connect with yours.
- Get the download (and give them yours). This is a great time to ask key lawmakers to update you on the legislature's progress on your key issues and prospects for future action. If your state's legislature is on recess, let them know your priorities for the remainder of the session. If the session is already wrapped for the year, now is a good time to begin getting your issue on the radar screen for next year.
- Meet the staff. Recess means a break for staffers as well as legislators. This downtime is a great opportunity to get to know the staff members who work on your issues.
Here are a few scheduling resources to help you plan your summer policymaker outreach activities:
- State Legislature Calendars. For regular sessions, courtesy of the National Council of State Legislators
- U.S. House and Senate Calendars. Both are PDFs (Beware: the House calendar is a big file and takes awhile to download.)
Investing time in building relationships with government policymakers now can yield big returns when you need it. All it takes is a little planning and perseverance. As you give these ideas a shot, drop a note to Spitfire Sparks and let us know how it goes. We want to hear about your successes and are also ready to help troubleshoot if you hit a challenge.
This is the second of a series of articles about reaching out to policymakers.
Cracking the Code on the Latest Trends and Tools
Making Videos Work for You
Incorporating videos into your Web 2.0 strategy can bring your messages to life. New resources now available exclusively to nonprofits make it even easier and affordable to take advantage of this approach. Here are a few of Spitfire's latest favorites.
Animoto helps turn boring slideshows into professional-looking videos in a matter of minutes. If you've been waiting to make videos because you're unsure how, don't know where to start or think it's too expensive, take a deep breath. All you need are some photos and music - Animoto does the rest. In a three-step process, Animoto analyzes your images, interprets your music and makes your video. It can even grab photos from flickr, facebook or Picasa, and offers a library of free music. While basic accounts are always free, Animoto recently made their professional accounts free for nonprofits, letting users create videos of any length at DVD-level quality. Once you've made your video, you can embed it into your Web site or export it to your channel on Vimeo or YouTube. If you're curious about how the videos look, take a look at Animoto's case studies, featuring videos made by the American Cancer Society and Teach for America.
Videos alone won't likely bring you to your goals. Make them work for you by driving traffic to your Web site and inspiring your viewers to take action. Animoto and YouTube allow nonprofits to include a link right in the video. This new feature on YouTube is available to anyone registered in its Nonprofit Program. Check out YouTube's blog to see how charity:water used it to raise $10,000 on World Water Day.
Ideas to Make You Think
The Death of the Press Conference
- Account Executive
It has been the talk of the industry, but not in a good way. Throughout the country, communications and public relations professionals watched in disbelief as newspapers like the Seattle Post Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain News stopped print circulation and more are slated for the chopping block.
But what does this mean for nonprofits? First, it's harder to find reporters to cover your issues. Even if you still have a local paper, it is likely smaller and staffed by fewer reporters, meaning those who remain must cover multiple beats with limited print space. Reporters no longer have time to attend in-person press conferences or wade through lengthy reports and a steady flow of press releases. It is time to get personal.
You have to do some real digging to figure out what reporters want to cover and how they get their information. If you are not sure how the beats have changed at your local outlets, pick up the phone and invite your local reporter to lunch or coffee. Or use social media tools like Twitter and Facebook to follow reporter interests before pitching them. Visit www.muckrack.com for lists of reporter Twitter names. Also be sure to get to know your AP bureau reporter since the AP is quickly becoming the main news source for local media.
It's also time to take a look at your own outreach strategies and determine which ones need to change with the times. In many cases, a press teleconference is a smart alternative to a press conference. Reporters tell us they don't have time to head across town for an event, but they can easily call into a teleconference from their desks. You'll also have a wider reach and can invite reporters from all across the country (or even internationally) to attend.
And a teleconference is more cost effective. Firms like ReadyTalk offer comprehensive services at reasonable prices and can be set up in a matter of hours. If you don't require all the bells and whistles (including recording your call and having the conference service act as moderator), you can access free conference call lines such as FreeConferenceCall.com.
Increase your chances of success by considering these tips.
- Be prepared. Just like any interactions with the media, press teleconferences require preparation. Draft scripts and Q&A for your spokespeople and make sure that everyone is comfortable with the content.
- Logistics. An agenda will ensure that your call starts and ends on time and that it flows smoothly. Assign someone to serve as a moderator, introducing each speaker and facilitating questions from reporters.
- Timing matters. If you want reporters from across the country (or from other countries), keep their time zones and deadlines in mind when scheduling the call. The hours between 12pm - 2pm EST are best to attract reporters across the United States.
- Help reporters prepare. Traditionally, organizations keep all of the juicy information to themselves until they have a captive audience. Sending your media contacts an embargoed copy of your report or information about your campaign before a press teleconference will allow reporters to call in with specific questions, which can result in more in-depth coverage. Consider sending your media contacts embargoed materials a few hours before your teleconference and follow-up with a pitch call to ensure attendance and generate interest. If you are concerned about the potential for a broken embargo, you can mention the potential review of embargoed materials as part of your pitch and only send to those who indicate they plan to participate.
- Remember to follow-up. Once reporters hang up the phone, the real work begins. Connect personally with all of the reporters who were on the line - via email, text or phone - to make sure all their questions were answered and to continue to pitch your piece for publication.
Don't Drink the Kool Aid
Avoid Everyday Pitfalls
How to Avoid Reinforcing Your Opposition's Points
Lucy Cox Chapman
- Junior Account Executive
A group of researchers recently released a report claiming that if children began swimming lessons at a young age, it greatly reduced their risk of accidental drowning. The study faced opposition from doctors who claimed that if young children received swimming lessons, their parents would be less vigilant in watching them around the water.
The researchers believed they had a duty to parents, and to the public, to spread the word since they had the data to prove the opposition wrong. So they released their report with a big media push, including a press release stating, "Swimming lessons do not increase drowning risk in young children."
The problem? The researchers stated the opposition's argument.
If your goal is to shoot down the opposition, resist the temptation to respond directly. The key to overcoming the opposition's position is not to repeat your audience's misconception. Instead, offer new information that will push back against the barrier without reminding your audience of what the barrier is in the first place.
The researchers could have focused on their own positioning with a press release headed: "Swimming lessons reduce drowning risk in young children." A simple word change can increase the impact of your message and reduce your risk of inadvertently promoting your opposition's messaging.
Good to Great
Smart Strategies for Success
In a Tough Economy, Does Your Issue Make Cents?
- Senior Associate, and
- Junior Account Executive
Can stopping injustice save states serious money? The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers says yes. NACDL recently released a report finding that each year millions of people who are convicted of petty crimes like curfew violations and loitering face life-changing consequences - like losing their kids or their jobs - because they do not have access to adequate legal defense. The report also noted that moving these cases through the court system costs states millions of dollars that could be used to address other pressing needs in a down economy.
NACDL made a smart decision to make the economic angle the focus of their message, calling on states to reduce the penalties for minor offenses to fines and community service, enabling states to save money while also generating new revenue from the fines.
Connecting its issue to state policymakers' current concerns and leaning into the current news cycle on the economy netted NACDL coverage in The Associated Press and National Law Journal.
NACDL is not the only organization positioning their issue as a solution to economic challenges:
- In March, New Mexico passed a bill repealing the death penalty. Advocates focused on the fact that replacing the death penalty with life without parole would save $18,000 per case that could be channeled to the families of crime victims.
- Children's health advocates are urging states to maintain their children's health insurance programs to get the maximum in federal matching funds.
- And Catalog Choice is urging more companies to participate in its program as a way to cut costs during tough times by reducing the print run on its catalogs.
To determine whether this approach could work for you, consider potential economic angles. Can you point to a specific amount of money that will be saved - or generated - by your solution? Do you have a credible messenger who can speak to the financial impact of the problem? If so, you're on your way to a smart strategy for promoting a solution that makes cents.