Define Advocacy - Definition, Tactics & Terms

by Joe Fuld (He/Him)

Define Advocacy, Magnifying Glass

The Tactics and Terms That Define Advocacy

Learn how we define advocacy. Advocacy, defined in the simplest terms, is about fighting for something you believe in. When we talk about advocacy, the issues and tactics may change, but the core is about supporting a cause or policy and working to create the change we want to see in the world.

Why do we need advocacy?
Issue advocacy is an opportunity to raise an issue or policy that can impact lives for the better on a larger scale. It’s not about pinning our hopes on an elected official who will be our champion (though having a champion or two in our corner helps), but about coming together and working to do something that leaves people better off.

What is the difference between how we define an advocacy campaign and a political campaign? The difference may sometimes seem murky, but it boils down to express advocacy vs. issue advocacy.

Express advocacy:  When you are asking people to vote for or against a candidate. Any time you see the words “vote for” or “vote against”, it should be a flag for you that you’re outside the realm of issue advocacy.

Issue advocacy: When you are talking about issues or a cause, with a call to action about engagement and connection, not about voting for or against someone.  

Defining advocacy tactics and terms: 
Creating an advocacy campaign can be complicated. There are many factors to consider, from budget and goals to timelines and tactics. Often, understanding the language of advocacy can become its own challenge. To help lighten the load, we've put together an advocacy glossary of terms that we think will be useful as you start to think through your advocacy work. 

A/B testing: This type of testing is one of the easiest things you can do to test the efficacy of your communications. In an A/B test, you divide a small treatment group into two segments and serve them two creatives with a specific difference (a common example of this would be to test two different subject lines to see which generates a better open rate). It’s important to be clear on the question you’re asking in advance of your test, and to make sure you’re really testing a single difference. Otherwise, it’s hard (if not impossible) to know which element elicited the difference in your results. If done well, A/B testing can provide actionable feedback to help fine-tune and better define your advocacy campaign.

Action alert: A action alert is usually an email that is sent to advocates to give updates on progress regarding legislation(s) dealing with a specific issue or cause. 

Advocate: A self-identified individual or an organizational-identified person who cares about a specific issue or cause.   

Advocacy canvass: Canvassing for advocacy can help achieve several different goals. By going door-to-door, your advocacy campaign can educate and engage community members, fundraise, get out the vote, etc. This is also a space that (time and budget permitting) can be of great use for a deep canvass program.

Banner ad: Banner ads are digital ads that are embedded into ad pages by a server. They’re ubiquitous and you probably see hundreds of them each day as you go about your daily digital activities. If you’re running paid ads for your advocacy program, you’re probably running some banners.

Content marketing: Content marketing is the process of making the words and terms you write work for your website. This means crafting content (blog entries are a great example) that drives organic traffic to and engagement on your site(s) through a careful keyword strategy. Increasing your site’s organic footprint will generally mean that more people see and learn about your organization’s point of view on an issue (why it’s important, who it impacts, etc.). It can also help to increase your authority on the matter. 

Control group experiment: Control group experiments are a type of communication testing in which you set a small portion of your universe aside and compare the difference between who got contacted and who did not. Scale matters for this type of experiment if you’re hoping to run an analysis that has statistical weight. If your program is constrained by budget (for example: you can’t send mail to as many people as you’d like to) the silver lining may be an opportunity to carve out a control group from your ideal universe and use it to learn for the future.

CPA campaign: CPA stands for cost per acquisition, also known as list building. A CPA campaign adds people to your list through a sign-up of some sort, and you pay for each new name that comes in the door. When it comes to advocacy, this type of program often involves asking someone to sign a petition. The cost per name varies depending on a variety of factors, but generally speaking, the tighter your targeting and timeline is, the higher the cost per name you’re likely to pay. CPA programs typically take some time to ramp up, so it’s important to plan ahead. It’s also important to realize that in order for a CPA campaign to serve as an investment in longer-term advocacy capacity, your organization should be prepared to run follow-up email programs designed to welcome and engage new supporters.

Geofencing: Geofencing means that an advertiser creates a virtual fence around an address and serves ads within that area. The retail market has frequently used geofencing to get people to purchase items or frequent a place of business. Within that context, it makes sense to create a geofence around your place of business and serve ads to people within this area offering a coupon or promoting a special sale. This technology also translates to the advocacy arena, allowing for incredibly specific targeting so that you can run ads around an event or location that makes sense for your campaign. Geofencing runs on mobile devices and is best deployed in places where a significant number of people will be congregating (state capitol buildings are a solid geofencing target). In places that are more sparsely populated, it can be difficult to build scale, especially if you’re running geofenced ads during a short timeframe.

Grasstops advocacy: Grasstops advocacy is when you focus your efforts on opinion leaders, or people who have connections in a community to reach out to elected officials. This could be business owners, non-profit leaders, high-level community leaders, donors to candidates, or other direct connections to elected officials. 

Grassroots: Grassroots advocacy is when you reach out to constituents and have them connect directly with their elected officials about an issue they care about. 

Issue identification: Issue identification is usually done through canvasing or phone calls, but can also be done by email, text or digital ads. Identifying where people stand on an issue can be a good tactic for defining potential advocates for long-term engagement.  

Issue modeling: Often you do not have the resources, time or ability to identify every voter in a community. Modeling based on similar individual characteristics allows you to find people who are like to care about a specific issue.  

Landing page: A landing page is a site you direct ad traffic to (or link to in emails) that has more information—and often an action—for anyone who clicks through. Landing pages can be standalone sites, or they can be subpages within your larger site. Any time you’re running an advocacy program with a specific goal (such as education, list-building or something else entirely), it’s important to direct people to a page that is directly tied to that goal. In other words, you don’t want people to click through and then go on a choose-your-own-adventure romp through your website (or more likely, immediately bounce). You want them to click through and instantly see the things they need to see in order to advance your advocacy goals.

List building: Usually created through digital or in-person data collection, list building, like issue id, allows you to identify and opt-in people who care about a specific issue or cause.  

Long-form canvasing: Having long conversations with individuals is a proven way to move people on issues, but it can take a long time and require a lot of resources. This is the same as a deep canvas program. 

Lobby day: These are days when supporters gather to advocate for an issue with key decision-makers.

Lobbyist: Lobbyists can be a good way to influence lawmakers. Although expensive, finding a lobbyist with close ties to a crucial legislator and an understanding of how an issue can move through the legislative process can make a big impact on how legislation moves. 

Message triangle: A message triangle is a template used to develop a clear message during an interview. The triangle includes a clear message or goal that you are going to highlight. It will also have key message points that will be used as evidence to support your goal. Finally, the triangle calls for transitions to avoid being caught off guard by a tricky question.

Message box: A message box is a way for you to distinguish your position from the alternate by highlighting the difference between the two viewpoints.

Native advertising: Native ads are a type of advertising that fits into the content of the media outlet where the ads are being placed. An example of this is when you are reading an article about the tech industry—let’s say on your favorite newspaper’s website—and you see another article below about IBM’s innovations in the tech world. That article about IBM is actually sponsored by IBM, making it a native advertisement. Native ads vary in quality, but typically come in at a higher price point than many other types of digital advertising. They also generally require a little more lead time than other types of ads, so plan ahead if you want to go this route.

Patch-through calls: These calls connect (or patch through) a constituent with their legislator or a relevant individual so that they can voice their opinion on a topic and take part in an advocacy effort.

Peer-to-peer texting: Peer-to-peer texting is when you text to an individual from an individual, usually with the help of software. This was ubiquitous over the last few years but has become less effective and more regulated over time.

SMS: Texting has become a hallmark of advocacy campaigns. Be certain you are using opt-in lists of advocates who have agreed to get texts from an organization. This is still effective for folks who want information from your group. 

Strategy chart: The Midwest Academy strategy chart is still a cornerstone of advocacy. It is a tool to define and develop your strategy and tactics for an advocacy campaign. 

Video ad: Video ads come in all sorts of units and can be run in a variety of different ways, from pre-roll to OTT to high-impact units. Typically, video ads are cut in :06, :15 and :30 lengths. Running digital video ads is a great way to provide a more nuanced way (though still short and sweet) to define an advocacy issue. Many people will watch this content with the sound off, so it’s important to incorporate text (and an SRT file) into the spot. Many video units are skippable after a certain point, so frontload your ask in the first :05 seconds. 

How do you define advocacy? Reach out with your favorite term or tactic.  Check out our Advocacy Training!