Winning Advocacy Strategies for 2015 and Beyond

by Joe Fuld (He/Him)

Advocacy Strategies for 2015 and beyond

The Evolution of Advocacy Strategies

Advocacy strategies have changed a lot over the last 20 years. When I was a chief of staff in the New York State Legislature, I don't remember there ever being a real advocacy campaign around public support of an issue that focused on legislators. The main way groups moved legislation was to hire a lobbyist and that was really it. There were occasional print ads and lobby days, but day-to-day mass contact from constituents that were driven by member groups were few and far between. Today, we spend a lot of time running advocacy campaigns on the state level.  Issue advocacy tactics that were once only used on large, federal issues are now seen on smaller federal issues as well as state and municipal issues.

Advocacy strategies are now targeted to the district level, and focus on key state lawmakers. These campaigns use a combination of advocacy strategies and tactics including digital ads, patch through calls, direct mail, traditional lobby visits and much more. This is a major change from ten or even just five years ago.

The advocacy strategies we use today are also more sophisticated than ever before. In these campaigns, we use targeting and analytics to find folks who could be engaged on an issue. Targeting will continue to get even more sophisticated as models and technology get better. We can target folks who are likely action takers and define it by device.

Here is a list of advocacy strategies that we think will grow in 2015 and beyond:

Digital advocacy: Go beyond the desktop

Digital advocacy has come a long way since I first started using it in 2003. Email still plays an important role in fundraising and advocacy. And although email is not going away, it is no longer the only show in town. Mobile has become a great advocacy tool, whether it is old school texting or mobile geo-fencing. The flexibility and scalability of mobile technology makes it a great advocacy tool for the future. Look for more advocacy tools that engage users through smart phones and tablets in 2015.

Traditional lobbying:  Merging old and new advocacy tactics 

Traditional lobbying has been the same for a long time, but we are beginning to see changes in advocacy strategies by traditional lobbying firms.  More sophisticated tactics from lobbying firms include integrated campaigns that use the best of old school lobbying fused with new school targeting tactics, and advocacy technology. Look for this to continue to evolve and change in 2015 and beyond, although this movement has been slow in many places.

Grassroots advocacy: Bridging the engagement gap

Grassroots advocacy strategies are an effective and efficient way of expanding and engaging the universe of constituents who care about an issue. If you can get enough constituents to contact their lawmakers and stay active on a issue, the chances of success for your advocacy program will be increased greatly. Engagement, however, continues to be a major problem for advocacy campaigns. Look for many folks in the advocacy realm, including us, to continue to work on new ways to engage folks on issues in 2015.

Content marketing: Rethink the way of creating content for non-profits

Proactively answering questions is a great way to drive engagement. Search engines are not going away, yet there are fewer and fewer blogs and publications. Organizations that properly organize and approach their content can drive real traffic and make a real connection with potential members and donors. Look for content marketing to break out in the non-profit world in 2015, as it has with for-profit companies.

Native advertising: Finding supporters where they are

Across the web, content is still king, and that will remain the case for quite a while. However, with fewer publications making a real impact, the ones that do are getting a lot of engagement and readers. Some of these good publications are allowing organizations to buy long-form ads that really connect with constituents for the long term, known as native advertising. Just be careful, as in any up and coming medium, there are good and bad ways to do this. Make sure that native advertising works as part of an overall strategy. In 2015 and beyond, we will likely see native advertising become more and more common-place and some day may even compete with display advertising. Native may also yield greater connection and conversions for action.

Television and preroll for advocacy: Using video to engage

If you have video assets, preroll is a great way to engage with constituents online. As dish and cable increase the ability to target by individual, we can see it becoming a better value for legislative advocacy as well. That said, it is not clear if those innovations will be too late. When we look at the future, it may include a smaller dish and cable audience, and a viewership that is more reliant on preroll or ads within streaming services like Apple TV or Chromecast, platforms that have not to date integrated advertising. For those who are attached to cable, this transition is still years away, but we can undoubtedly see an incremental change, much in the same way folks have moved away from landline phones.

For advocacy strategies in 2015 and beyond, the real question is: when will video content be a means to drive users into action? Video is great for moving folks emotionally, but it does always not close the deal or get folks to take action. We are now seeing some shorter form videos and animated ads that are beginning to make inroads and engage people in a real way.

Advocacy spending: State and local advocacy will continue to grow

We have seen advocacy spending grow exponentially year after year. In 2015, we will continue to see growth as long as groups continue to see benefits.

State advocacy is where we have seen real, significant growth over the years. This growth is due to the lack of movement on the federal level and more power and funding coming from state budgets. Look for advocacy funding to continue to grow on the municipal and county levels. With funding levels continuing to increase, there are municipalities and counties with larger budgets than many states.

How your advocacy organization threads the needle of partisan politics on the state and local level is different than at the federal level, but not that different. Advocacy groups need to have friends on both sides of the aisle, and this goes beyond a paid lobbyist or operative.

Model legislation: Not just for conservatives

A lot has been said about ALEC, but they are not the only group pushing model legislation. There are dozens of groups pushing model legislation in an effort to move issues on the state level across multiple states. Look for this more on the municipal and county level in 2015 as well.

When it comes to winning advocacy strategies relationships still matter. Whatever the tactics are, relationships are the core of good advocacy strategies. You can have 1,000 calls from constituents, but the right call from someone influential to the legislator will have a better effect. This is nothing new, but what has changed is the length of these fights. They are protracted battles that can go on for years and you need to have organizational relationships that hold up over time. This type of engagement is different than what it used to look like in the recent past. It is long range and multi-year. This makes it hard to keep members and families focused on a legislative fight that lasts six years or longer, but that is what is happening on both the federal and state level.

Have any questions on advocacy strategies and the future of advocacy? Have any suggestions on advocacy strategies we should feature in future posts? Leave us a comment.