5 Questions on the Future of Political Advocacy for Joe Fuld

Fuld is a veteran of political campaigns who serves as president of The Campaign Workshop in Washington, D.C.

joe fuldYou don’t have to be a political junkie to know that our federal government is stuck: observers expect a lot of grandstanding and very little legislating as we enter the next stage of what feels like “perpetual campaign mode.”

For this very reason, so-called “grassroots advocacy” is more important than ever; look no further than the continued march toward same-sex marriage rights.

Today we spoke to Joe Fuld — president of The Campaign Workshop, Inc., former Northeast Political Director for the Democratic National Committee, and admitted “policy wonk” — to learn more about what that means for politically-oriented comms professionals.

(The Campaign Workshop just released a new e-book, “The Complete Guide to Advocacy.“)

1. What’s the most important thing PR professionals need to know about the state of advocacy today?

Message matters.

Having a clearly defined message transcends time, and it’s relevant whether the campaign first ran 15 years ago or today. This is something folks need to work on.

Taglines can become a crutch, because sometimes we get focused on words that we like rather than emotions that connect with people. The key to success is trying to figure out the balance: “How is our effort going to stand out and create a real contrast with the folks on the other side?”

It’s about showing the difference between the opposition (which may or may not represent the status quo) and what you are going to do.

2. We recently discussed the decline in Facebook’s organic reach. How important are changes in the top social networks to advocacy campaigns and ROI?

Real relationships with real people can expand your reach in tech.

If you’re able to call on 15, 20, or 100 REAL activists to retweet, distribute posts, or send a real letter to a representative, that’s real value. No more faux connections via contacts.

The algorithmic changes happening at Facebook, et al are about a desire to see that sort of real connection.

The ROI of such efforts is now very clear, and you can track conversions, sign-ups, and “contact a legislator” actions in real-time. Frankly, the lists you build afterward now have greater value as well.

These technologies are changing the way legislation happens — especially on the state level, where he have more movement. But you’re correct in thinking that we can’t expect big changes on the federal level [at this time].

3. What’s the big takeaway from the book?

Messaging matters, but tactics also make a big difference.

Advocacy campaigns are not just two-week or two-months affairs now: they are long-term, day-in-day-out efforts.

These big issues aren’t going away anytime soon, so we’re taking what used to be tactics used in political campaigns and moving them to the advocacy side. There’s a real need to do long-term planning.

Advocacy used to be about “grass tops” work and lobbyists meeting with legislators, but now you need real activism behind the effort: this applies to everything from CPA (cost per action) campaigns and list-building to connecting with activists in different districts and developing long-term relationships.

4. What should upcoming communications professionals who are passionate about advocacy do to prepare?

Learning about the latest tactics is great, but getting involved and figuring out how to move causes on a small scale is most important.

I would suggest getting the boards of local organizations involved to make change happen in your community to start. It doesn’t have to be something “big”; it could be getting a four-way stop at your local corner.

All the pieces matter.

Reach out to local representatives independently if you want to make changes in your community. You can’t get that stop sign changed unless you visit your neighbors and get them to sign a petition.

The same model applies in getting a larger law changed: email and visit your legislators.

5. Could you give us some recent examples of successful advocacy campaigns?

Here are two examples of recent campaigns we like but didn’t work on:

1. The APSCA “No Pet Store Puppies” campaign:

2. The Food and Water Watch “Take Back the Tap” campaign [which encouraged consumers to buy fewer bottles of water].

The Campaign Workshop hosts its own advocacy case studies on its website.

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.