Nice campaign tactic from Campaign Against Arms Trade
Stand up in Trafalgar Square
There has been a lot of publicity for the Antony Gormley “living sculpture” on the fourth (missing) plinth in Trafalgar Square . This is a great opportunity for an anti-arms trade campaigner to stand up beside the military “heroes” already there (even if only for an hour). Why not register online at http://www.oneandother.co.uk/ if you are chosen let us know so we can support you in your hour of glory.
If the hype is to be believed Ben Southall has ‘the best job in the world’. He’s the winner of a recent competition run by the Tourism Queensland to find a new caretaker for Hamilton Island off the coast of Australia. The Guardian points out that the publicity that the island has got also makes the competition a inspired PR stunt generating millions of pounds of publicity.
The competition has made it into a list of the top 50 PR stunts in the world , but a look at the list shows that you don’t need to have a big budget or be a global brand as a number of civil society campaigns also make the list including;
WWF’s Earth Hour – the annual event that sees millions of people around the world turn of non-essential lights for an hour.
The Peanut Protest – student Mark McGowan pushes a peanut with his nose to Downing Street to protest about student debt.
Fathers4Justice – with its headline grabbing if controversial stunts.
Evidence that a well thought out PR stunt delivered at the right moment can have as much impact as a million pound campaign from a well know brand.
The Observer today has an inspiring interview with Jenni Williams of the leaders of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), a campaign group which has been doing amazing things in Zimbabwe.
It’s a humbling read and a reminder of how fortunate we are to be able to have the right to free expression in the UK.
It has long been believed that getting an MP to write to minister is a more effective than sending postcards directly to a government department. Why? Because protocol dictates that a letter from an MPs requires a ministerial response, but how many items of correspondence are government departments getting?
This ministerial statement from last month gives details of the number of ministerial correspondence (letters from MPs and Lords) each department receives in 2008. The top 10 departments and agencies are;
1. UK Border Agency – 51,905
2. Department of Health – 20,242
3. Department for Children, Schools and Families – 15,810
4. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – 14526
5. HM Treasury – 14,057
6. Foreign and Commonwealth Office – 10,334
7. Department for Communities and Local Government – 10,227
8. Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform – 9,875
9. Department for Transport – 8,393
10. Child Support Agency – 7,313
A couple of others to note included DECC which received over 2,500 letters in the few months after it was created, and DFID which recieved 3,100.
Many of the letters recieved by agencies (like the UK Border Agency where a large number of the enquiries will be individual imigration and asylum requests) from MPs won’t ever be seen by a minister so will have little or no political impact.
Taking out agencies the average government department receives just under 7,000 letters per year. When you divide that between 4 ministers (an average number of ministers per department based on a quick look at this Cabinet Office list) it means that each minister is dealing with about 34 letters each week but many will be signing many more.
This is a useful briefing for civil servants about how to draft responses to ministerial correspondence.
John Stewart spoke at the latest CASS Business School Charity Talk event. In a talk entitled ‘Campaigning with Effectiveness and Flair‘.
John is Chief Exec of HACAN, the largest voluntary organisation dedicated to those campaigning on behalf of those affected by aircraft flight paths, and chair of Airport Watch, a broader coalition of organisations campaigning against the issue of airport expansion.
In his talk he unpacked some of the reasons why the campaign was so successful at dominating the discussions and debates around the building of a 3rd runway. I’ve written before about the Heathrow campaign and some of the reasons I think were elements of its success but Stewart provided a first hand account from the inside. The KnowHow NonProfit website, which is linked to CASS Business School, has some excellent resources from the evening (which also includes Brian Lamb’s presentation which I’ll blog about later in the week).
Stewart drew out three main lessons from the campaign and argued that these were also based on things that they’d learnt from previous defeats that HACAN had experienced over Terminals 4 and 5. A good reminder to always learn from campaigns that don’t succeed!
Bring together the widest possible coalition
In previous campaigns, HACAN had drawn together a small number of residents groups and local authorities around Heathrow but the 3rd runway campaign managed to build a much bigger coalition not just of the usual suspects but a much bigger range of organisations, such an environmental groups, direct action groups alongside MPs, local authorities and residents groups.
Stewart said that this strengthened the campaign enormously, but also introduced new issues (climate change wasn’t a central part of the previous campaigns which had focused more on quality of life issues). Stewart shared the tactics that the coalition had used to keep together what must have been a disparate group of people, including regular face-to-face meetings, which meant that people got to know each other on a personal basis.
You have to admire the campaign for managing to bring together local Conservative councillors to direct action activists from Plane Stupid, but Stewart argued that united around a common aim to stop a 3rd runway was the strength of the coalition. The range of tactics meaning that it made it much difficult for authorities to know how to respond because their tactics couldn’t simply be put into a box or be predicted.
Don’t dodge the economic arguments
The campaign realised from its previous defeats that it had to engage with the central issue and argument that the government was using to justify building the runway, that the UK economy needed it. In previous campaigns, Stewart implied they’d focus on quality of life arguments that although important to those involved in the campaign didn’t resonate with decision makers who could suggest that these were the arguments of NIMBYs.
Stewart shared how they commissioned independent research on the economic argument, which was undertaken by an independent and respected consultancy firm which the EU also used, so it couldn’t be immediately dismissed by government as a being written by a pro-environment consultant. The campaign found that this report was vital in helping to counter the central arguments of the government, and convincing the opposition parties to get involved . A good lesson to remember the importance of independent research in supporting your campaign asks.
Engage in pro-active campaigning
Early on the campaign realised its tactics couldn’t simply be limited to working through the official structures that the process would provide, like official enquiries which was its previous approach. Stewart argued that if these processes were effective at changing things they’d soon change the structures, perhaps a slightly cynical approach but the argument that they don’t favour community campaigns who have little of experience of making quasi-legal arguments is a good one.
Instead the campaign focused their campaigning on what communities are good at doing, talking to each other, and mobilising around more traditional tactics like marches and rallies. This was successfully combined with more traditional lobbying using a cross-party group of MPs, and excellent cheap media activities, like flash-mobs at the opening of terminal 5.
At the end of the presentation, Stewart spoke about how the campaign had worked with direct action groups. He argued that they’d been good for the campaign, and an important part of the campaign mix. While the campaign didn’t want everyone taking direct action, they helped to prevent the campaign from easily being boxed by the government. Listening to Stewart talk about the role of groups like Plane Stupid in the campaign, its clear they have a central role, and its fascinating to see how these groups co-existed and even shared platforms with those with much more conservative approaches to policy change.
Justin Roswlatt, BBC’s Newsnights ‘Ethical Man’ had an excellent piece on last nights programme about the new approach that the Obama administration is taking to win over environmental activists.
It’s fascintating to see how the administration is reaching out to these radical students to get them to be ambassadors in their communities. One can only imagine how excited the activists must feel after spending so many years in the wilderness under the Bush presidency.
The slot started with an interview with Ed Miliband, the UK Climate Change minister discussing the way that the police have been violating the rights of UK activists in the last few weeks (although some would argue that it shows that the movement is making an impact because it’s attracting attention).
Miliband once against affirmed the right to protest at being at the heart of our democratic rights and talked about the importance of creating a ‘Make Poverty History’ like movement on the issue. It might be needed but the movement won’t grow if the supporters of organisations like Christian Aid get hastled by the police at campaign events.
I’ve be reading the very enjoyable diaries of Chris Mullin MP over the Easter weekend, entitled ‘A View from the Foothills‘ they’re a great look at life somewhere down the ministerial pecking order.
Mullin was a junior minister at the Department for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR), DFiD and the Foreign Office. It’d be fair to say that Mullin isn’t a great advocate of the lower rungs of ministerial responsibility, but reading the book provides some useful insights into what the work of junior minister is like. Something of tremendous use given that much of the engagement campaigners and lobbyist often have is with junior ministers.
A few key lessons stand out;
1. Junior ministers aren’t often particularly interested in the brief they have. Mullin, who before becoming a minister was a influential chair of the Home Affairs Select committee, implies he knew next to nothing about the environment when he started in that job, and kept up simply from reading the briefs provided to him.
So we shouldn’t be surprised when they’re not especially interested, Mullin seems to infer at times that the best issues to deal with are the ones that are trouble free, uncontroversial and mean that they won’t cause any embarrassment. Some lobby for the post they really want but most don’t get it.
2. Ministers sign lots of letters. Mullin talks about spending hours at the office often late at night signing letters from MPs. Few get mentioned, although he does despair when thanks to a Friends of the Earth campaign he has to sign over 500 letter. A good way to make a point, but perhaps a quick way to loose good will?
3. They spend lots of time giving speeches – part of the life of a junior minister is to go out and about around the country and give speeches to organisations which have some link. Mullin suggests most aren’t very well written and he was often embarrassed to deliver them. So the next time you hold an event and the minister doesn’t give the barnstorming speech you expect after watching too much West Wing, it probably isn’t their fault.
4. They don’t have huge amounts of access to the Secretary of State or the PM. This obviously depends on the department they’re posted to (so access seems to be better at the Foreign Office under Jack Straw than at DETR under John Prescott) but most seem only to have access to the Secretary of State at weekly departmental meeting and occasional rushed conversations here and there. Generally Mullin doesn’t give the impression that they get to set a departments agenda, this comes from the Secretary of State (or often even higher up government).
5. They are advised to pick a few issues to change policy on – Mullin while at the environment and region chose try to deal with leylandii hedges, rent paid to absent landlords and getting away without a ministerial car. All valuable but hardly groundbreaking, and even then it was hard work navigating between special interests, civil servants and government priorities to make progress.
6. So much of politics is informal – from the diaries you get the impression that many decisions are made through quiet conversations in tea rooms, chats in the lobby, a call to a friend who is a friend with another minister or a written note slipped into a box.
7. MPs spend lots of time on the train! Mullin is often talking about catching the 20.00 back to Sunderland and bumping into this or that MP. I think my next campaign strategy is going to map the MPs my target might catch the train home with!
Campaigners often have press officers and media teams to deal with enquiries from journalists, but that shouldn’t be used as an excuse for not learning more about what a journalist is looking for, or what might make a good story.
This top tips paper from nfp Synergy which is full of quotes from its Charity Media Monitor is full of useful advise which has come directly from journalists from the major newspapers and broadcasters.
10 top tips for charities from journalists
Tip 1: Case studies, case studies, case studies
Tip 2: Don’t just target the newsdesk – dig deeper
Tip 3: ‘No comment’ doesn’t mean ‘no story’
Tip 4: Be available, prepared and professional
Tip 5: Think globally, act locally – use local media
Tip 6: Build relationships – meet people face to face
Tip 7: Think carefully about your subject lines
Tip 8: Email your press releases – but phone with your exclusives
Tip 9: Know your targeted media inside out
Tip 10: Find out the other side of the story: media training and more
To get more like this, I’d recommend you sign up for their free monthly e-newsletter which is often full of useful information and tips.
Age of Stupid is a new documentary film about climate change that went on general release this week.
The film was crowd-funded by over 200 people and stars Pete Postlethwaite as a man who ask ‘why didn’t we stop climate change when there was still time?’. At the heart of the film is a call to action and the aim to launch a campaign to reach and mobilise a a movement of people who want to see more action taken on climate change and urgently.
I saw the film last night, and as I entered I was handed a pack of campaigning information and the hope must have been that I’d be so inspired at the end that I’d walk out ready to take action, but was I?
While it was interesting film, I’m not sure it has the cross over appeal that Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth. To much of the film felt like it was preaching to the existing climate change activists, rather than trying to reach out to new people who need to be convinced that we must do more than simply switch to energy saving bulbs.
Parts of the film felt unnecessary, containing material which runs the risk of alienating the very people that need to be won over. I’m not sure for example how the section on the Iraq War and the quest for Oil adds to the argument (especially now we have Obama in power) or the constant American bashing (which might play well to a leftish UK audience but I don’t think is going down with the proud middle American) help.
The film has a number of nice stories about the impact of climate change, my particular favourite is the French mountain guide, but it didn’t have a clear call to action within the film itself, leaving that to some titles in the end credits, which half of those watching my screening missed because they had already left. In the end I walked out of the film feeling dis empowered, that the issue was so big what could I ever do to stop climate change.
The materials in the campaign pack are clever and linked to a campaign which is being branded ‘Not Stupid’, the pack has some Stupid certificates which your asked to send to those who have are doing something to increase the likelihood of climate change, and some Not Stupid certificates to send to those who have done the opposite. Plus a Local Action Plan, which is a concise summary of what is happening locally, or it should be but I’ve got a plan for Edinburgh rather than South London.
It remains to be seen if the film helps to build a movement of new people to add their voice . Its interesting to see the way the film has been embraced by the UK government. I hope I’m wrong and thousands of new people watch it and start to take action, but somehow I don’t think I will be.
Should campaigners be concerned at the rapid death of local newspapers?
As the Guardian reported on Monday many titles are looking to make significant cuts as sales of their publications fall and advertising starts to dry up. While most of the big regional titles don’t appear to be at risk of closing in the near future, they’re facing a bleak future.
Living in London its easy to overlook the importance and reach of many of the regional papers, some like the Yorkshire Post, Eastern Daily Mail, Manchester Evening News and the Kent Messenger have impressive circulation figures. While weekly titles and the free papers that are delivered through letter boxes are read by millions more. While campaigns are often disappointed when they register little or no national media coverage, acres of local and regional coverage could reach as many people.
Local papers are also trusted source of news and information. I’ve heard of surveys that indicate that the letters page of a local paper is the most trusted section of any paper, because they are seen to speak for a community in the way other news sources can’t. Moreover for many MPs local papers provide an important way of communicating with constituents, as well as acting as a barometer for local opinion. MPs might not have time to read all the national papers, but you can be sure that their likely to at least browse the pages of their local paper, which means they’re vital places to be trying to place our campaign messages.
So we should be concerned about the potential death of local newspapers. In the short-term, a reduction in the number of journalists might even be good news for campaigns, as those who remain will increasingly be looking for the easy win that lightly rewriting a campaign press release provides.
Over time some will evolve looking to place more of the emphasis on digital media, but the decline of the local paper from our newsagents shelves means the death of powerful tool in our campaigning toolkit.
UPDATED – This article from Labour List argues losinig local papers means a loss of local democracy