The email from my father this weekend started like this; Thomas, Can I bring your attention to The Times Cities for Cycling Campaign which is trying to make a real push to improve the cyclists lot and safety particularly in our cities but not exclusively. There are already some top people signed up to it (most UK cycling Olympic team members, Boris J and Ken L, Gabbi Logan, Jon Snow, James Cracknell)…..
It was in response to the biggest public policy campaign to launch last week didn’t come from an NGO or a pressure group but The Times newspaper, which launched the campaign on Thursday motivated by a tragic cycle accident that left one of its young reporters in a coma last year.
As a response, the papers campaign is calling on the adoption of an 8-point cycle safety plan in cities across the country. As I write the paper is suggesting that 17,000 people have supported the campaign, and over 600 have emailed there MP.
Now The Times isn’t the first newspaper to launch a campaign to change public policy, indeed seeing it reminded me of a conversation that I once had with a former Government PR Advisor who suggested that many of the campaigns that are launched are worked out with a certain level of collusion with the government beforehand, but it’s a good case study to look at.
To see what the newspaper has done well in the first few days of its campaign, and what it could improve on, but also the massive potential opportunities for the right campaigning partner to come alongside a newspaper on. So what are they doing well? They give profile to a previously overlooked issue – Now this is obvious, if you’ve got a daily readership of 400,000 people, plus excellent connections with credible spokespeople (see the use of many of our Olympic cycling medalists) it’s easy to give a huge amount of profile to the issue that has perhaps previously been overlooked, and that’s certainly true with the editorial coverage of this campaign. The website Road.cc has a nice breakdown of everything they’ve covered and the celebrities they’ve engaged. Direct access to decision makers – We shouldn’t underestimate just how good this access is. Read any of the diaries that came out from ministers in the previous Labour Government and you soon get a sense that they were in weekly (and perhaps daily) touch with the editors of the main newspapers. Add to that the fact that some of the advisors around key Ministers previously coming from the ‘fourth estate’ you can be sure that regular lobbying around some of the campaigns demands. I’m sure we’ll see articles in support of the campaign from leading political figures in the next few days. They accelerate the policy change cycle – Perhaps because of the demands of a daily paper, or as a result of the discussions that happen before a campaign is launched, previous newspaper campaigns have been able to move from launching the campaign to declaring victory within days rather than, giving a natural platform to announce the campaign success. I can’t see the Times campaign as being any different.
In this campaign they’ve moved an issue that rapidly up the agenda of decision makers, and I’m sure across the country this weekend there are elected Mayors and Council Leaders trying to work what they can do to implement these suggestions. It’ll be interesting to see when The Times announces its first campaign victories, my guess it’ll be within days rather than the months it can often take for traditional NGO campaigns. Engage new audience – Exhibit A for this would be my father, he’s a loyal Times reader and a regular cyclist, but he’s not a natural activist but so I can only guess that because the issue has come from a trusted source for him (his newspaper) its been able to engage him, and no doubt others in a way that other campaigning organisations can’t. But what aren’t they so good at? Taking supporters on a journey – Go to the website and the campaign offers a menu of three actions you can take to immediately support the campaign – Pledge Support, Spread the Word and Write to Your MP – but I’m not sure what will happen next to my Dad and the 17,000 others who’ve shown their support.
Will they hear more, or be encouraged to do more, or is their primary role to help provide the headline number? This is a space where a charity/campaigning partner working with the newspaper could play an important role, providing those readers who want to get involved in the campaign with tools and opportunities to do more. Generating actions – I can’t decide if I should be impressed by 17,000 actions or a little underwhelmed. It’s a decent number but given the amount of coverage, the readership of the newspaper and the heavy promotion that it’s got on twitter, where #cyclesafe has been trending for much of the week in the UK, it puts it somewhere mid-table when it comes to the number of actions that movements like 38 Degrees or organisations like Friends of the Earth can generate. Perhaps its simply shows the challenge of converting coverage into campaign actions. Seeing the issue to resolution – It’s too early to tell if this will be the case with the Times campaign, but given this isn’t the main business of a newspaper, it’ll be interesting to watch if the paper continues to monitor any commitments that are made to ensure they’re followed through on as opposed to simply being announced in response to the campaign. Do you agree? Should we be impressed by 17,000 actions? Does working with a newspaper provide a great opportunity for a campaigning organisation?
Two excellent examples of campaigns ‘thinking outside the box’ when it comes to who they’re targeting with their actions show that we don’t always have to go after the ‘usual suspects’.
First up is Greenpeace, who recently emailed supporters to ask them to support an action being organised by Liberate Tate campaign toward Tate boss, Nicholas Serota.
At first glance it might not appear an obvious choice, but as the email to supporters explains ‘BP is one oil giant whose logo is splashed all over galleries and exhibition halls like the Tate. By using its profits to sponsor the arts, BP hopes to cover up the horrendous damage it’s doing to the climate and the environment‘.
So it makes a great alternative target for their ongoing to highlight the influence of the oil industry. I’ve noticed this is an approach that Greenpeace employ regularly, another example is the campaign they ran towards VW earlier in the year, and its easy to see how focusing on targets like the Tate helps stop them always targeting the same small group of oil companies who are already likely to be resistant to campaign action but sensitive to changing perceptions of their brand.
Secondly, the Global Poverty Project, who used the occasion of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Pert, Australia as a target for their ‘End of Polio‘ campaign.
The CHOGM meeting, which happens every 2 years, is often rightly overlooked by campaigners, by the team at the Global Poverty Project appear to have capitalised on the increased scrutiny of the effectiveness of these meetings to score a great campaign win. Their success has shown that with the right campaign ask, can present an attractive ‘win’ for the host government which is keen to demonstrate the investment of time and money that goes into hosting the event actually got things done. For me three common themes unite these two actions; 1. An imagination – The Tate Gallery or the CHOGM conference might not feel like the places that changes are likely to happen, but with a little bit of imagination it is easy to see how they can become useful campaign targets.
They work because the organisations involved have clearly been prepared to spend time ‘thinking outside the box’ and no doubt investing a significant amount of staff time at really pushing into their routes to influence mapping. A good reminder of the importance of spending real-time in the process of campaign planning. 2. A clear overall campaign direction – The use of the Tate as a target works for Greenpeace, its not simply a case of appearing to pick on the Gallery because its part of a bigger campaign to highlight how ‘BP and other oil giants hope to gloss over their environmentally destructive activities, scrubbing clean BP’s public image’. I’m compelled to take the action because I can see how it contributes to a bigger campaign goal. For the GPP, success at the CHOGM meeting isn’t the end of the campaign, but a launch to call for further action from leaders to help eradicate the disease. 3. Being prepared to take the risk – Both campaigns could have failed. Leaders at CHOGM could have said they weren’t interested in pledging money, while the response from the Tate remains to be seen, but that hasn’t stopped the organisations behind the campaigns making the most of the opportunity. What other creative targets have you seen organisations focus their campaigns on?
Can you help me put together a list of the top 10 campaign films?
Here are a few more brilliant campaign/advocacy films from the last few months that I think could be worthy of inclusion in any list of ‘top advocacy films’. Do you agree? What else would you add?
These films supplement my suggestions in this post from last summer. Use the comments box below to make your nominations and the reason why. 1 – The new Robin Hood Tax film that you can star in….It’s a bit too long and the ask at the end isn’t clear, but because I really like the way it invites supporters to be part of the campaign. A campaign first?
2 – VW: The Dark Side. Cleverly made by Greenpeace and because it created a media story when LucasFilms demanded it was pulled from You Tube.
3 – The secret Clooney Commercial that shocked Nespresso… by SOLIDAR, its been making me smile ever since I first saw it and because the campaign targeting is genius.
4. The Girl Effect. Simple but effective.
I’d love to know what you would include? What would go in your list of top 10 campaign films?
Getting the ‘target’ and ‘ask’ right in your action is fundamentally important if you want to have a successful campaign, so here are some thoughts about what should go into a ‘good’ action.
It’s not often that cry out in frustration at a campaign action but I did this week when a colleague forwarded me this action from Stop the Traffik, a campaign which aims to bring an end to human trafficking worldwide.
Now I’ve tried to avoid highlight ‘bad’ campaigning on this blog, preferring to celebrate the creativity and ingenuity that’s been demonstrated by many campaigns, but I wanted to mention this one as an example of ‘not so good’ practice.
Why? Because I’m saddened that a campaign with such a great aim hasn’t done its homework to identify the most effective things to be asking an MP to do and had instead come up with a ‘shopping list’ that I fear will mean most will choose to ignore the action.
I’m not suggesting that every action that it written from now on needs to be the length of an essay. Indeed many of the actions that organisations like Avaaz and ONE ask me to support are often little more than a sentence or two long, but that’s in part because the web or email copy that accompanies it sets out a clear rationale for why I should be supporting the action and are supported by evidence of extensive policy expertise.
Now I know that many campaigns are run by a small staff teams who are juggling multiple priorities (and I’ve made suggestions before about how that shouldn’t hold you back and that lots of campaigners would love to help out) but getting the target and ask right in your action is fundamentally important if you want to have a successful campaign.
For me a good action should have the following components. 1 – Be specific – To a named individual not an ambiguous group like ‘world leaders’ or similar, this post from futuremediachange.com explains why its a bad idea. It needs to be targeted to the person who can make the change that you want to see happen. Sometimes this will be the Prime Minister or President but often it won’t be.. Indeed I’d argue that when campaigns make more use of different or unexpected target it has the potential to wield more influence than when it focuses on a ‘usual suspect’. 2 – Be achievable – Now by this I’m not saying that we should compromise our asks to make the politically palatable, if you want to ‘stop climate change’ or ‘put an end to world poverty’ continue to include that it your action.
But do ask what’s the one or two things that you want your target to do that will lead to the bigger goal. What’s the step or steps that they can take to achiever your ask? The challenge for the writer of the action is to help the person taking the action understand how achieving the immediate ‘ask’ will make the big goal move a step closer. 3 – Be informed – Linked to the above. Spend some time thinking about routes to influence on your target, who are the people that they really listen to and at the end of it don’t be afraid to change the person you’re focusing your action towards. Equally find out what your target can actually do and if you’ve got a menu of options then choose the one that your intelligence tells you will be most effective at this moment. 4 – Be measurable – How are you going to be able to know if you’ve achieved what you’re asking your target to do. Good asks should have something in them that can be measured to show if it’s been successful. It could be doing something by a date, or increasing support by a certain %, or including certain language in a piece of legislation. Include that and the report back to that took action when you’re successful.
At the end, I find that it’s help to ask, does my action pass the ‘Elevator Test’. It’s a simple rule taken from the world of marketing. Imagine that the person you’re targeting walks into a lift with you. Suddenly you find yourself with 15 seconds to make your ‘pitch’. Are you able to explain what you want them to do succinctly enough that when they walk out they’re able to turn to their advisor or aide and instruct them to do it. What tips do you have to ensure effective actions? NB – If you’re reading this from Stop the Traffik, please consider this constructive criticism, and get in touch as I’d be very happy to have a chat about how you could sharpen your asks.
The last few days have been fascinating for any watcher of UK politics, media or campaigning. Pages and pages have already been written about what’s happened with News of the World and BSkyB.
I’m certain more will come in the next few days and weeks, indeed the story seems to change by the day. But it looks to me as though three distinct campaign asks have been running in the last week;
For an advertising boycott of The News of the World (which helped to contribute to its closure).
For News Corporation (the parent company run by Rupert Murdoch) not to be able to continue with his takeover of BSkyB (which lead to it News Corporation withdrawing its offer)
For a public inquiry into the phone hacking.
Although they have separate aims lead by different organisations, at times it’s been hard to distinguish from the campaigns, as much of the messaging seems to be ‘Stop Murdoch’. For me at least 5 distinct groupings have emerged, from what I can tell their hasn’t been huge amounts of central coordination, although they’ve clearly fed off each other and sometimes shared campaign tools.
It’s interesting to reflect if any of these groups alone would have been able to achieve their campaign aims. Would, for example the demand to stop News Corporation take full control of BSkyB have happened without the campaign which lead to the boycott of The News of the World (NOTW) being successful? So who was involved? Twitter – Not the site itself, but a number of users who kicked off the idea last Monday about targeting the valuable advertising revenue that was central to the News of the World profitability. Their role has been well chronicled by Rory Cellan-Jones over at the BBC, but it’s also worth reading the account of Melissa Harrison who was one of those who instigated the idea of a boycott on Monday 4th July.
It was Harrison and others who developed online tool at http://www.pint.org.uk/notw.html(now taken down) which allowed users to generate a pre-prepared tweet which went something along the lines of ‘“Dear @TheCooperative, will you be reconsidering your advertising spend with #notw given that we now know they hacked Milly Dowler’s phone?”. I’m sure that the presence of this site really help to accelerate the number of tweets that were being sent. We Are Social have done a fascinating breakdown of tweets sent about NOTW last week and calculate that ‘on the 5th and 6th July, over 25% of conversations on Twitter mentioning NOTW keywords also mentioned one of the targeted brands‘. Brands such The Co-operative, Sky, WH Smith and Virgin Media all received over 10,000 tweets about the NOTW advertiser boycott. The Guardian also has a nice visualisation of the way that twitter has been used during the last week. Mumsnet – The site was one the first to promote the pre-prepared tweet tool on pint.org.uk, but was also one of the first to publicly reject money from Rupert Murdoch by ending a campaign that had been promoting Sky (another part of the Murdoch empire) after complaints from users of the site.
They were characterised by some as ‘comfortable middle-class mothers of MumsNet sitting down to their fair-trade tea and organic shortbread biscuits‘ but I think their involvement was critical early in the campaign providing momentum and evidence of an appetite for rejecting money from companies associated with Rupert Murdoch. Progressive bloggers – Collaborating together sites like Liberal Conspiracy and Political Scrapbook where quick off the mark in encouraging their readers to get involved in the campaign to potential advertisers that they should boycott (although the numbers directed to the pint.org.uk site are much lower that other sources), but perhaps more importantly they also had the capacity to run the definitive list of advertisers and if they were planning to boycott the paper or not, helping to fuel the media narrative that advertisers were deserting the paper. The press (especially the Guardian) – It was the work of Guardian journalist Nick Davies who brought the story to light, but beyond that it was others at the Guardian, like Roy Greenslade, who encouraged action by providing a list of what people could do on his blog. The Guardian website pushed almost 10,000 people to the pint.org.uk twitter action tool. Certainly the Guardian has lived up to its campaigning reputation this week. Hacked Off – The campaign for a public inquiry into phone hacking was only launched last Wednesday, but has quickly become the group that has been at the centre of mobilising high-profile individuals to get involved in the campaign. Many of those who have are individuals who have been directly affected, included Hugh Grant who appeared on Question Time and the parents of Milly Dowler, who met with Nick Clegg on Tuesday.
Supported by the Media Standards Trust, this is perhaps the closest group in the campaign so far that resembles a more traditional NGO approach to campaigning, with more focus on policy processes, media photo calls and meeting with government. 38 Degrees and Avaaz – The online campaigning movement 38 Degrees has been running a campaign for over a year to call for the proposed takeover of BSkyB to be sent to the Competition Commission.
As their campaign timeline shows they were well positions to make the most of the opportunity presented by the release of the revelations about Milly Dowler’s phone being hacked to invite people to join this broader campaign about corporate control of the media. It was so successful that the site crashed due to the volume of people trying to take action.
Both Avaaz, who ran a petition alongside 38 Degrees which got over 300,000 names to demand a public enquiry into the scandal and 38 Degrees were able to bring their campaigning tools to help individuals to send a message to individual MPs as well as representatives of the government.
Their huge e-mails lists (it’s estimated that 38 Degrees has over 750,000 people on its) built on the back of previous campaigns, helped to get the message out and sustaining it over the week, combined with some great ‘pop-up protests’ around Westminster. These groups certainly brought an element of strategic focus to the campaign. What other actors were involved? Was it just online tribes who closed The News of the World?
Greenpeace have launched a fantastic new campaign today (Tuesday) – ‘Volkswagen. The Dark Side’ targeting car manufacture VW to ‘turn away from the Dark Side and give our planet a chance’.
It’s been going less than 12 hours, but already they’ve had over 38,000 people send a message to VW bosses, over 10,000 likes on their Facebook page, #vwdarkside has been trending in London for much of the days and thousands have viewed their excellent video spoof of hugely popular VW Star Wars film.
Here are the five reasons why I think it’s been a fantastic campaign launch. 1 – An inspired location – Old Street has also been trending all day as well. Why? It was the location that Greenpeace chose to launch the campaign. No VW garage in sight just the home of Silicon Roundabout and undoubtably more tweeters than any part of London. Dot a few Stormtroopers around the place and you’ve got lots of digitally connected people talking about your campaign on twitter. 2 – A competitive edge – The campaign doesn’t simply want you to send a message to the VW CEO, it wants you to recruit more friends (or Jedi’s) to join the campaign. You’re given your own training page and the more friends who join, take action on your recommendation or view your special page the more points you get, which helps you unlock new characters from Star Wars. The element of competition is inspired, and has meant that its been passed on a huge number of times. 3 – A everyday brand – No doubt a multitude of other targets who could leverage the changes that Greenpeace would like to see, but VW are a globally recognisable brand and one who have tried to build a green image. Thus they make ideal targets. Moreover the launch is showing that the decisions that need to be made to stop climate change are, in part in the hands of companies like VW. The campaign also makes a direct pitch to those who drive VWs in the sign-up page, a really nice touch. 4 – A great message – This isn’t simply a ‘aren’t VW really horrible and nasty’ campaign, rather a campaign to persuade VW to play its part in helping to save the world. The language that the website uses it’s all about encouraging VW to stop ‘using its influence to prevent us getting the laws we need to protect our planet and boost our economy’. 5 – Everyone loves Star Wars – With over 40 million views, the original VW advert has been hugely popular so by basing a campaign on this Greenpeace is already tapping into popular culture. It’s also a huge amount of fun and its impressive how Greenpeace have carried the Star Wars theme through every element of the launch (for example their policy report is entitled ‘The Dark Side of Volkswagen’ and is introduced by R2D2!). What do you think? Are you as enthused about the campaign launch as I am? Have you seen it all before? Be the first to know about new posts by subscribing to the site using the box on the right, adding https://thoughtfulcampaigner.org/ to your RSS feed or following me on twitter (@mrtombaker)
Total number of actions received between May 1st 2010 and May 1st 2011: 142,636 Number of postcards: 76,221 Number of letters: 622 Number of petition signatures: 38,526 Number of emails: 27,267 Biggest campaign: Water Aid – Talk Taps & Toilets – G8 – 38,416 Breakdown by topic and organisation:
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View the spreadsheet in google docs here. Information taken from Freedom of Information request returned on 17 May 2011 and is presented as it was received from DFID.
More about the ‘Campaigns Total’ project here. Be first to get the information from other departments by subscribing to the site using the box on the right, adding https://thoughtfulcampaigner.org/ to your RSS feed or following me on twitter (@mrtombaker)
Total number of actions received between May 1st 2010 and May 1st 2011: 201,805 Number of postcards/letters: 92,310 Number of emails: 109,495 Biggest campaign:RSPB – Don’t cut the life from our countryside – 53,147 Breakdown by campaign:
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View the spreadsheet in google docs here. Information from Freedom of Information requested received on 10 May 2011, and is presented as received from DEFRA with one amendment (which was to link SustainWeb to the Jim’ll Fix It For Fish? campaign, the original information had this down as None). More about the ‘Campaigns Total’ project here. Be first to get the information from other departments by subscribing to the site using the box on the right, adding https://thoughtfulcampaigner.org/ to your RSS feed or following me on twitter (@mrtombaker)
For the last few years I’ve been using Freedom of Information to find out how many campaign actions different government departments receive each year.
I’ve found that its an excellent way of benchmarking the campaigns that I’ve been involved in against others and getting an indication of the volume of actions and issues different government departments are having to respond to.
This year, I’ve requested the information from all Whitehall departments covering the period 1st May 2010 to 1st May 2011. I’ll be publishing the responses as I get them starting with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
I’ve asked each department to provide the following;
The total number of campaign letters, postcards and emails that appeared to be part of a coordinated campaign you received from 1st May 2010 to 1st May 2011
The breakdown of these numbers by delivery method (letter, postcard and email).
A breakdown by topic and/or organisation(s) where you received more than 500 items of correspondence (through any delivery method) that appeared to be part of a coordinated campaign in the period defined above.
When I’ve got responses from all 20+ departments I plan to do some analysis which I hope will give a fascinating picture of campaigning to the UK government in the last 12 months. It’ll provide a league table of which campaigns have generated the most actions, what issues have captured the publics support and which are the most targeted departments.
Yesterday, the European Council adopted a regulation that will allow the ‘European Citizens Initiative’ to go ahead from early 2012.
A key part of the Lisbon Treaty, the initiative allows a group of citizen to bring legislative proposals to the European Commission, providing they can gain the support of a million other Europeans.
The documentation is suitably dense but in summary, I understand it as follows; The initiative allows any group of citizens the opportunity to directly approach the European Commission with a proposal for a legal act of the Union. To do this you need to get a million (verifiable) signatures within 12 months from at least 7 member states (and achieve thresholds in each of these countries). Then the initiative will then get considered by the Commission who may or may not act on it and provide you an opportunity for a Public Hearing at the European Parliament.
I have my doubts about the impact that this will have. It’s a nice idea but the opportunities that it really affords to influence or change EU law if you can collect 1 million signatures seem weak. I’ll leave it to readers of the blog to suggest if they think it’s an effective campaigning method or not.
A more detailed summary of the Regulation is below, although the Commission has committed to bring out more comprehensive and user-friendly guide on the citizens’ initiative shortly;
The initiative in theory affords citizens the same rights as members of the European Parliament and Council to submit proposals for legal acts of the Union.
Organisers need to get signatures (known as statements of support) from citizens in at least one-quarter of Member States – so 7 at present.
Plus achieve a minimum number from each of these states, which is equal to 750 signatures per MEP from the member state.
So you only need to get 4,500 Estonians to agree with you (by virtue of having 6 MEPs) but you’ll need 74,250 Germans to agree with you (because the country has 99 MEPs).
It needs to be organised by a ‘Citizens Committee’ comprised of individuals from at least 7 member states.
Text needs to be submitted in advance (in any official language) for approval by the Commission who will give this within 2 months.
The Commission will also run a website that will hold a register of all valid initiatives.
The Commission can reject it if they feel that the initiative does not propose a ‘legal act of the Union‘, is ‘manifestly abusive, frivolous or vexatious‘, or ‘is contrary to the values of the Union‘.
Citizens of Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Ireland, Netherlands, Slovakia, Finland and UK won’t need to provide a valid ID number as part of signing. Citizens of other states will.
The organisers of the initiative need to be transparent about any sources of funding they are receiving to promote the petition.
Statements of support (names on the petition) need to be collected within 12 months of the initiative being approved by the Commission.
Names can be collected on-line and the Commission will provide open-source software to facilitate this.
When the target has been reached, the names will need to be submitted to the relevant authority within the a Member State for the purpose of verification. This has to be completed within 3 months and comes at no cost to the organisers.
The initiative should then be submitted to the Commission accompanied by the relevant paperwork.
The Commission will receive the initiative, meeting with representatives of the initiative at a ‘appropriate level’ and will set out its political and legal conclusions within 3 months, including the action it will/won’t take.
After this has happened the organisers of the petition will have the opportunity to present the initiative to a public meeting, organised by the European Parliament, where a representative of the Commission will attend.
The idea will be reviewed every 3 years.
The rest of the document covers the way that the regulation will be implemented in Member States, some issues around data protection and also about delegation of powers.
So when might we see the first successful initiatives?
A year has been allowed for the Commission and Member States to prepare for it implementation so the first initiatives won’t be able to be submitted until March 2012 (and could take 2 months for approval, so May 2012). Then assuming it takes at least (and I reckon it’ll be much longer) 6 months to collect the required signatures (November 2012), another 3 months for Member States to verify the information (February 2013), then another 3 for the Commission to consider the initiative (May 2013), we could see the first Public Hearings happening in early Summer 2013.