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.
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.
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.
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
Using supporters to engage and influence MPs remains the core work of many campaigning organisations, and many organisations have chosen to make this easy for supporters by investing in software such as Advocacy Online, but what do we know about how MPs use technology and respond to eCampaigning. Two reports might help.
How MPs use digital media.
The Hansard Society has recently released ‘MPs Online – Connecting with Constituents‘ which explores how MPs use digital media to communicate with constituents. The finding are useful for campaigners, as it gives an insight into what MPs are themselves doing, and provides ideas about how organisations can increase their digital engagement with MPs.
The report finds that almost all MPs are using email, most have personal or party run websites but the numbers using other forms of electronic communications is smaller. Social networking, blogs, twitter and texting is used by less that 20% of MPs. The overall picture seems to be that MPs, much like many campaigning organisations, have started to adopt digital media as a way of communicating out to constituents, but less have been able to make a leap into using using web 2.0 tools which might help to ensure a more meaningful conversations with constituents.
Their are some interesting differences dependent on party membership (Lib Dems are the positive about digital media, Conservative the least) and age (younger MPs are more likely to use it, so as older MPs stand down we’re likely to see a bigger take up of digital media ), but little difference dependent on marginality of seat. The report suggests that their is potential for greater engagment and closer ties in the future.
MPs also make useful observations saying that email has been great for them to communicate with constituents but the immediancy of the tool means that people often assume that they’ll be able to engage in a ongoing discussion that MPs simply don’t have time for, indicating that their office staff often struggle to cope with the volume of emails recieved (an increase which hasn’t been accompanied by a fall in the number of letters) , and the challenge of identifying if the correspondent is from their constituency.
Attitudes towards eCampaigning
In 2006, Duane Raymond at Fairsay was comissioned to carry out some reasearch about MPs attitudes to eCampaigning, the whole report can be read here.
Although its a few years old, the findings from the Hansard Society would indicate that many of the key learning probablly still remain true. The main findings of the report is that every MPs is very different in how they respond to and engage with eCampaigning, but that most organisations still offer their campaigners a one-size fits all approach to commnications.
This means they’re not having the biggest impact they could and the findings encourage organisations to be much more savy at how they segment their communications to MPs, for example by segmenting the message that they ask supporters to send. Many MPs report that quality is as important than quantity when it comes to messages.
Another finding that stands out is the need to show that MPs that the person contacting them is actually from their consituency. The internet may have in many ways removed geographical barriers, but they are still of considerable importance to MPs.
For me both reports indicate that it makes sense to have an online campaigning presence, but also reinforces that this shouldn’t simply replace more traditional low tech campaigingng method but should work in tandem.
Organisations should remember that n individually composed letter (or email) is better than an automated one – many organisatiosn know this, but perhaps more needs to be done to encourage people to spend the extra 5 minutes to write it.
Individual constituency level activists will always have a value, the MPs indicate that those people who have the time to write a hand written or visit an MP are ‘worth their weight in gold’. Organisations should do all they can to encourage, support and inspire these people.
Joe Rospars, the new media director of the Obama Presidential campaign spoke at the excellent Labour 2.0 conference last weekend.
He had three lessons for progressives looking to organize on the web.
Build real relationships through content – The web is about getting your message. It’s not just about raising the candidates profile, it’s about showing people what the candidate stands for – he pointed out that not all the videos and content included Obama, much of it was about the message of Hope and Change.
He also cautioned against simply using a website as another channel for press releases and TV ads. He highlighted that for the Obama campaign written contents was really important. They invested heavily in recruiting people to write for the blog and used it as a space for storytelling the experiences of people linked to the campaign, or who had been inspired for the first time
Put people to work – This was a campaign about inspiring people online to do something off line. The campaign used the web to get people to do the traditional campaigning. They incorporated traditional organising tools into the website, a new approach to an old problem. Obama was originally a community organiser.
For example the web contained details for the phone bank where people could call undecided voters, allowed people to organize (and promote)local events, many of which formal Obama campaign staff had nothing to do with, or use it as a way cheaply distributing resources to field staff. The web was able to lower the barriers to entry for these activities, including many people who hadn’t been involved before.
It wasn’t about the money – The web was about raising money in ways that hadn’t been done before, and using new ways to do this. For example the ‘Dinner with Barack’ fund raising drive, which allowed all those who gave $10 or more to the campaign the opportunity to have dinner with Obama.
More from the conference to come over the next few weeks.
Liberty, the civil liberties organisation is 75 this week, set up to champion the rights of ordinary people and hold the powerful to account, it has a long history of doing just that. In recent years, the organisation has never been far away from the headlines, as we’ve seen an erosion of our rights on issues like ID cards and 42 day detention but why has it been such a successful organisation, and what could others learn in order to make it to their 75 birthday?
Ensure you have a media friendly director. In Shami Chakrabarti they have a director who is articulate and a media savvy spokeswomen. Shami isn’t afraid to be explosive in her comments (see recent Question Time response to Geoff Hoon) but also has an ability to explain often complex legal arguments in media friendly terms. The organisation has been ruthless about using her for everything public facing, few would be able to name the number 2 at Liberty but it’s a strategy that works as they’ve created a virtuous circle of being the organisation the media call when they want a comment on anything to do with civil liberties.
Build alliances that work not simply build alliances with those you know. Liberty are prepared to take difficult positions which can lead to criticism from some in politics and the media (for example when David Davis resigned as Shadow Home Secretary, which lead to criticisms from Labour ministers that they we’re to close to the Conservatives). But Liberty appear to ignore this, when others would stand back and instead they build alliances that give them traction on issues, and sometime begin to work with those who have previously criticised them. They’ve learnt not to let previous differences get in the way if it’ll further their aims.
Be strategic in what you do. Liberty is an organisation that employs 23 staff, and must have a smallish budget for its work (I couldn’t find the exact figures on the website), so it can’t follow every debate it’d like to be involved in, instead it has chosen a few to focus its capacity and money on, and has had a big impact on the policy debates surrounding those issues.