Opening up a public affairs campaign can help deliver greater impact but there can also be a fear of ‘letting go’. Whilst there will always be risks, there can also be significant benefits.
It is a cliché to suggest that modern communications and social media have returned power to the people. Certainly they offer greater opportunities for engagement but properly managed they also increase the options available to a public affairs campaign.
Not all organisations will think they have the option to consider opening up their campaigns. They may not, for instance, have a large number of employees. But they may have other networks that are prepared to work with them and share their concerns whether they be suppliers, contractors, or partner organisations. So the first step needs to be to think about the wider stakeholder network and sound them out about possible involvement.
If there are people prepared to help then what are some of your considerations?
- Setting the parameters – most of the audiences will need some help in knowing what they should say and who they should say it to. This is not about putting words in the mouth of people or ‘hiding’ a campaign behind the activity of others, but actually gives them some ideas about what they might want to do.
- Personally created content – one of the huge benefits of the technology that most people have access to is that they can create their own content. This can be more powerful than officially sanctioned materials and can come across as more genuine as well.
- A postbag issue – sometimes sheer weight of numbers really help. Old-fashioned letters can still be useful or organisations may look for a more social media-type approach. Whatever the method communication, politicians are increasing less likely to listen if they receive an ‘off the peg’, cut and paste style message. Flexibility and personality has to come across and that means not being controlling.
- The method – some of the options that could be considered, such as an e-petition, really do just need large numbers in a relatively short space of time. This not only shows momentum but acts as an encouragement to others. If that is an option you are considering then make sure you have large numbers of potential signatories in advance. There is nothing worse, and potentially counterproductive, than a damp squib of an e-petition.
- Opening up networks – working with your networks opens up the potential of working with their networks. The further away you go from ‘core supporters’ the less likely you are to know what is really going on and you certainly have less ability to guide them. But that is no bad thing. The ripples of the campaign can go much further.
- The opportunities for case studies – working with networks provides opportunities for the sort of information and materials needed to bring a campaign to life. That is what politicians really want to hear.
But if any of this is to work and deliver better impact, then you need to think about your own behaviour as well.
Communications channels need to be kept open with regular updates and information made available. You also need to be available to answer questions etc. So this is not about command and control. It needs to be about engagement if it is really to work.
The campaign should also consider how it makes best use all this activity to ram it home for maximum effect. There is no point having activity taking place if it is not leading anywhere.
Opening up campaigns offers real benefits. Democracy can be a good thing.