Principles of Advocacy – Why the ALS Robocall Campaign Rocked!

Guest Post By Tracy Schario, APR

Advocacy simply put is the organized effort to influence public perception, the policymaking process and/or the policymakers. Whether your advocacy communications are online, face-to-face or one to many, to be effective, you need two key elements:

  • a clear purpose or desired outcome and
  • the authenticity to communicate that purpose with power.

In today’s digital-centric mindset, it can be easy to lose sight of more traditional methods of advocacy. Townhall meetings, for example, are still one of the best strategies for community engagement. Tactics like fact sheets, blogs, data visualizations and video are essential tools for both offline and online distribution channels. And the media tour resulting in article placements delivers valuable third-party credibility. A well-timed op-ed by a key influencer helps too.

Constituents, however, will always be the most powerful messenger. And delivering that message personally is often the most effective form of communication. The recent budget battle in Washington offers a contemporary case study that underscores the effectiveness of advocacy when it’s clearly defined and articulated.

Steve Gleason is a former New Orleans Saints football player who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. He created the Gleason Initiative Foundation, also known as Team Gleason, to help individuals with neuromuscular diseases and injuries to access cutting edge technology and services to achieve the highest level of independence possible.

The recent federal budget debate threatened Medicare funding for speech generation technology. This technology allows individuals with ALS and other speech impairments to use eye-tracking tech to speak. Without it – and without the Medicare funding – those with ALS could lose their only means of communication and, along with it, their ability to work and contribute to society.

Team Gleason needed a voice and a medium to tell Congress why Medicare funding for speech generation technology is essential. Working with Ogilvy, Team Gleason took a page from the political handbook used by many in Congress – they decided to robocall legislators. You can read more and listen to the robocall at Adweek.

Team Gleason’s success using a tactic typically only employed by those they were calling was extremely successful. On February 9, President Trump signed the Steve Gleason Enduring Voices Act, part of the bipartisan budget bill. This strategic effort underscores the basic principles of effective advocacy – speak from the heart via the medium your target understands, and you will be heard.

There are hundreds of tools to help you with digital advocacy – Hootsuite, Canva, Care2, Nation Builder, Outbrain and Salsa to name a few. But the most sophistical tools won’t make you successful. They only facilitate your communications.

You must always define your purpose with authenticity and select the medium that will best persuade your target audience. With another showdown over the omnibus looming March 23 and debates over gun control, immigration and other policies, there are more opportunities to practice effective advocacy.

About the Author

Tracy Schario, APR, is a public affairs and media consultant based in Washington, DC, and teaches media relations and issues management at GWU and Trinity U Washington.