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Insight & Opinion

The DDC Advocacy Blog

Winning with Creative

How to create a winning public affairs TV and radio commercial campaign

By: Jim Scott Polsinelli, Vice President, Creative Director

DDC Advocacy has just returned from San Diego, our bags stuffed with four 2014 Pollie Awards. (We did have to check them, though.) Esquire Magazine dubbed the Pollies “the Oscars” of our industry—so you can imagine how ecstatic we were to bring home the gold.

While the whole process took considerable effort, it was collaborative every step of the way. From the client partnership to the initial sketches on the proverbial napkin, we were all committed to ensuring the client was positioned for success. Here are a few tenets that defined our approach and are crucial to any successful production:

Simplify
Our client’s message was layered with complexity and legalese. But the more we removed the layers of the onion, a simple truth emerged. If Las Vegas homeowners didn’t speak up, they could risk losing their homes. Voila. Now we had something to work with.

Create a metaphor
The beauty of the public affairs space is that, oftentimes, by pointing a finger at the opposition, you can easily illustrate your message. No matter the client or issue, you’re always fighting against someone or something. For us, it was predatory investors from California who wanted to uproot hard-working Nevada homeowners.

Find the best talent you can
We had this idea of a flock of vultures descending upon homes in Nevada. Not the easiest visual to execute against, mind you. Fortunately, we have an incredible animator who was able see our vision through, and—working with voice-over talent and a team of writers and producers—we were able to bring our idea to life in TV as well as radio.

It’s an iterative process
A former creative director of mine said that every step of the production is an opportunity to make the product better. That’s what is so exciting about creating something—bringing in different people with unique and essential skill sets (editors, voice-over announcers, videographers, producers, writers, animators, sound effects, music) to ensure you create a better product.

So while it’s nice to receive industry recognition for programs we create for our clients, it’s even better to know that when our clients hand us something, we hand them back a product that’s a little better than before. And in this instance, we’re also handing them a few Pollies, too.

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Supreme Court Strikes Down Limits on Aggregate Campaign Contributions

By: Peter Sherman, Senior Vice President, PAC Services

In a 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission held that placing limits on the aggregate amount individuals may contribute in connection with Federal elections is unconstitutional. This follows the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in which the Court held unconstitutional the law prohibiting corporations from using general treasury money to fund independent expenditures made in connection with Federal elections.

Federal law currently limits how much an individual may contribute to a particular committee. The law also places a limit on the aggregate amount an individual may contribute to federal candidates, party committees and PACs. For instance, under the law, individuals may not contribute more than $48,600 in the aggregate to candidate committees during a two-year election cycle and no more than $123,300 in the aggregate during the election cycle to all Federal political committees, including candidate committees. It is this aggregate limit that was the subject of the Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon.

In previous rulings, the Court has held that the right to participate in the political process, including making political contributions, is a right protected by the First Amendment—and as Chief Justice Roberts wrote in McCutcheon, the Court “has identified only one legitimate governmental interest for restricting campaign finances: preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption.” In McCutcheon, the Court held that “aggregate limits do not further the permissible governmental interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption or its appearance.” Finding that the government failed to show a correlation between imposing aggregate limits and preventing corruption, the Supreme Court held that limiting how much an individual may contribute in the aggregate violates the First Amendment.

McCutcheon does not affect the Federal limits on contributions to particular committees—i.e., $2,600 per election to a candidate committee—nor does the law change the maximum amount an individual may contribute to a PAC. It does free individuals who had contributed the maximum aggregate amount from having to choose between committees.

The question now is what will be the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision on state law. There are several states that impose aggregate limits, and those laws may not hold up in light of McCutcheon. It is likely that, unless these laws are changed by the state legislatures, lawsuits will be filed challenging them. DDC Advocacy will continue to track developments in these states to ensure our clients are up to date with their compliance requirements.

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Nothing is More Powerful than Personal

By: Chad Giron, Vice President, Client Relations

While I’ll admit that it’s always dicey to begin a blog post by quoting Joseph Stalin—even an apocryphal quote—here goes: “The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic.”

Accordingly, I would argue that providing health care for one needy person is a triumph; providing health care coverage for millions of people can be called Obamacare—the landmark law whose impact has, thus far, been just as anonymous and uncelebrated as any other statistic.

Recently in Slate.com, David Weigel wrote about the Obama administration’s failure—and the failure of Democrats in general—to source and tell compelling personal stories illustrating the ways in which individual Americans have benefitted from Obamacare. He cites the story of Arkansan Mary Francis Perkins, who, after years of denials, finally received much-needed care for Parkinson’s disease under the state’s ‘private option’ Medicaid expansion.

Weigel notes that Democrats’ use of Perkins’s story of much-needed aid and assistance under Obamacare is “an outlier.” While, conversely, Republican groups have “… found tremendous success with its sob-story ads.”

The failure to use personal anecdotes as a powerfully effective tool to shape public perception and sway public opinion is just the latest of the Obama administration’s many communications missteps surrounding the rollout of its signature legislation. I already wrote all about it on my personal blog.

Using individual stories to colorfully and memorably illustrate larger issues is one of the most effective communications tools available to any public relations, government relations or grassroots professional. It was a favorite rhetorical tactic of President Reagan, one which he famously put to use in his 1976 Presidential campaign.

Though President Reagan never actually used the words “welfare queen,” his description of the woman in Chicago— “… who used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent, deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year” —unforgettably illustrated his stance on entitlement reform and has endured to this day.

Why are personal anecdotes so effective? Because of a rhetorical device known as “anecdotal value” and a mental shortcut known as “availability heuristic.” People tend to place more value on stories that are intimate, personal, and detailed—stories that they can relate to. Put simply, they’re stickier (in the mind), and because they’re stickier, people can more readily recall these stories. The more readily these stories are recalled, the more likely they are to be believed or defaulted-to in terms of opinion formation.

Sourcing personal stories, however, can be part art and part science. Whether you’re collecting them via a sophisticated digital recruitment campaign or conducting door-to-door field work to log one-on-one conversation time, the real trick is to find a great person with the right set of circumstances who also possesses the gift of communication. No matter the story, no matter the medium, it will also take a great storyteller to truly influence hearts and minds.

And that ability can turn a statistic into a tragedy … or a triumph.

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Engaging on Health Care? Tackle Uncertainty.

By: Shannon Manning, Director of Communications Programs

Let’s start by stating the obvious: the Affordable Care Act’s implementation has been rough. The news is flooded with stories and speculation: 4 million voters saw their individual policies cancelled; the website rollout was a disaster; the Obama Administration has delayed implementation of some aspects of the law, which could prove beneficial or harmful; it’s unclear. According to recent CBO projections, 2 million fewer people will enroll than originally estimated for 2014.

The latest blow: the CBO estimates the ACA will shrink the full-time workforce by 2 million people as workers who remain eligible for health insurance without full-time jobs voluntarily reduce their hours or opt out of the workforce entirely. The Administration argues these are the choices the ACA was meant to give voters; Republican opponents say it incentivizes people to live off taxpayer-funded benefits.

Politically, health care will shape the midterm elections and beyond. In his State of the Union address, President Obama again invited Republicans to propose alternatives. Just a day earlier, Senators Tom Coburn, Richard Burr, and Orrin Hatch put forth the Patient CARE Act; a good comparison between their proposal and the ACA can be found here. While efforts to repeal the ACA seem to be dying, the process of “fixing” the law has only begun.

From an advocacy perspective, what this means for stakeholder audiences, writ large, is uncertainty:

  • The impacts for the business community are well-covered territory. The most recent focus of congressional scrutiny is how the ACA defines full-time employment: 30 hours per week rather than 40. For businesses, especially in sectors that predominantly employ workers on an hourly basis, that could impact business expansion, job creation, the stability of benefits, and labor relations. The employer mandate has been delayed, and much could change before implementation.
  • For the medical community, the Supreme Court decision allowing Medicare cuts to go forward without a corresponding expansion of Medicaid in some states means hospitals may see reimbursement levels drop precipitously. Doctors are struggling with similar reimbursement challenges, as well as increased reporting requirements. While doctors were opting out of Medicare and Medicaid prior to the ACA, the new law does seem to be accelerating the rate of opt-out. However, there are also those in the medical community who point to the positive impacts. It’s too early to tell how the ACA is going to change the medical landscape long-term.
  • Patients and families—A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that a majority of Americans believe Congress should fix problems in the law rather than repealing it. There are abundant anecdotal stories both pro and con about the impacts on individuals, and the only thing voters seem to know for certain is that they don’t know what health care will look like in a year or two.

What does this mean for advocacy? If you engage stakeholders in health care reform, you should take a solutions-oriented tack rather than an opposition-oriented one.

Voters are demoralized by a sense of having less control than before over their health care choices. Help your stakeholders navigate the issues simply and give them something to fight for—meaningful, incremental changes that will give them back a sense of empowerment. “Uncertain” may remain the biggest descriptor of health care reform for some time. Alleviating that uncertainty can help build trust and loyalty with your advocates and turn them into champions for the solutions you support.

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From Inside the White House: The State of the Twitter Union

By: Abigail Collazo, Digital Director

The State of the Union address has been delivered annually at the US Capitol since Woodrow Wilson’s Presidency. Last night, I had the opportunity to live-tweet the event from inside the White House, after which members of the Administration—including Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez—joined us for a White House Chat (#SOTUChat) about the President’s speech and his plans for the coming year. Twitter served not just as a source of information and discussion, but also debate, reflection, response, and most importantly, spin. Let’s take a look at some key data from last night’s event.

What played well?

On Twitter alone, there were 1.7 million tweets sent during the State of the Union. The top topics mentioned were minimum wage, immigration, gun control, military, and education. The top quoted moments on Twitter included:

1) “How the son of a single mom can be President of the greatest nation on Earth”

2) “Women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every $1 a man earns. That’s wrong.”

3) “On his 10th deployment, Cory was nearly killed by a massive road-side bomb in Afghanistan.”

Measured in tweets per minute, however, the President’s Mad Men joke about equal pay generated 33,555 tweets, beating out #2—a call to increase the minimum wage—by almost 4,000 tweets per minute. I suspect at least a few of those tweets were sent by Members of Congress, who collectively sent 750 tweets during the address.

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Geography

Regionally, Americans showed varying levels of engagement on Twitter during different parts of the speech. The section on immigration reform, for example, saw high tweeting in Arizona and Wyoming, while the President’s remarks about the potential of natural gas generated high volumes of discussion about energy in Oregon, Idaho, Iowa, and West Virginia. Idaho and South Carolina saw high volumes on Twitter while the President spoke about our engagements abroad and our role as a military power. Montanans were especially interested in the President’s remarks about expanding high speed broadband access to 20 million new students.

This evidence points to the fact that, while we know some general ideas will generate support across the aisle, different issues spark conversation and debate in varying degrees across a wide spectrum of locations in the US.

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Takeaways

So the data provides an interesting peak into the concerns of many Americans, but what does it mean for businesses, organizations, and issue advocates? The first is this—you must be on Twitter. The conversation is happening there whether you’re online or not, and if you’re not, you are most likely: a) missing an opportunity to communicate with millions of potentially new community members who are tweeting and do care about these issues; b) ceding the space to others, potentially the opposition; and c) neglecting to offer your advocates guidance or context to help promote your messaging and provide a “signal-boost” to your issues.

Of course, everyone will be supportive of stories like that of Army Ranger Sgt.1st Class Cory Remsburg, who, recovering from multiple life-threatening injuries while serving his 10th tour of duty, received one of the longest standing ovations in SOTU history. But where else is the message resonating? Does your organization or industry potentially have a lot of supporters in Oregon that you didn’t know about? Supporters who are actively interested in what their leaders have to say about issues impacting our lives, and who want to talk about it?

Twitter may have been full of spin last night from politicians and advocacy groups alike. But mixed in there were the genuine reactions and interests of the American people, and the first rule of advocacy is always to listen.

What do the people want? What do they care about? How does our work support that?

Once you know who the people are, what they want, and how they express their ideas, you can better target and then leverage them in support of the legislative issues and policy agendas that best align with your shared interests.

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