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Insight & Opinion

The DDC Advocacy Blog

A Public Lesson: Speak to Your Advocates’ Values

By: Shannon Manning, Associate Vice President, Advocate Engagement

The Public Affairs Council (PAC) recently posted a blog on the great expectations people hold for businesses. Sharing results from PAC’s new survey, the article discusses the widespread public wish for companies to demonstrate strong social values—serving as ethical actors, guardians of the environment, community service providers—and other benevolent roles. The public expects businesses to be about more than jobs and revenue; they expect them to play an active, positive role in society. We think this brings up some great parallel lessons for developing effective advocacy brands.

In order to have public (or at least target audience) appeal, advocacy brands also need to be about more than just the bottom line on policy issues and what’s good for the organization sponsoring the advocacy program. The program needs to have a larger, values-driven brand promise that gives participants something meaningful to work for and a bigger reason to participate than simply affecting a specific piece of legislation. Even ad hoc programs focused on a specific legislative or regulatory outcome need to tie their objective to the broader, underlying values that motivate advocates to care about that issue.

People connect to an advocacy program based on personal values, and once connected, they will take action on a range of legislative or regulatory issues—as long as those issues connect to the values that brought them to the program in the first place.

Here are a few key steps to help build your program effectively around relatable values:

1.)    First, know your target audiences’ values. In order to recruit and connect people to your program, you have to identify what their values are in the first place. Driven by market research, this insight should help define your messaging and ongoing communications strategy.

2.)    Focus on the program’s mutual benefit. Advocates receive real value for joining an advocacy program when they feel that participating in the program is a good use of their time. To that end, it is crucial to structure the program experience around the advocates’ values rather than the company’s or industry’s; ideally, the organization will find the points where the advocates’ values intersect with theirs and make those points the focus of the advocate experience.

3.)    Stick to your priorities. Once you’ve identified the values that matter most to your advocates and tied them to your program, stay consistent and abide by those values. It’s not enough to say you stand for something; that has to play out in how you run your program. As new issue campaigns arise, be careful not to contradict a value that you previously preached.

To give a good example of these steps in application, we recently helped a client build their program explicitly structured around this model. Based on the client’s research, we identified four core “value areas” that consumers indicated were most important to them when it came to the client’s industry and issues: building a stronger economy, supporting innovation and sustainability, ensuring fair access for all consumers, and creating greater security for the citizens of the states in which the client operates. As we built out a messaging platform and content for the program, we connected all of the legislative and regulatory issues to one or more of those four core values, and we framed the conversation about each issue based on those connections. Within the first two months, the program recruited more than 7,500 individuals to learn more and stay engaged in the program. Notably, fewer than 1% of these individuals were employees of the organization. The rest were members of the public representing the entire political spectrum.

Just as consumers are more loyal to brands that they believe truly stand for the social values that are important to them, advocates demonstrate deeper, longer-term loyalty to advocacy brands that they believe credibly represent what matters most to them when it comes to industries and their issues. Because loyal advocates ultimately deliver much greater value in return in terms of the impact they can have, taking the time to find out what motivates your target audiences, build your strategy around it, and stay true to that strategy is worth the investment.

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Engaging in Elections: Connecting Votes to Issues

By: Shannon Manning, Associate Vice President, Advocate Engagement

DDC Advocacy’s Tom Benjamin recently posted on our blog about the value of leveraging third-party advocates to help make issues a priority for candidates. Today’s post takes a step back to address how you can get your advocates to go from advocating in the policy process to advocating in the context of an election.

The November elections will be here in three short months, so if you haven’t started thinking about how to engage your advocates, now is definitely the time to start.

Many issue advocacy programs run into key challenges on this front:

  • Your advocate base may skew conservative or liberal, but you can’t be too openly partisan.
  • As Tom discussed, there’s little chance you’re going to get candidates to commit publicly to a position.
  • You need to maintain relationships on both sides of the aisle—and you don’t want to alienate portions of your advocate base—so you can’t publicly endorse specific candidates.
  • Your election efforts have to cut through the general barrage of ads, mail, phone calls, emails, social media, rallies, and yard signs that advocates will be facing.

Even though it’s challenging, engaging your advocates in the elections as advocates is a critical element of their development.  Voting is the most fundamental form of advocacy, and helping advocates connect their voting behavior to issues can not only enhance their election participation but make them better, more committed advocates overall. You’ll be empowering them to advocate at all stages of the political process.

Some Tips for Making Advocacy Program GOTV Efforts Successful

  • Start early—Engagement is all about momentum, and it’s better to introduce advocates to your GOTV effort a few months before the election so you can have a real conversation about it. Start early deploying messaging and information that will help your advocates think of themselves as issue voters.
  • Be clear about your objectives—We’ve found it’s better to confront the red flags rather than leaving advocates to suspect your motives. Emphasize that you want advocates to participate in the elections because election outcomes ultimately lead to policy outcomes. State up front that your organization is not endorsing specific candidates, supporting a particular party, or trying to manipulate how advocates vote.
  • Direct advocates to non-partisan resources that can help inform their vote—While you may not be able to focus on specific candidates, there are a number of resources that will help advocates understand where candidates really stand on issues: sites like and offer interactive tools that can give advocates new insights without telling them how to vote.
  • Help advocates see beyond partisan politics—Many advocates don’t realize that making their views known can be powerful regardless of which candidates they support. Beyond voting, they can be encouraged to send messages to candidates or submit letters to the editors of local papers encouraging all their candidates to support your issues.
  • Remind them of key deadlines and voting requirements so they’re prepared—It’s always a good idea to make participating in the elections easy, and events like on-site voter registration drives can be wonderful opportunities for raising the profile of your advocacy program. But you can accomplish a lot simply by keeping advocates informed of election deadlines, voter eligibility requirements, what to do if they’ve moved since the last election, and so on. DDC Advocacy offers turnkey GOTV tools for making this kind of information available, but there are a multitude of public and private resources available.
  • Give advocates specific things to do—This might take the form of an election checklist or toolkit, in which advocates can complete several simple tasks, such as: register or verify registration, find their polling place location, share a GOTV message on social media, volunteer at a local campaign office or post a sign in their yard, commit to learn about their candidates’ positions, and—most important—vote, whether they vote early or on Election Day. Breaking participation down in this way not only makes it more manageable but also gives advocates a goal to strive for beyond simply completing a ballot. There are also more advanced things you can ask your advocates to do during an election, such as ask questions about your issue at a candidate debate or town hall; the important thing is to calibrate your asks to fit the culture of your advocacy program.

Advocacy GOTV Efforts Matter

Voter behavior over the past three decades indicates many voters are simply feeling too disenfranchised or too apathetic even to show up at the polls. Since 1984, general election turnout in presidential election years has hovered between 50 and 60 percent, with a high of 61.6 percent of eligible voters in 2008 and a low of 51.7 percent in 1996. In midterm election years, turnout has remained at about 40 percent, with a high of 41.1 percent in 1994 and a low of 38.1 percent in 1984 and 1998.[1]

These trends are not new—turnout has been in the same ranges since the Great Depression. But in today’s advocacy culture your efforts to connect election engagement to issue advocacy can benefit not just you and your advocates but the democratic process as a whole.


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“How are we doing?” – Key Performance Indicators

By: Chad Giron, Vice President, Client Relations

It’s the one question that client relationship managers either dread hearing, or can’t wait to crow about. “So, how’s the campaign going?”

On modern campaigns (marketing, advertising, advocacy or otherwise), measurement is not optional. First, clients are savvy enough to demand it and, frankly, for the trust they’ve placed in you and the money they’ve spent, they deserve it. Secondly, analytics tools across digital properties, including site, mobile and social, are so baked-in and so good that the challenge for campaign managers today isn’t in extracting data; it’s in determining which key performance indicators (KPIs) to track in the first place.

Obviously, each campaign has unique goals and, therefore, unique indicators of performance. Some advocacy campaigns are purely about grassroots activations. What we’re talking about here is the digital world, not the hardcopy, bricks and mortar, flesh and blood one of grassroots campaigns. That said, I’ve quizzed some colleagues here at DDC Advocacy, and below are some KPIs that we think you should be tracking for your clients (or at least be prepared to speak intelligently about). The following is certainly not an exhaustive list, but some of the important KPIs that we regularly keep an eye on.

Facebook – ‘Share’-ing is Caring

Everybody likes ‘Likes’ (it must be the thumbs up icon), but Shares are a better indicator of content quality (and reach). Let’s face it, you’re creating content in the hopes that your message is seen by as many people as possible. How does that happen? They Share it.

A Share is like a ‘Like’ on steroids. It gives the content the implicit endorsement of the sharer (just like a ‘Like’ does), but the person has taken the next action step and actively spread the message to others. The ‘Share’ says, “You need to see this! I think it’s important!” rather than, “I agree.”

Emails – ‘Take Action’

Beware the ‘open rate,’ celebrate the ‘take action.’ Just as Facebook’s ‘Like’ is the minimum possible action of someone viewing your content, so is opening the email the least that the recipient can do. Yes, at least you know that they received your message, but did they do anything with it? Did they spread your message, and imply their endorsement by sharing it?

Your email almost certainly has a ‘take action’ button or link in it, or else why would you borrow your recipient’s precious time? These buttons are the primary drivers of donations, petition sign-ups, sending letters to Members of Congress and website visits. While the 2012 Obama campaign was interested in email headlines that effected open rates, I’m sure they thoroughly tested and agonized over every aspect of the ‘take action’ buttons which ultimately netted them $690 million dollars.

A former colleague of mine at analytics company Webtrends, John Boyle, (now with Expedia) wrote a great article about Presidential candidate donation form optimization for ClickZ back in 2012—which remains a good resource today. John examines landing page optimization, but the lessons about maximizing ‘take actions’ are relevant for emails and websites alike.

The Click-Through

What we’re talking about when we’re discussing the KPI above could also be broadly referred to as the ‘click-through rate’. But there are plenty of different flavors of the click-through depending on what you’re actually clicking on.

If you’re running paid display advertising online, click-through rates are very key indeed. They are the first level of your ad’s (and your message’s) effectiveness. While click-through rates can vary hugely based on the quality of creative, ad buying strategy, message, etc., it’s reasonable to shoot for an industry average click-through rate of about .08% to .10% on paid media (though this is absolutely not a guarantee to current or future clients of that figure).

When you’re talking about video ads, the KPIs are a little different. Here, cost per view and percentage of total ads served which are actually viewed are better indicators of performance. Whether video, banner, social or other, the click-through rate of the ad is still the reigning king of paid advertising KPIs because it is the most universal and most basic measurement of effectiveness.

Cost Per…

For advocacy campaigns, particularly on social media, you’re most likely trying to recruit a person to opt into receiving your messages and sign up as part of your coalition effort. On Facebook, these are most likely a ‘Like’ or a follower—and on Twitter, a follow or an ‘engagement’, like a re-tweet of your content. Therefore, when advertising on social, it’s important to track and manage the cost that it takes to acquire followers, ‘Likes’ and, pardon the pun, the like. Keeping an eye on the cost per ‘acquisition’ of these elements not only benefits your clients by being stewards of their investment and ad budgets, but also by having a powerful indicator of the effectiveness of your advertising and messaging.

The Ultimate KPIs

For me, as a client relationship manager, the ultimate key performance indicator is client satisfaction. And while, yes, that too is a KPI that can be tracked quantitatively through customer satisfaction surveys, I think the ultimate measures of satisfaction are qualitative. Are your clients happy? Would they recommend you to their friends and colleagues? Are they extending their contracts? Do they send you bottles of scotch during the holidays? (OK, that might be a very specific KPI.)

The road to client satisfaction is paved with data, and the KPIs are the highway signs along the way to prove to you, and your clients, that you’re on the right track.

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Jessica Kahanek Named as One of National Journal’s Image-Makers

The following article appeared in National Journal on June 12, 2014. Jessica Kahanek is DDC Advocacy’s deputy digital director.

When Jessica Kahanek was in high school, a teacher told her, “You’re too good at arguing for your own good.”

A decade later, the Waco, Texas, native has made a career of being heard in a crowded media landscape. Last month, the Democratic operative was named deputy digital director at DDC Advocacy, where she will specialize in big-data analytics and microtargeting tools.

“This opportunity really allows me to dive into the digital space,” she says. “We just don’t have access to the same cutting-edge tools on Capitol Hill.”

For Kahanek, who was most recently communications director for Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., the move will allow her to work alongside image-makers of every political stripe. “We have people that have worked for Obama and people that have worked for [the Charles] Koch [Foundation],” she says.

Kahanek got her first taste of politics at the age of 18, when she marched into the Waco office of then-Rep. Chet Edwards and offered to proofread the Texas Democrat’s campaign mailers. She attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where a summer program organized by Fox News’s Chad Pergram, a Miami alumnus, brought her to Washington for a three-week lecture series. Kahanek and her classmates met with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, CBS Correspondent Bob Schieffer, and a host of congressional staffers.

After interning for then-Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-La., Kahanek served as a staffer on what is now the House Education and the Workforce Committee, followed by a stint as a legislative correspondent for Rep. Gene Green, another Texas Democrat. Since 2011, Kahanek has served as Costa’s top communications aide, working with the five-term incumbent on such issues as the quinquennial farm bill, California water politics, and high-speed rail.

Kahanek, 28, runs marathons and Ragnar Relays. “That’s my sanity point,” she says, “and it’s a lot cheaper than therapy.”

She is engaged to Lewis Lowe, who was communications director for then-Rep. Bobby Bright, D-Ala., and now is a consultant for Strategies 360. “We met through the Blue Dog world,” Kahanek says. “There might not be many Blue Dogs left, but their staffers are still out there.”

Reflecting on her career, Kahanek adds, “Washington’s been good to me…. It’s given me the opportunity to do things that, growing up in Waco, I never dreamed of.”

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Making Your Issues a Priority in Election 2014

By: Tom Benjamin, Partner

How do you inject your issue without endorsing the candidate?

Companies and organizations looking for issue support during election years consistently face a conundrum; candidates will avoid officially committing to any policy stance until necessary, and directly endorsing them during a campaign cycle risks too much for a corporate brand. To bypass the direct endorsement game, organizations can find and engage impassioned advocates to serve as the face of their issue, ensuring their position is represented at various campaign events, while their brand remains protected.

Elected officials of all stripes are loath to ever officially commit to a policy position until they absolutely must. They are masters at the brush off, trained to make their constituents believe they have been heard on an issue—whatever the issue may be. Their staff is skilled at sending constituent response mail that states something along the lines of, “Thank you for your recent letter…we agree on the importance of this issue…so-and-so committee is examining the impact of this issue on everyday Americans…” The official has responded, acknowledged the communication, but not said if they agree or will do anything about it.

This elusive behavior is especially true in the throes of a campaign cycle, when any one candidate statement can offend a needed constituency for the election. What is a concerned constituent to do? Or what is a concerned company or organization to do? There may be legislation or regulatory action on the horizon that could dramatically affect how they conduct business and threaten their employees’ livelihoods. A rightfully concerned citizen would certainly want to engage during the campaign cycle to make sure their concerns are heard. But this is a risky proposition for a corporate brand.

Organizations and companies—for any number of legal, ethical and marketing reasons—must make every effort to stay away from direct endorsements during elections. They care about the candidates, but they care more about where the candidate might stand on a specific issue—the goal is to stay out of the direct endorsement game. How do you stay out of sight, out of mind while keeping your issue in sight and in mind?

The key is finding an organic balance: humanize or personalize the issue with third-party constituents who can become advocates for the organization and serve as the face of the issue—thus keeping the brand inoculated and free from endorsement concerns.

There are myriad ways to identify credible third-party advocates to serve as surrogate voices for your cause—from online recruitment advertising, to telephone outreach, to various industry stakeholder engagements. Once you have identified your advocates, provide them with the tools necessary to assert their voice in the electoral process.

Create an issue-specific website and/or develop ongoing communications to keep advocates abreast of upcoming opportunities to inject your issue into the campaign, such as at town hall events, campaign rallies, or by generating letters, emails and calls to candidates’ campaign offices. Create a presence for your issue advocates at as many different campaign locations and events as possible. Develop issue-specific collateral—t-shirts, bumper stickers, signage, etc.—to ensure your presence is felt.

Deploy these advocates frequently and help them to stay on message. Ask advocates to raise the issue with campaign staff and, where possible, with the targeted candidate(s) themselves. Take a holistic approach to your engagement activities to ensure your perspective is being heard.

The ultimate goal is to fill up the campaign “echo chamber” with so much organic constituent concern for the issue that the candidate is compelled to go on the record. And once they are on the record you have struck gold for your issue.

A candidate who has taken a formal position on your issue is much more likely to stay with that position, should they win elective office. And once in office, you can then begin the process of engaging that legislator in a campaign to ensure they fulfill their campaign promises.

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