When you’re a non-profit organization election years don’t have the same zing and excitement that they bring to political professionals and journalists. In fact it makes it even more challenging to keep communicating with people about the issues you’re dedicated to. Because of your tax status you can’t get on board and support or oppose candidates and you have to lawyer up and tread carefully in issue communications. The journalists and influencers you normally like to reach are obsessed with campaign minutiae and the latest gaffes.
The folks at e.politics have a great piece up discussing how you can prepare yourself to be effective during election cycles. But these tips really apply all year. One of the more important cultural changes that needs to occur is something they outline as “seizing the moment.”
Seizing the Moment
Okay, it worked! An issue we care about is blowing up in the press, and we’re ready to take full advantage. Time to pick up a big shotgun and blast your information out in all directions. Email reporters and bloggers behind the scenes, definitely, but also use your own channels — get your critical pieces out on Facebook and Twitter, for a start. Also think about publishing something on your blog right away with a title that connects the breaking story with your own information — now that Google is including just-published stories in its main search pages, a timely post can rocket to the top of the results. And don’t forget your supporters: use your social media channels and email list to ASK them to help spread the word. You never know who knows whom, and a link posted on a supporter’s page might just reach a blogger who’ll pick it up and run with it.
Finally, if you do catch the media wave and end up in stories across the country, do your best to capitalize on the attention. Your fact sheets DO link back to your website, right? And the site has prominent email and social media “follow” buttons on every page, plus a big “donate” button? If you have the public’s attention, don’t let it go to waste! Sign up every supporter you can, and connect with every reporter/blogger/tweeter/activist you can track down who’s talking about you. These moments don’t come along often, but they can transform your issue — and your organization. Seize that day!
Assuming you’re able to do all of the other work this piece outlines, this is an absolutely essential culture change. If you’re going to play this game that means you need to be tuned in to the Democratic and Republican debates (yes all of them) and be watching for your opportunity. It doesn’t matter if that happens at 9 on a Wednesday night or 10:30 on Sunday morning. Because when that key quote happens or that gaffe is made you’ve got maybe 1 news cycle (generally 24 hours) where it’s going to be relevant. If it’s something really big you’ll get play for a lot longer, but that’s rare.
In practice that means that you need to see that key moment in the debate, recognize this is what you’ve prepared for and then be ready to drop your life and go to work for a few hours. You need to write or tweak emails and press releases and get them sent out right away. You need to put posts out and start promoting them, planning to continue the following day as the rest of the world wakes up to the coverage. And you have to be gaming out how you can get maximum exposure for what you’re putting out there.
Then you need to be prepared for it to not work or get mediocre results. Just like the majors you’re going to be heading back to the bench more than you’ll be on base. The discipline is that you have to not let that get you down and instead focus on your metrics and asking yourself what you could improve next time. But sometimes it’s not about anything you did right or wrong, the issue doesn’t get traction.
When you do get a hit, you have to be prepared to milk it for all it’s worth. And that’s going to mean more work and a lot of improvising as you go along.
As an online organizer you’re not off work at 5 or 6 pm and on to family pursuits. The news cycle is 24/7 and you have to be prepared to jump into it when you see an opening.