Winning the Internet

No Jedi Mind Tricks Needed: Harnessing the Power of Narrative

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Spencer Olson

Spencer Olson

Marissa Luna

Marissa Luna

As we get ready for Netroots Nation 2015, we’re taking a closer look at some of the convention’s most exciting training sessions. We’re interviewing the trainers and taking you inside some of online activism’s most popular and elusive topics.

Today we’re interviewing Marissa Luna of Progress Michigan and Spencer Olson of Fuse Washington, who’ll be leading No Jedi Mind Tricks Needed: Harnessing the Power of Narrative.

NN15 Training Session

No Jedi Mind Tricks Needed: Harnessing the Power of Narrative
Progressives too often lead campaign messages with facts, policy abstractions or the problem itself, losing the public’s attention and failing to move anyone to action. The solution is to ground our campaign communications in the heroic stories of real people taking action to defend our shared values. We must begin engaging our base through storytelling if we want to change hearts and minds and increase civic participation. This training goes a couple steps beyond the “story of self, us, now” training that you may have received and explores how a collection of stories can create a lasting narrative and shape public opinions beyond one campaign.


Q: Tell us about yourselves and your experience with communications for campaigns.

Marissa: I got my start working as a New Media Specialist at Progress Michigan in 2013. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to train over 100 activists, volunteers, and leaders across the state. I’m currently leading the effort to develop Michigan’s first state-based progressive narrative, along with managing communications for a variety of coalitions working on issues including women’s equality, environmental protections and climate change, expanding access to voting rights, and the state budget.

Spencer: I’m the director of Washington state’s Communications Hub and Heroes’ Narrative program. My background in grassroots organizing, community engagement, and political communications, and I currently focus on developing and implementing story-based messaging for issue campaigns. I’ve developed narrative campaigns for issues ranging from minimum wage, to climate change and democracy reform.

Q: In your opinion, what is the biggest mistake people make when developing campaign messages? Why do you think organizations sometimes shy away from this?

A: One of the biggest mistakes people make when developing campaign messages is using messages to argue for a specific policy or candidate rather than crafting messages that identify the bigger story that engages a broad and inclusive base of supporters, including young people, communities of color, and single women. This is due to a long history of progressives running campaigns based on facts and policy figures. Most Americans agree with progressive policies, it’s just that we’re not telling a values-based story about them.


Q: What are the two most important things to keep in mind when creating campaign messages?

A: First, invest time in creating a campaign narrative prior to drafting any specific messages or talking points. When crafting messages always be asking yourself: Does this message serve a broader progressive narrative? And is this message based in values and are those values being clearly articulated? All campaign messages are opportunities to engage your audience in a bigger story that lasts beyond the specific goal of the campaign.

Second, get to know your campaign’s heroes and villains. The heroes are the stories you need to find and share with your audience, and are often representative of the target audiences you are aiming to reach. Every great hero needs a villain standing in the way of progress. Without a villain in a campaign’s story, the audience will likely believe the threat we face is simply the way things are, will not believe the story is true, or will pick their own villain, often government, unions, or those most vulnerable in your community.


Q: Why should folks attend your session at Netroots Nation?

A: We encourage everyone to attend this session because the only way that we can change hearts and minds and empower people to take action on our issues is by telling compelling stories. We’ve seen how the power of narrative is working in Michigan and Washington — through Michigan’s minimum wage campaign and Washington’s democracy reform, climate, and paid sick leave campaigns — and we want other states to begin telling stories to win.


To attend this training, or one of the 39 others at Netroots Nation 2015 in Phoenix, register now.

About Melissa Foley

Melissa is the Director of Training and Mentoring for Netroots Foundation and New Media Mentors. She aims to use her MBA + nonprofit background to teach organizations to use new media tools strategically.

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