Grassroots advocates are involved with raising the level of awareness about certain causes and issues at various societal levels, including at the public, local, provincial/state, or federal levels. The purpose of grassroots advocacy is to enable the grassroots advocate to influence public perception, regulations, public policy, or legislation. Grassroots advocacy differs from ‘direct lobbying’ as it relies almost entirely on the public and not on the professional lobbyist to contact relevant officials regarding specific issues. Developing an effective communications strategy for a grassroots advocacy campaign is one of the most important elements in a PR media plan designed to reach target individuals and groups, build alliances, and raise public awareness.
Since a successful advocacy requires campaigning and mobilizing support, good communication methods are critical to success. Communication for advocacy involves familiarity with the issue, knowing how to convey a message without overwhelming people, and having knowledge of the process. Developing specific media and social communication strategies is a key factor to implementing a successful grassroots advocacy campaign.
Alliance building is central to building and sustaining advocacy of an issue or cause. Introducing people and groups to a particular issue using complex explanations and wording is more likely to overwhelm and deter people away from the issue. An effective grassroots advocacy campaign results in increased awareness of the issue with the news media, prominent citizens, governments, specialists, and organizations, and of course, the public. However, a successful grassroots advocacy campaign results in some of the people in a few or all of the groups targeted becoming advocates for the particular issue. In turn, these new advocates become a credible voice for the issue.
Advertising is deemed successful when the message is heard, remembered, thought about, and then acted upon. Advocacy always includes some form of influencing, particularly when the target audience is decision-makers. When developing a PR advocacy campaign, background information on the issue with relevant data to back up facts cited, education, and communication material for dissemination of the issue, is at the heart of a strategic communications plan. Such a communication plan involves familiarity with the issue and knowledge of the process.
Effective communication involves more than just using words to convey a message. Campaigns that include creative print, video, images and interactive content are highly effective. Campaigns with creative messaging that connects and resonates with audiences, and then disseminated through online, print, television, and mobile media channels, are more likely to be remembered as it will generate more stories, conversations, shares, retweets, etc., which ultimately drives mass support. In addition, today’s issue advocates are utilizing online platforms such as social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc.) blogs, and microsites which emphasize creating clear, concise messages. Therefore, communication strategies must entail knowing how to create smart social media campaigns.
The first step in successful grassroots advocacy involves having a plan to catch the interest of the target audience and provide them with an educational foundation. Once people have a general understanding of the issue and express a desire to learn more, they must be guided to discovering and exploring more-in depth sources of information. The key is to avoid distorting the truth by oversimplifying the message. The best communication method is sharing the facts in as objective way as possible.
Extensive planning for a grassroots advocacy campaign is essential because not only must advocates plan how to effectively reach and engage target audiences, but they also have to deal with opposition and overcome obstacles as they arise. In advocacy environments, there are likely to be well informed and prepared opponents waiting to counter the advocates’ messages. This means opponents will have to be out-planned and counter-informed. This will involve gathering information about the opposition.
Grassroots advocacy has become a popular way for groups, companies and associations to leverage the thoughts and ideas of people and various organizations to create change within the public policy sphere of influence. It is very effective and it is common for groups of hundreds to thousands to even millions to mobilize when issues arise. A successful grassroots campaign is a step-by-step-process. Advocates must have a vision and mission, an objective, a strategic plan, which includes an effective communications strategy, and an action plan. Simplifying content, but not oversimplifying, and appealing to a broader audience plays an important role in attracting interest and engaging people, rather than overwhelming and deterring them. This step-by-step-process all comes together as one effective grassroots advocacy and PR communications campaign.