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Major communications challenge
Have a major communications challenge? Think like a Campaign Manager!
Terris Harris
2018/12/18

Regular communication with members, stakeholders or customers is an activity every strong organization or business undertakes, but sometimes there is reason for an extensive and more complex communication undertaking. 

If you plan to make a major shift in direction or launch an initiative that requires significant support from stakeholders, a comprehensive plan to inform and educate may be required.   A plan becomes even more important if you need to motivate a number of stakeholders to take a specific action in support of the change you want to make.  That’s where implementing strategies regularly used in political campaigns may help your communications activities.

To help explain this concept, I will use the case of a client I worked with last year over many months. 

The Board of the organization had decided to pursue a major regulatory change which would allow them to grow and expand their business, as well as the range of services they offer their members.  However, it was a difficult matter to explain and would also mean some changes to certain protections their members were provided.  The federal regulatory body that governs their industry required a minimum of 15% of their members needed to participate in a vote on the matter.  Of that 15%, 75% needed to approve of the plan. 

The usual means of communicating with members through newsletters and casual contact was not going to be enough.  Very little progress in gaining support among stakeholders had been achieved since the Board had made their decision.  They needed to communicate with as many members as possible to ensure they supported the plan and motivate them to vote. 

As a result, a strategy for membership outreach was put in place.  Any good campaign includes determining:

- how many votes you need to win;

- identifying your support so you know you can achieve that number of votes; and,

- ensuring those identified supporters actually cast a ballot.

We calculated the minimum number of members needed to cast a ballot and factored in how many we would then need to vote yes.  We then made some educated assumptions based on other relevant examples to our situation, about actual voter turnout. As a result we increased the overall number of members we would need to identify as supporters. 

We broke that total number down by the number of months and weeks until voting day.  Then we broke the weekly numbers down into regions and assigned them to the regional business managers who would be overseeing the contact with members.  They knew how many members their teams would need to contact each week in order to meet our goal. 

That was the easy part!  Next, we had to make sure the teams had all the information they would need in order to have conversations with members and answer their questions.   They needed to feel comfortable with that information, as well as with asking individual members if they would support the initiative and vote.  Understandably, many people aren’t used to being tasked with such an activity, and this was going to be added to their regular workload.  It was a tall order. 

The development of strong messaging and communications materials, practice with team members, constant information and support from the organization’s leadership and a responsive, open and transparent approach with the staff and membership helped tremendously.  As the days and weeks progressed, we tracked the number of conversations that occurred and the identified support – which remained at a high level throughout the campaign due to the amount of education and information shared by the organization.   As the voting period approached, the teams shifted their focus to encouraging members to mark and return their ballot.

After the vote closed and the results were tabulated, the membership voted strongly in favor of the direction and we had exceeded our goal for member engagement and support. 

What began as a business decision was officially endorsed by stakeholders as a result of thorough outreach and information sharing, bolstered by a campaign strategy with specific goals and timelines.  Without that strategy, the whole initiative could have faltered and perhaps failed entirely.