Finding New Audiences for Campaign Reform

2007-2009

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Americans for Campaign Reform sought to change who runs for elected office, who wins, and who they serve once elected by addressing the corrosive influence of money in politics.

Your eyes started to glaze over just reading that. But we approached this age-old problem in new ways:

  • We committed to fierce bipartisanship, and invested heavily in building consensus across the political spectrum, from liberals to libertarians
  • We also invested in design and a brand that individual citizens could connect to emotionally, breaking from a tradition of dense policy briefings
  • We focused legislative efforts on amplifying the momentum of small donor politics (with public matching funds) to ensure that qualified candidates stood a chance, rather than continue investing in a never-ending battle of donation limits and other regulations on the First Amendment
  • We met people where they were

Content Strategy

The Challenge: Communicate creative but nuanced policy proposals, while generating a groundswell of energy behind the century-old battle to reform our campaign finance system.

We established two goals, both to be accomplished with extremely limited resources:

1. Find, recruit, and leverage those who are already excited by campaign reform

2. Excite those who don’t know or care about campaign finance by highlighting the connection between political donations and more popular issues (healthcare reform, education, cable rates, and the economic collapse, to name a few).

The Result:

At the macro level, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has ensured that our government remains at the mercy of those with the most wealth to leverage. But our web-focused content strategy did pay dividends:

Our targeted social network accounts attracted thousands of relevant followers on Twitter and tens of thousands of unique views and PDF downloads on Scribd, where new audiences devoured documents and reports that were far too wonky for mainstream readership.

content network visualization

Online, we were able to leapfrog related groups with larger staffs, who were slower to adapt to the opportunities provided by social media. We significantly grew our audience and relative stature in a very short amount of time.

Offline, our strategy of connecting campaign reform to the news cycle’s ¬†generated a significant amount of press in national publications.¬†Above all else, we were able to communicate our unique message to politically active Americans of all persuasions.

We accomplished all of this with minimum additional time investment from a skeleton crew of staff. To ensure each blog post, mass email, or research report reached as many people as possible, I devised a content distribution network of various web services.

The content distribution system was automated for convenience, but I maintained a personal presence on each network so as to abide by the network’s norms and earn the individual attention of our followers. Combined with old fashioned coalition-building, organizational outreach, and coffee meetings with bloggers, we were able to significantly scale our communication channels far beyond our original members.