Examples of ‘marketising’ in campaigning

Some examples of this ‘marketising’ happening are:

An internal pressure for headlines for the organisation irrespective of whether this is helpful for the advocacy campaign. There can be stages of an advocacy campaign where profile is not helpful if the ultimate goal is policy or practice change.

An internal pressure for public credit for the organisation irrespective of whether this is helpful for the advocacy campaign. Very often when you are dealing with a sensitive subject, or a reticent target or a wider group of allies, seeking public recognition for your impact, while desirable to be able to tell supporters, can be detrimental to the overall campaign where your own self interest is being seen to take precedence.

A desire to show impact so that it can be reported back to supporters irrespective of whether this is real impact. So maybe a commitment from governments at an international conference is lauded to supporters but without any real tangible change.

Ok – so how can you deal with this ‘marketising’?

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‘Marketising’ campaigning

One trend that I have seen in recent years is the deliberate blurring of the distinction between advocacy campaigns and marketing campaigns – what I describe as the ‘marketisation’ of advocacy campaigns.

On one level, this really is not an issue as there is some commonality between these two practices. Both focus on a message and both seek some sort of influence on a target group.

But where this ‘marketisation’ becomes an issue is on the purpose of the activities. As I have presented on this site, advocacy campaigns are all about achieving a tangible policy or practice change to tackle a particular problem with the aim of improving the lives of significant numbers of people. Marketing campaigns are often about raising the profile of the organisation and encouraging the pre-conditions for greater support for the organisation. They are two very different disciplines and a healthy, functioning organisation needs both disciplines; but they are different with their different goals.

It is when marketing objectives erode advocacy campaigns objectives that the advocacy campaigner needs to pay attention. I’ll look in my next post at a few examples of this ‘marketising’ of advocacy campaigns …

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More internal obstacles to campaigning….

Over the next few months I intend to post a series of blogs on the internal obstacles to seeking to campaign from within an organisation. This series of blogs will build on the blog posts that I wrote earlier in the year and will reflect on some of the additional potential blocks that campaigners should be alert to when working in an organisation. Watch out for my first such obstacle: the ‘marketisation’ of campaigns.

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New online course in development

Having just launched my introduction to campaigning online course on the Udemy platform last month, I am now working on a comprehensive online campaign training course, which will outline a framework for campaigning to help people develop their own campaign for change – my promotional video for this new course gives you a feel for this new course …..


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Building a global campaign 2

And secondly, I am fascinated as to the best way to stimulate campaigning around the world. How do you move from a central global plan to real practical campaigning activities in different countries?

For me I am utterly convinced that the critical building block in stimulating global campaigning activity is to ensure in the regions, and in some cases sub-regions, of the world that there are enthusiastic campaign champions who will develop campaign activity in their country to act as beacons for the rest of their region.

I have seen too many attempts from the centre to run campaign training as the key catalyst to spur on such activity. While such training is important, you so need a champion in the workshop from that region, who is already making a go of campaigning in their own national context. If I was looking to develop a truly global campaign, my starting point would be to identify those regional or sub-regional champions across the world. I would then look to support them and to help them kick-start campaigning in their country. Once some momentum was established, working in partnership with them, I would seek to run some form of campaign training workshop. While I may look to supply the campaigning theory and framework, the practical examples would come from the region itself.

I think a combination of clear and simple campaigning tools combined with practical examples (both success and failure) from the target region can be just so powerful. And then having run this workshop, the ongoing campaign support and inspiration needs to come not just from the central campaigns lead but from the regional champion. And these regional campaign champions themselves can form a powerful support network.

Over the years I have slowly come to realise that genuine enthusiasm in campaigning is just such an important ingredient for a successful campaign – never take it for granted. And if you are really looking to run an authentic global campaign, with authentic national expressions, then cherishing and nurturing this enthusiasm around the world is vital.


So in conclusion: I think that global campaigns need a common framework but they need to cherish diversity of expression within that framework, and they need to cherish and nurture enthusiasm around the world.

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Building a global campaign 1

Over the past few years I have worked with quite a few international NGOs, which have been endeavouring to build a global campaign on their key issue, and I’ve just returned from Rome doing just that, and for me in those discussions two key factors tend to emerge from any such discussions…

Firstly, I have been interested to observe how much time is spent in trying to agree one message that will resonate across the globe, and how difficult such a task can be! I spent months trying to get the Red Cross in Europe to agree on one advocacy message in response to the challenges on migration. In the end it was impossible to agree on one message in this one continent without even trying for a global message.

Based on that experience, and similar experiences, I have come to a much more relaxed view on messaging for global campaigns. I just don’t think you can impose from the centre one message about policy or practice change for the whole world. Well maybe you can, but life is just too short and some of the problems we face are just too urgent.

Instead I am more attracted now to agreeing a menu of key asks, based on a common vision, values or principles, conscious that not all of those asks will be relevant in all countries and that the relevance of the proposed asks will be assessed in each country. I think to develop a common framework that is then applied in a manner consistent with the individual national context is so important. While the campaigns may sound different in each country, there is a common thread based on the overarching goal or principles. I like the idea of global campaign framework working with tailored national campaigns.

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Lessons for movement building

Earlier this month I spoke at the City of Sanctuary AGM in Reading; it was great to be there with people from all over the UK part of this growing network of people keen to offer a welcome to refugees in their local area.

Speaking at City of Sanctuary AGM

We’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about social movements and about how what we are doing is part of building a social movement in the UK to welcome refugees. Part of our thinking has been influenced by some of the literature coming out of the US on social movements. At our AGM I sought to set out some of the lessons that we have gleaned from this literature:

  • Be ready to use a ‘scaffold of research’ to show the impact of your movement
  • Recognise the need for scale and have a strategy to scale-up
  • Don’t ever think that you are the movement!
  • Don’t be afraid to confront power
  • Don’t let urgency set your agenda

Great lessons – and ones we’ll be reflecting on in the months to come…

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Importance of story telling

Last week I was invited to attend a workshop at the Sheila McKechnie Foundation as part of their new social change project. What was really interesting about this meeting was the wide array of people that they had invited to this workshop.

Yet there was thing that united all of us at this meeting – we all had a story we wanted to tell about a project or campaign that we had been involved to push for change. It was remarkable when we got talking and sharing to be able to pick up so many lessons taken from all of this work. It showed me yet again that there is such a strong link between campaigners and stories. But these people were not just story telling – they had all played a major and active role in making the story.

I wish this new SMK project all the best – anything that shares ideas, success, failure and general learning about campaigning can only be a good thing to inspire even more campaigning in future!

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Reflections from Geneva

Last week I ran an advocacy campaigns workshop in Geneva. When I run this training I am always interested to observe where I am challenged on certain approaches. As I have delivered this training around the world over the last decade or so, one constant feature has been my pitch that you need a burning desire for change to run an advocacy campaign; I have often said that a mild irritation with the current situation is just not enough to get a campaign up and running.

So I was intrigued when I was challenged last week for the first time ever on this point. I was told that you did not need a ‘burning desire’ to be able to run an advocacy campaign. I was fascinated by this challenge. In my view even when you have that burning desire for change, it can sometimes be really hard to run a campaign, especially if you are in an organisation with all of the obstacles that you may encounter, and without such a desire I can only see that it would be highly difficult to sustain the motivation to drive a campaign forward.

And on that point we agreed: namely, that motivation to run a campaign was important and a vital ingredient for its success. And we agreed to differ on whether that motivation needed to be a ‘burning desire.’ But what do you think? Do you think that you need a burning desire for change to be able to run an advocacy campaign?

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Obstacle 10 – we’re too busy to campaign

I see this so often – we are so busy delivering services meeting the need that we can’t make campaign. So that nothing ever changes, so that you stay busy. I just get excited by those smaller NGOs, which can both deliver services but also embed their campaigning into the soul of their organisation. They do both activities because they know they need to do both – but one fits seamlessly into the other – they see these actions as being on one continuum.

But I have also come across NGOs who are so immersed in their service delivery that they cannot lift their heads up and see a world where their services will not be needed. Indeed they are comfortable delivering these services and managing their lives around these services. They cannot envisage a world where their services are not needed.

I do think that for many NGOs their ultimate purpose should be to do themselves out of work because they are just not needed, and an effective advocacy campaign will be a part of achieving that goal.

I am always wary of the person or organisation, which tell me that they are too busy to campaign – do their service users feel the same way? Being busy should not be a reason not to campaign.

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