The Data Is Clear, It’s Time to Move Beyond Storytelling for Library Advocacy

OCLC recently released the latest data about voter support for libraries and the results should scare our entire industry out of political and advocacy complacency and away from the poor advocacy culture of storytelling that permeates our field. The results of the data have validated the fears of those of us at EveryLibrary and they’ve shown that we need to learn from some of the more politically savy and powerful organizations in the United States if we want library to continue to have the funding they need to remain into the future.

This report comes ten years after the previous “Awareness to Funding” study that was released in 2008 and underwritten by OCLC and the Gates Foundation. The original study looked at the awareness, attitudes, and underlying motivations among US voters for supporting library funding. This study was significant because it was the first time that anyone had looked at voter attitudes about library funding. The mere fact that it was a first of a kind study should worry us considering that more than 90% of library funding comes from the will of the local voter and the will of the local politicians. If we are concerned about library funding in the United States, the first place we should look is to the voters and politicians who are responsible for funding us.

Join the eCourse to learn to build political support for library funding.

The results of the original study did a lot to dispel a number of myths about why Americans are willing to vote to tax themselves to support libraries and indicated largely positively voter and political support for libraries. For example, they found that 37% of voters were almost definitely going to vote yes for libraries and another 37% of voters were likely to vote yes for libraries.  That left only 26% of voters who most likely would vote no for a library funding initiative. The study found that library users were not necessarily more likely to vote yes for library funding measures and in fact, non-users were just as likely as non-users to vote for libraries. It also found that political support for libraries was not dependent on political party or affiliation. Instead it found that the most influential variable in voter support for libraries was the relationship and trust in the librarians themselves.

Through this study we learned that we need better data to understand who our most likely supporters might be or to more efficiently run library campaigns by more easily identifying likely voters and likely non-voters. It became apparent that our lack of data meant that we have no way to use enhanced voter files to reduce the number of voter contacts and voter contacts are one of the most resource heavy aspects of a campaign. For example, if we could determine the profile of a library voter, we could use that data against an enhanced voter file to significantly lower the cost of campaigns and drastically increase the success rate of library campaigns allowing us to better fund our libraries. This profile is typically called “model voter data” and the fact that the study did not help us determine model voter profiles was one of the biggest flaws in the study.

The difference between support and voting
One of the most important underlying issues is that there is a remarkable difference between being in favor of libraries and having a willingness to vote in favor of taxation. This distinction was realized in the results of both studies and this distinction needs to be understood if we want to influence elections for libraries. The most disturbing trend that was identified in the 2018 study was that favorability for the services and programs of libraries has increased among our strongest supporters and remained steady for probable supporters but willingness to vote or pay more in taxes to supply those services and programs have declined a significant amount. In fact, the willingness to vote yes for libraries has declined by more than 10 percentage points across the country.


What this means is that many of our current advocacy models are working if our measurement of advocacy is overall opinion of libraries. But, that overall opinion will not lead to more votes or political support and because funding is directly affected by those two factors these results do not bode well for future funding initiatives. That means that without the political will, there is no funding, and therefore, there are no libraries. Most importantly, it shows that our advocacy measurements for success are wildly ineffectual and misguided if we want libraries to exist for future generations.

I would argue that not only are our measurements wrong, but our entire advocacy ecosystem needs to be re-imagined. Our industry largely relies on the idea that if we tell good stories that people will stand up and take action on our behalf. This misguided ideology leaves most of the actual work of true advocacy on the table. In fact, while most of the recommendations from this study are fairly routine and primarily surround issues of voter education, the study points to two recommendations that I believe that we need to take seriously. Those are:

Target public awareness efforts
Awareness of library offerings and value continues to be a challenge—perhaps one that is only growing as people are more distracted and diverted into a fragmented communications environment. The Pew Research Center has consistently found in their household surveys that many Americans, including library users, are still unaware of the breadth of resources offered by the public library. The market segments and their characteristics outlined in the original research and updated here can better enable library professionals to target communications and customize messaging via traditional and social media channels to more effectively reach people. For instance, libraries may connect announcements of new programs or services to larger stories about how the library supports school-age children, workforce readiness, or small business development.

 

Cultivate and Empower Super Supporters
A significant bright spot in the research is that support among library Super Supporters—a small but mighty group—is largely unchanged. This segment’s loyalty should not be taken for granted, but rather nurtured and protected. In addition, library leaders can consider how to engage and leverage this group as library ambassadors to advocate with decision makers and influence other segments of the population that might be more disconnected or skeptical.

For the last 5 years, libraries not sufficiently addressing these two issues has haunted our work at EveryLibrary.

The first, “Target public awareness efforts,” points to the fact that a number of organizations that claim competency in Marketing in our industry are most often confusing marketing and advertising.  Advertising comprises the tactics used to put messages into the community such as radio, tv, billboards, bar coasters, and other tchotchkes and giveaways. ALA’s own Libraries Transform and OCLC’s Geek the Library are both examples of this. Both of these campaigns are simply advertising and promoting libraries in general libraries. But true marketing encompasses a more holistic approach to getting the word out and measuring real results against goals. It includes real data driven and measureable activities. As written in “Investopedia; “The essential strategic components of a marketing effort are commonly called the four Ps: product, placement, promotion and price. Advertising, which is how a company communicates to prospective clients about the product or service, falls under the category of promotion.” And promotion is really the focus of most of the activities that our industry calls marketing.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with advertising our libraries. We should be doing everything we can to promote them. And, again, the advertising is “working” if our measurement of working is that people view libraries more favorably. It’s just failing if our measurement is that people are willing to pay the price for libraries through taxes and under any definition of the word, this more important measurement comes from true marketing.

And, of course, this typically isn’t the fault of the library staff. Libraries often do such a poor job marketing themselves that any kind of advertising or promotional activity is an improvement and will return some kind of result and lead library staff to falsely believe that they are great at marketing, go on and present at conferences, write books and articles, and continue the narrative in our profession that advertising is marketing.

In this course, I teach library staff to cultivate support for library funding.

Addressing this issue would take more time, energy, and space, than I’m willing to delve into in this blog post. However, I highly recommend looking outside of the library industry for guidance on understanding true marketing. Of course, I would also recommend my eCourse with ALA Editions where we dive deep into data driven and measureable results through proper communications and customer relations. But again, this is all taken from outside of the library industry.

The second issue, “Cultivate and Empower Super Supporters,” is exactly how political power is built and used although I would argue that it should read “Identify, Cultivate, and Empower Support Supporters.” This is advocacy beyond storytelling and requires significant time and energy on the part of the organizer and might better be described as activism. Notice also that there is nothing here to indicate a need for users. The word “supporters” in this recommendation is both important and intentional. The data from this report reinforce the argument that we have been making at EveryLibrary and that OCLC is making here, that library use does not at all equal to or correlate with library support. In fact, while we are running library campaigns, we see in poll after poll that library users are not more likely to vote yes or no for a ballot initiative or take action for libraries than non-users. As this study also showed, we have no real meaningful data point to use to identify which community members are likely to support libraries and which aren’t. This leads us to the difficulty of identifying library supporters in the community and if we can’t identify them then we can’t cultivate them, and if we can’t cultivate them then we can’t empower them.

That’s why one of the largest projects of EveryLibrary is identifying the people across the country who support libraries. We do this through a wide range of tactics. The most visible tactic is our use of Facebook and our one million Americans for libraries campaign. While this is only one of many tactics that we use, it is one that most people can quickly and easily understand and see in action. By taking the time to identify library supporters (or rather, allowing them to self-identify by liking our page) we are able to look at the data about who supports libraries through Facebook’s Audience Insights platform and then cultivate their support through targeting ads and messaging that tie libraries to the issues that they care about. This one tactic alone has been so effective that we regularly are able cultivate our followers and empower them to take action to support libraries that far exceed and return our expenses. For example, we were able to raise $6 for every dollar we spent in the few days after Trump announced his cuts to Federal Funding for libraries. We were also able to activate supporters into action for a few pennies per action. We were then able to use these donations for more expensive tactics later in the campaign when engagement significantly dropped and costs per action drastically increased as naturally happens with any social media activism activity. We were also able to capitalize on the thousands of early supporters by empowering them to continue to take actions on behalf of IMLS.

If we can continue this trend with an even larger audience of identified super supporters then we can empower these supporters to take larger actions for libraries and exercise real political power and pressure on our nation’s leaders. If we were able to reach one million self-identified supporters (as likes on Facebook, for example), then we could spend resources cultivating those individuals to become more entrenched super supporters who are more willing and likely to take action. That would mean that anytime there was a threat to libraries, we would be able to reach millions of like-minded Americans each week and encourage hundreds of thousands of them to take action such as signing petitions, contacting representatives, attending rallies, and making donations.

If we’re being honest, this isn’t a new or interesting concept. It is no different than tactics generally used by any large cause, candidate, or political organization. Using the NRA as an example, the reason that we are not able to pass gun laws in the United States is not because the majority of Americans are against gun restrictions but it is because there is a very radicalized minority of identified, cultivated, and empowered supporters who are very vocal and will take action through the drop of a single email or post on Facebook. There is no reason that we can’t do the same for education and libraries in this country and drive the legislative and policy changes we need to support our organizations. But this i

s only done through a very long and methodological process of identification, cultivation, and empowerment beyond storytelling and beyond simply using Facebook or putting up some billboards.

If you want to learn the process of identifying, cultivating, and empowering supporters for library funding, this course is for you.

Again, this blog post is too short to detail this process. But, if you’re interested in learning, I have spent the last five years working with some of the best presidential campaigners, community organizers, and cause related organizations. I’m excited to bring back everything I’ve learned to libraries through my eCourse with ALA Editions. In this course I teach the basic theories and concepts that can be applied at libraries of any budget level or serving any community size. This process will also be detailed in our upcoming book from ALA Editions (title still under consideration) but we touch on it in Winning Elections and Influencing Politicians for Library Funding.

 

Encourage Action For Your Library With The “Problem, Agitation, Solution” Model

This post is the fifth post in a series on tools from political campaigns that can be used to arm librarians in the face of growing opposition during the Trump era where anti-tax and anti-government sentiments have a much stronger voice than ever before.

problem-solution-magnifyI am often asked about writing compelling emails and messages to support library issues. Many campaigns are looking for an answer that tells them exactly what they should write to get people to take action for their library. For the most part, I try to refrain from giving specific advice about which message is right because different messages and languages work well in different communities or when delivered to different audiences. In fact, there are dozens of factors and many different data points that are considered when creating an email that includes an ask or that attempts to move people up a ladder of engagement. However, I do have a favorite structure that I use for many of my emails and blog posts that encourage some kind of action or next steps.

The problem, agitation, solution communication structure is often used by marketing companies, activist/advocacy groups, and almost everyone that is interested in getting people to take some kind of action. It relies on the ladder of engagement structure that I talked about in this previous post by making them aware of a problem, getting them interested through agitation, and then giving them an opportunity to engage in a solution. If you are on campaign email lists you can often see this pattern in many of the emails that you receive and some of the best performing Facebook ads, fundraising scripts, presentations, and blog posts that encourage action also follow this structure.

If you are looking to engage an audience in fundraising, taking action, or getting more involved in your library, you can follow this basic outline.

  • Identify THEIR problem

When working to encourage other people to take action for your cause its always most efficient to start where they are. This means identifying how the problem that you are trying to solve affects their lives or is a problem in their life. For example, if we are interested in engaging with an organization, individual, or audience that values economic development and we want them to support libraries, it would be best to first frame libraries in the context of a problem in the economy. You would start this conversation by talking about how important the economy is in the community.

  • Agitate the problem

Once their problem is identified, then its times to agitate that problem. You can talk about how there are some serious economic issues in the community like high unemployment, low entrepreneurship, almost no structure of support for budding business owners, etc… Talk about how bad it is (or could be) to not have that structure in place. Highlight how the community might fail due to this lack of support for businesses and business owners. Take the time to play to strong emotions in this step.

  • Present the solution

Once they are engaged and ready to take action, it becomes an easy step to present your solution as a means for them to take action. In this case, you can talk about how the library offers a network of support to small business owners, or databases that help entrepreneurs gain a competitive edge, or even co-working spaces and high-speed Internet for new startups. More simply, you present the library as the solution to those problems that were presented in first step and then you ask them to take some kind of action.

Do not forget the action!

I can’t stress enough about how important it is to give them the opportunity to take some kind of concrete and tangible action as part of the solution. The entire reason you gave them the solution was to allow them to release the tension you built through action. There’s nothing more dangerous than drawing a hungry crowd. Even if it’s as simple as signing up for the libraries email list, a pledge of support for libraries, or a petition. Depending on their level of interest you might be able to make an ask for more high level actions like making a donation, volunteering, or speaking on the library’s behalf at city council.

If you are interested in having EveryLibrary conduct a training to build political skills for librarians or speaking at your conference or staff development day you can get more information here. Or for information about my training, workshops and consulting, please view my speaking page.

How to Build Audiences to Effectively Engage Your Library Community

This post is the fourth post in a series on tools from political campaigns that can be used to arm librarians in the face of growing opposition during the Trump era where anti-tax and anti-government sentiments have a much stronger voice than ever before.

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Let’s talk about building audiences for library campaigns. Whether you are working with a ladder of engagement or building and testing messages for effectiveness, the key is to start with strong and well defined audience. Professional political operatives, fundraisers, and marketers spend millions of dollars building audiences for their campaigns because starting with an effective audience is the most efficient way to win a campaign. So often I see libraries sending broad messages to entire communities and then being disappointed with the results. If your audience is too large or broad, you will waste money messaging people who don’t care about the issue and your ROI will drop. Remember that you should only spend resources on putting your messages in front of the people who are most likely to care about it. If your audience is too narrow then you’ll miss people who are likely to take action for your campaign. Or, if you are working with a ladder of engagement (which you should be creating for each audience) then you want to make the most of your resources by starting with an audience most likely to be moved from one rung to the next. Starting with the most effective audience is one of the best ways to ensure success and efficiency for your campaign.

Of course, there are many different ways to build audiences for a campaign, but here are three of my favorite audience sources.

Voter File
A voter file is easily one of the most obvious audiences and it is available fairly inexpensively from your board of elections. This is, of course, the best list to use to build political power in your community for your library.  However there are many nuances to a voter file. A standard voter file often includes name, address, party affiliation, voting history, phone number and occasionally email addresses. You can buy enhanced voter files from companies like L2 that have a lot more consumer data or issue data or more accurate phone numbers (phone numbers on voter files are notoriously inaccurate). While a voter file includes everyone in a community who is registered to vote (often referred to as a universe), it isn’t often effective to target an entire voter universe. Instead, you can break down the voter file to target individuals who are registered with a specific party, or you can target the high propensity voters, or voters who live in various areas of the community.  You can target conservatives in your community with messages that resonate with conservative voters or target progressives with messages that resonate with progressive voters. In the long run, targeting these voters with effective messages will help build up the political capital you need when your library goes to the voters so start targeting them years before you ever have to ask them to vote for your library.

*Please remember that it is illegal to use a voter file as a fundraising list.

AtoZ databases
AtoZ Databases and ReferenceUSA are two of my favorite audience building platforms that are freely available at many libraries. This is one of the best list sources for likely donors although there are many different audiences you can build here. At EveryLibrary we often build donor lists and lists of large companies in a community so that we can target them for fundraising for library initiatives. Because the data is fairly robust and decently accurate, you can find out someone’s household income or value or find people who have a history of donating to a political or charitable cause. In Sunnyvale library we were able to download a list of residents by area code and then compare that to our list of users in that same area code from our ILS. By deleting any of the duplicates, we were able to come up with a list of non-library users in Sunnyvale. We could then run a direct mail campaign that targeted non-users to encourage them to come to the library. Of course, we could also upload those lists to Facebook and target them with ads or run a phonebanking campaign. With decent GIS software, we could even map out our areas of the highest number of non-users. The benefit of starting with AtoZ databases or ReferenceUSA is that you have the lists available to you with phone numbers and addresses and these lists are great for fundraising. My next audience builder is far more powerful and accurate, but you are left to find a way to cultivate the contact information for any follow up contacts.

Pro-tip – You can often find the email addresses and phone numbers of the executives of many of the major fortune 1000 companies in these databases to help you make the first contact.

Acxiom
Axciom is easily the most powerful audience building tool for Facebook and many other digital platforms such as Twitter, Yahoo, MSN, eBay, and a few others but I primarily use it to target audiences on Facebook. These lists are best used for engaging community members in taking action on a ladder of engagement that starts with social media. Acxiom is a data company that allows you to request audiences by various behaviors such as buying habits, donations, consumer data, lifestyles, etc… You can request an audience from the Data Guru who then creates that audience in the platform that you are using or you can use their first person audience tool. In either case, this service is completely free because Acxiom makes money from you paying for ads on these platforms. The big drawback is that you don’t get an audience in a format that allows you to view names, addresses, phone numbers, or email. In other words, you can’t see who is specifically in the audience so you have to wait for their interaction with your data collection platform to get that information from them. If someone signs a survey or a petition for example, you then have their contact information for follow-up contacts. The benefit of Acxiom is that you can get a highly targeted audience of people that is extremely accurate. The are people who are most likely to sign a survey or a petition for your specific cause or issue and that can greatly reduce the cost of signatures through ads.

Targeting
Once you have these audiences it’s up to you to decide how best to target them. For some audiences, you can simply upload the CSV with name, address, and phone number into your library’s Facebook account and start targeting them with ads and follow up with more contacts later. For other audiences it might be best to start by running a phonebank campaign and call each of them. In other cases you might have to knock on their door or send them a piece of direct mail. While I made some suggestions here, you’ll have to look at your audiences and make your own decisions or feel free to ask me in the comments below. No matter where you get an audience, try to build ladders of engagement for each one by understanding your goal with each of them.

Sometimes it helps to work backwards from your goal. For example, if you want more people in your community who are likely to vote for your library, then of course, start with a voter file. Or, if you want more donors, you can start with local likely donors from AtoZ databases. And, if you want more volunteers, you can have Acxiom upload a list of non-profit volunteers into your Facebook account and you can target them through Facebook ads with links to your VolunteerMatch page. These highly targeted audiences are the key to bringing you the highest ROI for your initiatives.

Other Audiences
I have only barely scratched the surface of building audiences for library campaigns and initiatives. Major political parties, PACs, and causes, spend billions of dollars on cultivating the most accurate audiences they can and use data sets, voter models, test messaging, focus groups, etc… to win campaigns. One of EveryLibrary’s big initiatives is to build a lot of these datasets and audiences. But these are just three of my favorite ways to build an audience to start a campaign quickly and easily. We’ve worked with many political operatives  who have their own tools and techniques for their own campaigns and initiatives. I know that there are many other sources for audiences and I’d love to hear where you like to get your audiences from or how you like to build data on top of your audiences to make them more effective.

If you are interested in having EveryLibrary conduct a training to build political skills for librarians or speaking at your conference or staff development day you can get more information here. Or for information about my training, workshops and consulting, please view my speaking page.

The Disparate Languages of Libraries and Politics

This is an excerpt from my article in the Political Librarian. You can download the full article here.

20130713_usd000_0It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone when I say that the political landscape in America has drastically changed. We have seen some of the wildest political rhetoric that we could imagine come from political pundits, politicians, our presidential candidates, and various media outlets. There are accusations of fundamental biases rooted in deep belief systems that are based on many of the fears of middle class Americans who have been left behind in the job market, Americans who feel threatened by outsiders, Americans who feel they are losing their familiar identities to anonymous and unknown forces. These fears are being capitalized upon by a multi-billion dollar political industry that is designed to exaggerate threats and use fear to win elections.

The most exaggerated of those fears that affect us, librarians, and our industry is a fear of government overreach and blaming taxation for a wide array of economic and social problems in the country. This fear didn’t spontaneously come about into being by itself. It was coldly cultivated with big data, polling, focus groups, targeted messaging, and the strategic radicalization of highly specific populations within our citizenry. These political groups have used this data to develop new sets of exclusionary languages that allow people of the same beliefs to communicate and understand each other. This has lead to the development of new political cultures within targeted demographics. These differentiating languages are one of the strongest walls against communication between differing political views. The language that is used is something that librarians, as government employees who are paid by taxes, must learn if they are to continue to serve their communities.

Read the full article in the Political Librarian here.

Build Your Library’s Influence in the Community with Power Mapping

This post is the third in a series on tools from political campaigns that can be used to arm librarians in the face of growing opposition during the Trump era where anti-tax and anti-government sentiments have a much stronger voice than ever before.

A power map is a visual tool used by many political campaigns, activists, and community organizers and it helps them understand their relational power structures in their communities and to map the power structures of local influencers and organizations. By working through a power mapping exercise a campaigner can visually see relationships that exist in a community making it easier to understand those relationships. Once these relationships are understood it becomes easier to see who should be targeted in a campaign and where a campaigner can exert pressure to influence the target. Likewise, visualizing these relational lines of influence in a community can help a library understand how to influence the local politics and power structures. It can also use a power map to identify potential coalition partners and donors as well as persuade local individuals of influence to take a favorable stand for the library. Not only can a power map be used to map the power of an outside organization or individual, but it can also map the power of the library in order to better understand the library’s power structure in the community.

Step 1. Identify the Target

An organizer begins power mapping by identifying a specific person or an organization that they are going to engage or influence. The target for the campaign is the person or organization in power that can address the issue that the library is working on. For example, if the library were interested in convincing the mayor to keep from cutting library funding, then the target would be the mayor or if the library was looking to get a big donation from an organization, then the influential members of the organization like the Executive Board or the CEO would be the targets.

Step 2: Plan Their Action

Once an activist knows who their target is, they are going to need to know very specifically what action they are going to ask the target to take. Since the target might have other ideas about how to or why they should help the library achieve its goals its important to make it clear what is being asked of them. It’s also important that the action that take is specific and actionable. This means that a campaigner is going to ask them to go beyond just saying that they like or support the library. Instead, they are going to be asked to vote for your library at the May 2nd Council Meeting or they are going to be asked to write an editorial in support of the library bond measure to be published before the November Election. An activist would think about this as an opportunity to ask only one question of a person of influence in the community. Don’t want to waste it by asking for something that the target doesn’t have to give a solid commitment to or won’t lead to an action.

Step 3. Identify Relationships of the Target

Here the activist would brainstorm as many of the relationships that are associated with the target. It’s important to think as broadly as possible in this step. These relationships can include work, family, religious, neighbors, social groups and society’s, or political organizations. It’s important to not leave anyone off the list. Even if the library is not going to use family members to get to the target, simply listing them helps the brainstorming process and could lead to other potential lines of influence. It’s important to take the time to thoroughly research the target by looking up political or charitable donations and any volunteer activities that they may have participated in. Once you have this list, its important to start thinking about who and what these associations are connected to. Occasionally, in order to reach the target, the starting point may be 2-3 degrees of separation from the target.

Step 4. Draw the Relationships

Once the relationships are identified they need to be mapped to the target. This is a process of drawing the relational lines between each person on the list to the target. Some of these lines will interconnect and show that there are strong connections between the target one or two relational nodes. For example, if the target is a member of a local social club and there are multiple connections between the club and target then the social club is a much stronger influencer on the target. Also, many times there are nodes of power that aren’t directly connected to the target. For example, if the target was not a member of a local social club but many of the people of influence around him are connected to it, then it may still be a strong node of influence on the map.

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Step 5. Target the Relationships

Now it’s time to take a few moments and analyze the connections in the map and decide how to use them. Look at who or what has the most lines of influence between the target and the library or the organizer’s own networks of influence. For example, if there is someone in the library that connected to this example target’s social club, then the best initial step may just be working within that social group to influence the target’s wife, neighbor, and business associate. Or, finding some way to put pressure on the social group to take a pro-library stance may have a positive affect on the target since there are so many connections between the target and the social group even though the target is not directly connected to the social group. Or, it might be most beneficial to put pressure on local big donors to entice the mayor to take action to influence the target. Of course, it may be as simple as taking the time to talk to the wife of the target about how important libraries are to young or new mothers and letting her put pressure on the target to take some kind of pro-library stance or take action on behalf of the library.

Step 6. Make sure it happens

While all of this planning and power mapping is great, someone has to make sure that it happens. A good activist always puts someone in charge of an action and gives a deadline for that action. Instead of saying that “We should do this activity” they would say that a specific person would get an action done by a specific date.

If you are interested in having EveryLibrary conduct a training to build political skills for librarians or speaking at your conference or staff development day you can get more information here. Or for information about my training, workshops and consulting, please view my speaking page.

What Can Libraries Learn from Using a Message Box like Kellyanne Conway?

This post is (hopefully) the first in a series on tools from political campaigns that can be used to arm librarians in the face of growing opposition during the Trump era where anti-tax and anti-government sentiments have a much stronger voice than ever before.

There is one tool that is essential to a community organizer in order to develop a strong message for a political campaign and to understand how to respond to opposition. It’s extremely important to use this tool to make sure that the communication is planned and delivered correctly because a political campaign can easily die if it delivers the wrong message or stutters in the face of opposition. This tool is the Tully Message box and it is one of the most highly used message development tools for political operatives. You could see it in action the recent Presidential Election campaign where Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, was deftly able to navigate opposition messaging to return to the narrative of the Trump Campaign. She was often able to dictate the message she wanted during interviews with the media and her secret to performing so well in the face of criticism was that she used a tool like a message box to understand her message, her opposition’s message, and how to use it to get back to her own message.

Even though I’m no fan of her politics, her agenda, or her candidate, and I wish she used her powers for good, there is a lot to learn about how well she navigated these interviews.

One way of making sure that a political campaigner like Kellyanne Conway is able to take and keep control of the conversation is through a Tully Message Box. The Tully Message Box was named after Democratic strategist Paul Tully. He used the box to look at the elements of a campaign message that will most significantly help the communication side of any campaign. Once that framework is understood, then it becomes much easier to craft an effective way of keeping control and responding to any message in the campaign. A Tully Message Box is broken down into four areas-

  • What do we say about ourselves?
  • What do we say about the other side?
  • What does the other side say about us?
  • What does the other side say about themselves?
What do we say about ourselves?

 

 

 

What does the other side say about us?

 

What do we say about the other side?

 

 

 

What does the other side say about themselves?

 

What do we say about ourselves?

This is the area of the box that will be easiest to fill out early in the campaign. This is the message that a campaign team is hoping to put before the voters. It is the result of the beliefs and values of the campaign and how they are expressed. In essence it would be what the campaign would sound like if it were the only ones allowed to speak. These are the campaigns core values and its beliefs about the issue. It often helps to start this box by answering the questions; Why now? Why is this issue important?

What do we say about the other side?

It would be nice if politics only encompassed support and opposition for issues logically presented to the electorate and the electorate voting based on those simple facts. However, voters often vote based on emotional values such as fear, anger, etc… That’s why there are often so many negative campaigns. The negative campaign is often defined in this message box square. While a campaign can easy to slip into name-calling and negativity, this area is often best served by contrasting the campaign’s belief or value system against the other side rather than speaking about them in terms of emotional responses. Also, while there is a need to speak about your own policies there is a need to speak about those of your opponent and that is framed here.

What does the other side say about us?

The comments and accusations that any political candidate faces from an opponent are important to record throughout a campaign. Any activist may have to face these opposition messages on a regular basis and understand how to respond to them. Getting these down in print will help any campaigner understand what might be said and devise a way of countering it. The more prepared the campaign is for the messages of its opponent the easier it will be to steer the narrative back to the campaigns message. This is where Kellyanne Conway excelled. There is no doubt that she spent countless hours understanding this square of the message box.

What does the other side say about themselves?

The last box is one that can help with reflection. An opponent of any cause will have a set of values, beliefs and polices that they presumably believe in. If an activist is able to analyze these and understand them it gives them the best chance of anticipating their attacks. If they know how they differentiate themselves from the opposition then they will be able to formulate a response based on the flaws that are seen in the opposition’s argument.

Putting it into use

It often helps to put a message box into use for one opposition message at a time. Remember that when using a message box, the goal is to stay on the campaign’s side (the left side of this box) and move the messaging away from the opposition’s message (the right side). This allows a campaign to understand each opposition message individually and to create messages that undermine the opposition before those messages are used by the opposition. It also helps to memorize each counter message so that if an activist is attacked with an opposition message, they can counter with a well-memorized counter message. Here is an example;

What do we say about ourselves?

Libraries provide a wide range of services that can’t be found anywhere else in the community or online.*

 

 

What does the other side say about us?

Libraries are obsolete because we have Google.

 

What do we say about the other side?

They are disconnected from many in the community who don’t have access to the internet.

 

 

 

What does the other side say about themselves?

I don’t use libraries because I have Google.

Once these four areas are defined for each opposition message in a campaign then it becomes easy for a library to use these counter messages whenever necessary. The message box allows you to plan ahead and keep control of the narrative. They say that forewarned is forearmed and a Tully Message Box allows a campaigner to fully understand the direction that any conversation can go in. This gives an activist the power to anticipate what might happen next and have a set of strategies to steer the narrative in their own direction.

*to build a really strong message against opposition using the 27-9-3 method, check out EveryLibrary’s opposition training guide at action.everylibrary.org.

If you are interested in having EveryLibrary conduct a training to build political skills for librarians or speaking at your conference or staff development day you can get more information here. Or for information about my training, workshops and consulting, please view my speaking page.

Further Reading about the Tully Message Box
Progressive Majority
The Campaign Workshop
Wellstone