Best Practices for Creating an Effective Brand To Boost Your PAC and Grassroots Programs
Does your PAC or grassroots program have a recognizable brand identity? What is it? Let’s start with what a brand isn’t. It’s not a logo or a product. Your brand is a strategy, a call to action evoking emotion and trust. It speaks to the heart of your function and reinforces your core commitments to stakeholders — namely, your advocates and your PAC eligible community. If you have a key contacts program, your brand would include your program name, the logo associated with it and an understanding of what the program is and what it aims to accomplish. Essentially, a brand is a well-rounded strategy.
Here are some branding and communications tips that Karyn Barr of Allison+Partners and Andrew Fimka of Story Partners shared at the Council’s 2013 Making a Name for Yourself: Branding Advocacy Campaigns program.
I. Developing Your Brand
Before you design a new logo, go public with a new name and tagline or change your brand dramatically, assess what you’re doing now. Is it working? Or do you need to find ways to promote understanding for what you already offer? Focus on your audience. Do they already know you? Will change cause you to lose trust? For example, do your grassroots advocates already know your program by a specific name? If so, renaming it may cause confusion.
Next, focus on a strategy that makes sense for both the short and long term. You’ll need to build an identity you can stand behind. Don’t focus on a single-pronged approach, or you’ll risk losing engagement and trust. For example, don’t focus on a campaign just to sign up grassroots advocates to have in your database. Instead, consider how you will communicate with them after they sign up. Your strategy should include plans for how you’ll continue to engage them after you succeed in meeting your immediate objectives.
And, finally, do your research. Assess who you are as an organization and how that translates to your PAC or grassroots program. Determine what types of educational campaigns you’ll need to roll out your strategy. Consider introducing your program objectives by sending out informational emails or holding a big launch event (for example, at a company staff meeting or an association annual conference).
These critical first steps will help you establish a brand identity that will increase awareness and understanding of your work.
II. Building Trust in Your Brand and Using It to Find Success
Make sure your brand is fully integrated at every level of your program. Here are some best practices for ensuring brand integration and, ultimately, program success:
1. Get leadership buy-in. Securing and maintaining senior leadership buy-in is critical to ensuring your strategy’s success and guaranteeing respect from both internal and external stakeholders. Senior management backing helps to facilitate cross-departmental collaboration and offers ready-made spokespeople for your efforts. Without senior management engagement, you may lose a lot of traction. Consider senior leaders’ goals and find ways to get them excited about being involved, such as opportunities to join advocates during a Capitol Hill fly-in.
2. Do research. Effective branding begins with constant research and understanding your target audience. When deciding a direction for a communications strategy, first determine your audience’s current attitudes and opinions — perhaps through a survey of your advocate community or PAC eligibles. Find out what perceptions they have, what they want and how they want to be communicated with. This will help refine your goals.
3. Create a plan for consistent branding. Too often, a PAC or grassroots program will make changes to its logo or tagline because internal stakeholders have grown weary of it. That’s when your brand identity is most likely starting to stick with your audience. If your brand has developed systematically, continue to be disciplined in letting your communications run their course. If, for example, frustration relates to being tied to one message, consider developing a messaging matrix. You should have one umbrella message that represents your brand. A messaging matrix should help define how this message can be adapted to different audiences and situations while remaining consistent with your key strategy. In its simplest form, this may look like:
|Key PAC message:||The PAC helps us build relationships with congressional candidates who are supportive of our issues.|
|Message to senior management:||Our company is in a highly regulated industry. It’s important that we build relationships with candidates who understand our issues. We need your support for the PAC, as leaders in the company, to keep our company and our industry safe.|
|Message to rank-and-file (eligible) employees:||Our company is in a highly regulated industry. It’s important that we build relationships with candidates who understand our issues. A strong PAC will give us a chance to tell our story and to educate candidates on how issues affect our success.|
|Message to non-eligible employees:||We have a PAC that supports congressional candidates.|
4. Mix it up. Your audience is most likely getting information from a variety of sources. Not everyone reads printed communications, and not everyone opens emails, so create a “surround sound” effect with your messages. Share them on a variety of platforms and use multiple delivery methods to reach as many people as possible. Having a well-defined brand — a logo, tagline, name and purpose — will clarify who the messenger is, regardless of the platform. This allows you to explore different avenues for success in reaching your target audience.
5. Be timely and current. The most effective communications strategies reflect the current legislative/political environment and include your organization’s response to those changing dynamics. Don’t allow your brand and communications to be tone-deaf to hot topics in the news. Anticipate political or cultural milestones (such as the election cycle, the Super Bowl or the first day of school), and incorporate your brand into your messaging around those events. If you don’t, your program’s reputation — and overall brand image — will suffer. By anticipating or reacting to current events, you and your program will look smart and relevant.
6. Be a thought leader. Thought leadership brings your brand into focus by using facts and details to drive a broader narrative. Create a thought leadership platform like a blog or a Facebook page to share your content. This connects all levels of activism and moves stakeholders from passivity to activities requiring a stronger commitment.
7. Bring in others to help. Bringing in non-public-affairs supporters provides credibility and recognition that’s hard to achieve on your own. Identify well-known and respected champions to promote and defend your brand and program when needed. Think about who will be the best ambassadors for helping to instill trust. Recognize that this may be a number of people (e.g., peer-to-peer champions) operating outside your public affairs function.
8. Recognize and highlight advocates. Potential supporters are more apt to act when they know others have already done so. Make them feel like part of a larger community by showcasing those who have gone before. Consider spotlighting key contact members or PAC donors. Gather testimonials from the community. By showing that the public affairs function is not acting alone, you can build trust throughout your organization.
9. Close the loop. Although things like legislative issues may not have definitive conclusions, it’s important to keep external stakeholders up to date on any resolution or development to illustrate the effectiveness of your campaign, your efforts and your brand. Convey how your programs and activities made a difference, and don’t forget to show gratitude for supporters’ participation — especially before making your next “ask.” This ensures transparency and reinforces that your brand and programs can be trusted to deliver relevant and reliable information.
III. Maintaining a Consistent Brand Identity
Consider creating a brand book to ensure consistent interpretation of your brand components. Creating a set of “rules” explaining how your brand works is another important tool for helping to maintain your brand’s reputation and recognition.
Some key considerations:
- Is your name communicated consistently across all appropriate platforms?
- Are you using one logo? Is it related to your company’s logo? Have an answer for why you have chosen to (or not to) connect it to your overarching organizational identity.
- Do you have font and color use guidelines to promote a consistent look and feel?
- Do your Web pages look connected and like part of a greater whole?
- Do you have champions ready to talk about your issues?
For a printable version of this resource, click here.