What are the 10 best campaign films?

Can you help me put together a list of the top 10 campaign films? 

Here are a few more brilliant campaign/advocacy films from the last few months that I think could be worthy of inclusion in any list of ‘top advocacy films’. Do you agree? What else would you add?

These films supplement my suggestions in this post from last summer. Use the comments box below to make your nominations and the reason why.

1 – The new Robin Hood Tax film that you can star in….It’s a bit too long and the ask at the end isn’t clear, but because I really like the way it invites supporters to be part of the campaign. A campaign first?

2 – VW: The Dark Side. Cleverly made by Greenpeace and because it created a media story when LucasFilms demanded it was pulled from You Tube.

3 – The secret Clooney Commercial that shocked Nespresso… by SOLIDAR, its been making me smile ever since I first saw it and because the campaign targeting is genius.

4. The Girl Effect. Simple but effective.

I’d love to know what you would include? What would go in your list of top 10 campaign films?

Review: Page One – Inside the New York Times

A new documentary raises some questions about the challenges that newspapers are facing in the UK and the impacts that could have on our use of the media in campaigning.

We don’t have a UK equivalent to The New York Times, the paper of record in the US, but even so Page One – Inside the New York Times is a fascinating and thought-provoking documentary for any campaigner who wants to think about what impact the perfect storm of a decline in advertising revenue and the growth of social media will have on newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic and by extension campaigns that use them to raise public awareness of key issues.

The film spends a year or so, following the journalists on the Media Desk of The Times as they try to make sense of the changing media landscape and the need to cut costs, while at the same time breaking huge stories like Wikleaks.

Some of the themes that documentary picks up on are similar to issues that Nick Davies touches on his excellent book Flat Earth News which looks at the decline of news reporting in the UK, and a book I’d also recommend for anyone wanting to understand the challenges faced by many journalists.

For me as a campaigner, the documentary raised some great questions to reflect upon;

  • What’s the impact of a decline in the resources that are available to newspapers to dedicate to longer and more investigative pieces of journalism? Does this present an opportunity in the short-term where newspapers are more likely to work with campaigning organisation to provide these stories?
  • Will online sites like Huffington Post have the same resonance with policy makers? What takes the place of the columnist or editorials who cited as influencers. Will this increase the importance of key broadcast shows, like Today and Newsnight, when it comes to ‘setting the agenda’?
  • Will we see the same rapid decline in the ‘tabloid’ media? It not, do we have campaigns that were able to pitch to them?
  • What impact does a media model that is driven by ‘popularity’, for example the website group Gawker has a ‘big board’ that displays the 10 most popular stories, have on our ability to get campaign themes that aren’t interesting, but yet of critical importance in front of the public?
  • Is an increasingly open media environment a good thing because it makes it easier to get our messages out, or a bad thing because it makes it harder to get a critical mass of the public aware of our campaigns?

I’d suspect that the film will have limited releases in UK cinemas, but I’d highly recommend that you go and watch it or get it out on DVD.

The key ingredients for a good campaign action….

Getting the ‘target’ and ‘ask’ right in your action is fundamentally important if you want to have a successful campaign, so here are some thoughts about what should go into a ‘good’ action.

It’s not often that cry out in frustration at a campaign action but I did this week when a colleague forwarded me this action from Stop the Traffik, a campaign which aims to bring an end to human trafficking worldwide.

Now I’ve tried to avoid highlight ‘bad’ campaigning on this blog, preferring to celebrate the creativity and ingenuity that’s been demonstrated by many campaigns, but I wanted to mention this one as an example of ‘not so good’ practice.

Why? Because I’m saddened that a campaign with such a great aim hasn’t done its homework to identify the most effective things to be asking an MP to do and had instead come up with a ‘shopping list’ that I fear will mean most will choose to ignore the action.

I’m not suggesting that every action that it written from now on needs to be the length of an essay. Indeed many of the actions that organisations like Avaaz and ONE ask me to support are often little more than a sentence or two long, but that’s in part because the web or email copy that accompanies it sets out a clear rationale for why I should be supporting the action and are supported by evidence of extensive policy expertise.

Now I know that many campaigns are run by a small staff teams who are juggling multiple priorities (and I’ve made suggestions before about how that shouldn’t hold you back and that lots of campaigners would love to help out) but getting the target and ask right in your action is fundamentally important if you want to have a successful campaign.

For me a good action should have the following components.

1 – Be specific – To a named individual not an ambiguous group like ‘world leaders’ or similar,  this post from futuremediachange.com explains why its a bad idea. It needs to be targeted to the person who can make the change that you want to see happen. Sometimes this will be the Prime Minister or President but often it won’t be.. Indeed I’d argue that when campaigns make more use of different or unexpected target it has the potential to wield more influence than when it focuses on a ‘usual suspect’.

2 – Be achievable – Now by this I’m not saying that we should compromise our asks to make the politically palatable, if you want to ‘stop climate change’ or ‘put an end to world poverty’ continue to include that it your action.

But do ask what’s the one or two things that you want your target to do that will lead to the bigger goal. What’s the step or steps that they can take to achiever your ask? The challenge for the writer of the action is to help the person taking the action understand how achieving the immediate ‘ask’ will make the big goal move a step closer.

3 – Be informed – Linked to the above. Spend some time thinking about routes to influence on your target, who are the people that they really listen to and at the end of it don’t be afraid to change the person you’re focusing your action towards. Equally find out what your target can actually do and if you’ve got a menu of options then choose the one that your intelligence tells you will be most effective at this moment.

4 – Be measurable – How are you going to be able to know if you’ve achieved what you’re asking your target to do. Good asks should have something in them that can be measured to show if it’s been successful. It could be doing something by a date, or increasing support by a certain %, or including certain language in a piece of legislation. Include that and the report back to that took action when you’re successful.

At the end, I find that it’s help to ask, does my action pass the ‘Elevator Test’. It’s a simple rule taken from the world of marketing. Imagine that the person you’re targeting walks into a lift with you. Suddenly you find yourself with 15 seconds to make your ‘pitch’. Are you able to explain what you want them to do succinctly enough that when they walk out they’re able to turn to their advisor or aide and instruct them to do it.

What tips do you have to ensure effective actions? 

NB – If you’re reading this from Stop the Traffik, please consider this constructive criticism, and get in touch as I’d be very happy to have a chat about how you could sharpen your asks.

Post in The Guardian on making use of the Freedom of Information Act

Do have a look at my first contribution to The Guardian Voluntary Sector Network blog on how charities can make use of Freedom of Information Act.

Using the Law in Campaigning – are we missing an opportunity?

Ask a campaigner about the intricacies of Parliament, and the likelihood is that they’ll speak at length about the role the APPGs, PQs and EDMs can play in campaigning.

But move the topic of conversation to the role of the Law Courts in campaigning and the conversation is likely to be much shorter!

Despite the judiciary being at the heart of our political system, we seem to see far few campaigns using legal routes to achieving change.

But as Mark Lattimer writes in The Campaign Handbookthe law’s authority can be invoked to constrain government action, check abuse and generally make life difficult for those who govern’ so it could be a powerful tool to use.

Indeed in recent week, we’ve seen 38 Degrees turn to legal opinionto get another view on the proposed Health Bill that was going through Parliament, and use it as a tool to challenge some of the lines that the government was putting out in the media and inform its campaign communications.

Atticus Finch - A great campaigning lawyer

While at the end of last year, the Fawcett Society challenged the Government’s emergency budget on the ground that it hadn’t been drawn up in accordance with the law, and in particular the legal requirement to consider the way in which different measures impact differently on men and women.

Both are excellent example of how campaigners can make use of the law, so what might be stopping campaigners making more use of legal routes?

Cost – It’s an area where specialist legal training is more often than not needed, and unlike other campaigning activities it’s hard to get far without having to draw on this advice. Most campaigners can learn ‘on the job’ about how to write a good e-action or organise a stunt but that option doesn’t exist, and because of the high cost of professional help that can be prohibitive for many campaigns, plus off-putting to a CEO counting the pennies!

Speed – In an environment when campaigns want to win victories quickly, the deliberative nature of the law can mean that decisions that do or don’t support a campaign can take months or years to come, for example the Fawcett Society’s case took 3 months to be heard by the High Court (and that was quick!). 

Knowledge – As campaigners, were just not as familiar with the legal system. We might have an understanding of how to use Freedom of Information or certain Environmental Information Laws but that’s about it. Most campaigning courses don’t spend long looking at using the law, plus add to that the legal environment is often changing with new laws being passed and judgments being handed down and it can be hard to keep up.

But given the examples of 38 Degrees and the Fawcett Society what  resources are available to those campaigns looking to consider this?

Mark Lattimer’s The Campaign Handbook has a whole chapter devoted to ‘Using the Law’ although I’d suspect that some of it is now a little date, while Campaign Central has a section devoted to ‘The Law and Campaigning’ although much of it focuses on what campaigning you can and can’t do because of charity law.

Specialist groups exist to help provide advice and undertake pro-bono work for charities and other groups. I’ve been able to make use of Advocate for International Development, who title themselves as ‘lawyers ending poverty’ and provide support for development NGOs.

What other resources exist for campaigning looking at using the law? Should we make more use of legal routes in our campaigning?

Holding successful events with MPs in Parliament

Conference season is upon us and many campaigners will be packing their bags to head off to Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester.

But  as Chloe Stables notes in an excellent post about making the most of attending conference they can be ‘expensive, hectic and occasionally frustrating‘ but other options for engaging with MPs do exist.

Back in March, I was involved in organising an event to mark World Water Day, which at the time one colleague musedwas a better use of resources that organising an fringe meeting at Party Conference.

A modest objective of getting 12-15 MPs along was set but in the end we got over 40 MPs came to join in, a great success and far more than we would have got attending a fringe event at conference.

David Burrowes MP at the event

One of the 40 MPs who attended the event

The idea was simple. Invite MPs to join us on and walk 100m with a jerry can on a course we’d set up in Victoria Tower Gardens, it was a symbolic act to remember the fact that many people have to walk up to 6km to get access to something we expect to get from our taps, and we hoped that it would help to build links with Parliamentarians who could act as champions for the issue in the coming year.

You can read more about the event here, but it got me thinking about what some of the elements that made the event a success.

Perhaps they’re nothing new but I wanted to share them to see what insight others have about what works when looking to engage MPs in events in Parliament.

1. Provide a photo opportunity – It’s a cliché but the offer of a photo and a pre-prepared press release undoubtedly encouraged some MPs to join us. We set up a water pump and promised to get the release to them within 3 hours. It was nice to use this as a way of helping the MP demonstrate the interest they had in the issue.

2. Targeted the few not the many – The decision was taken early in the planning not to actively invite all MPs, but to identify and approach a smaller number of influential MPs on the topic, for example those on key select committees or those who’d shown an interest in the issue previously. We hoped that our invitation was more likely to get noticed, and we already had a relationship with some which made it easier to follow up with.

3. Followed up via Twitter – Ahead of the event, we got in touch with those MPs who used twitter to remind them to come down. At least one mentioned that this had made the difference about them attending or not.

4. Used our supporters – We invited our supporters who lived in the constituencies of MPs we had an interest in to attend, but had realistic expectations about the number who’d be able to join us on a Tuesday. We also encouraged them to get in touch and invite their MP along anyhow. Again, a number of MPs mentioned that this was one of the reasons they joined us.

5. Made the most of our contacts – We found that amongst an extended group of colleagues had a number had contact with friends who worked for MPs or who could raise the profile of the event inside Parliament. A few well placed e-mails and calls from them certainly helped to increase the numbers attending. A reminder that sometimes it’s useful to use your personal contacts.

6. Kept the event going for two hours – Allowing MPs a longer window of time to come along seemed to yield dividends in reducing the number of MPs who simply couldn’t join us because of diary clashes.

What successful events have you organised with MPs? Is Conference a useful forum to engage with MPs? What have you found works and what hasn’t?
Some of this post originally appeared on the NCVO Campaigning Forum.

Five for Friday….16 September

Here is the latest selection of articles that might be of interest to campaigners….

1. Great guide from Fair Pensions about how you can become a shareholder activist.

2. Short but useful guide from movements.org about campaign planning.

3. Some good suggestions from M+R Research Labs about what makes a successful e-campaign action.

4. Brian Lamb argues that e-petitions are a shallow form of campaigning.

5. Finally, I think this action from Swiss organisation, SOLIDAR is excellent. Great target selection, a funny video and a clear message.