How campaigning dealt a blow to the Murdoch empire

The last few days have been fascinating for any watcher of UK politics, media or campaigning. Pages and pages have already been written about what’s happened with News of the World and BSkyB.

I’m certain more will come in the next few days and weeks, indeed the story seems to change by the day. But it looks to me as though three distinct campaign asks have been running in the last week;

  1. For an advertising boycott of The News of the World (which helped to contribute to its closure).
  2. For News Corporation (the parent company run by Rupert Murdoch) not to be able to continue with his takeover of BSkyB (which lead to it News Corporation withdrawing its offer)
  3. For a public inquiry into the phone hacking.

Although they have separate aims lead by different organisations, at times it’s been hard to distinguish from the campaigns, as much of the messaging seems to be ‘Stop Murdoch’. For me at least 5 distinct groupings have emerged, from what I can tell their hasn’t been huge amounts of central coordination, although they’ve clearly fed off each other and sometimes shared campaign tools.

It’s interesting to reflect if any of these groups alone would have been able to achieve their campaign aims. Would, for example the demand to stop News Corporation take full control of BSkyB have happened without the campaign which lead to the boycott of The News of the World (NOTW) being successful?

So who was involved?

Twitter – Not the site itself, but a number of users who kicked off the idea last Monday about targeting the valuable advertising revenue that was central to the News of the World profitability. Their role has been well chronicled by Rory Cellan-Jones over at the BBC, but it’s also worth reading the account of Melissa Harrison who was one of those who instigated the idea of a boycott on Monday 4th July.

It was Harrison and others who developed online tool at taken down) which allowed users to generate a pre-prepared tweet which went something along the lines of ‘“Dear @TheCooperative, will you be reconsidering your advertising spend with #notw given that we now know they hacked Milly Dowler’s phone?”. I’m sure that the presence of this site really help to accelerate the number of tweets that were being sent. 

We Are Social have done a fascinating breakdown of tweets sent about NOTW last week and calculate that ‘on the 5th and 6th July, over 25% of conversations on Twitter mentioning NOTW keywords also mentioned one of the targeted brands‘. Brands such The Co-operative, Sky, WH Smith and Virgin Media all received over 10,000 tweets about the NOTW advertiser boycott. The Guardian also has a nice visualisation of the way that twitter has been used during the last week.

Mumsnet – The site was one the first to promote the pre-prepared tweet tool on, but was also one of the first to publicly reject money from Rupert Murdoch by ending a campaign that had been promoting Sky (another part of the Murdoch empire) after complaints from users of the site.

They were characterised by some as ‘comfortable middle-class mothers of MumsNet sitting down to their fair-trade tea and organic shortbread biscuits‘ but I think their involvement was critical early in the campaign providing momentum and evidence of an appetite for rejecting money from companies associated with Rupert Murdoch.

Progressive bloggers – Collaborating together sites like Liberal Conspiracy and Political Scrapbook where quick off the mark in encouraging their readers to get involved in the campaign to potential advertisers that they should boycott (although the numbers directed to the site are much lower that other sources), but perhaps more importantly they also had the capacity to run the definitive list of advertisers and if they were planning to boycott the paper or not, helping to fuel the media narrative that advertisers were deserting the paper.

The press (especially the Guardian) – It was the work of Guardian journalist Nick Davies who brought the story to light, but beyond that it was others at the Guardian, like Roy Greenslade, who encouraged action by providing a list of what people could do on his blog. The Guardian website pushed almost 10,000 people to the twitter action tool.  Certainly the Guardian has lived up to its campaigning reputation this week.

Hacked Off – The campaign for a public inquiry into phone hacking was only launched last Wednesday, but has quickly become the group that has been at the centre of mobilising high-profile individuals to get involved in the campaign. Many of those who have are individuals who have been directly affected, included Hugh Grant who appeared on Question Time and the parents of Milly Dowler, who met with Nick Clegg on Tuesday.

Supported by the Media Standards Trust, this is perhaps the closest group in the campaign so far that resembles a more traditional NGO approach to campaigning, with more focus on policy processes, media photo calls and meeting with government.

38 Degrees and Avaaz – The online campaigning movement 38 Degrees has been running a campaign for over a year to call for the proposed takeover of BSkyB to be sent to the Competition Commission. 

As their campaign timeline shows they were well positions to make the most of the opportunity presented by the release of the revelations about Milly Dowler’s phone being hacked to invite people to join this broader campaign about corporate control of the media. It was so successful that the site crashed due to the volume of people trying to take action.

Both Avaaz, who ran a petition alongside 38 Degrees which got over 300,000 names to demand a public enquiry into the scandal and 38 Degrees were able to bring their campaigning tools to help individuals to send a message to individual MPs as well as representatives of the government.

Their huge e-mails lists (it’s estimated that 38 Degrees has over 750,000 people on its) built on the back of previous campaigns, helped to get the message out and sustaining it over the week, combined with some great ‘pop-up protests’ around Westminster. These groups certainly brought an element of strategic focus to the campaign.

What other actors were involved? Was it just online tribes who closed The News of the World? 


The F Word…

We’re always quick to celebrate a campaign success but what about a campaign failure?

While it’s probably not appropriate to be trumpeting our failures in emails to supporters, it’s right to make sure we’re making space in our organisations to learn in a constructive way from the not so good, but how many of us actually do this?

This post was prompted by some great tips from the New Organising Institute about dealing with failure in one of their daily e-mail. The tips included;

Create a culture of debriefing. Schedule time to debrief into everything, before work starts. After every event or project, evaluate what worked, what didn’t, and articulate key learnings together. Require short, written reflection on major projects, especially those that fall short.

Get back out there! Who wants to wallow in failure? Encourage those you coach to get out there and try again!

To that I’d add a couple of thoughts;

Tolerate failure. It sounds counter intuitive, but one of the most useful things I’ve taken from a seminar was the idea that if we attempt 5 things and only 2 work then we should celebrate those, rather than lament the 3 that don’t work.

Sometimes things we do won’t work but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try in the first place. This is especially true in the world of digital media where it’s much harder to pick up the website or tool that will take off. Many campaigning organisations have an institutional aversion to risk, and perhaps rightly so when resources are limited, but do we need to change the way we see things that don’t succeed?

Be honest about failure: When something doesn’t go right its often not something that we want to talk about, especially to others in our sector. But I think we should be encouraging campaigning organisations to share about what they’re finding isn’t working for them, as much as what is work.

The Admitting Failure website run by Engineers without Borders puts it like this “By hiding our failures, we are condemning ourselves to repeat them and we are stifling innovation. In doing so, we are condemning ourselves to continue under-performance in the development sector. Conversely, by admitting our failures – publicly sharing them not as shameful acts, but as important lessons – we contribute to a culture in development where failure is recognised as essential to success.”

What are you doing to learn from your campaign failures? How can we share them across our campaigns?

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From Across the Pond – Observations from my visit to DC and NYC

I really enjoyed my time in the US last week, it was great to spend time with some inspiring advocates and get an insight into the campaigning landscape in the US. Clearly the US is a very big country and I was only able to visit Washington and New York (a little like just spending time in London and Brussels if you visited Europe) so these are just a few advocacy related observations from my time in those cities.

1. Advertising everywhere. On the Metro (see photo below supporting Corn Growers), in front yards and in the papers I was amazed at the amount of advertising in support of different public policy positions. It seems that a combinations of campaigns with deep financial pockets and media laws that make it easier for campaigning organisations to advertise have made this an attractive tactic to use. I’d be interested to see some figures on the effectiveness of this as a tactic, my concern would be that it risks becoming ‘background noise’ because it’s used so much.

2. The strength of community organising. I got to learn about some amazing examples of community organising on the issue of Environmental Justice at a conference in New York. Organisations like New York Faith and Justice or UPROSE are doing some amazing grassroots work, mobilising communities often in economically disadvantaged areas and seeing campaign success with local government, for example getting the City Council in New York to clean up disused industrial areas. It felt to me that their was a far more vibrant community of grassroots organisations than we have here making use of all the layers of government (city, district, state and federal level) that exist in the US in a far more effective way than I’ve observed in the UK.

3. QR Codes While you occasionally see these funny black and white patterns, which can be used in conjunction with a smart-phone to send you to a website for more information, in magazines in the UK they were a lot more prevalent in the US. With the growing use of smart-phones I can see how they could be used as an excellent tool in campaign literature to help bridge the digital/paper divide. I suspect we’ll see campaigning organisations use them soon.

4. How healthy are the grasstops?  I heard this phrase the ‘Grasstops’ used on a number of occasions, it’s used to describe those organisations that are just involved in lobbying and influencing in DC or towards other legislators but don’t have any support from a membership base (the grassroots). It appears to be a fastly with hundred of organisations with names that include ‘Institute‘, ‘Centres for….‘ or ‘Association of‘ in them.

Walking around DC you quickly spot people with badges representing them of to meet with politicians and officials, but my question is where these groups draw their legitimacy from, even when they’re advocating for more ‘progressive’ causes. It appears to me that some of the most  exciting advocacy networks are those that have been able to combine effective ‘grasstops’ engagement with support from an active ‘grassroots’. One that impressed me considerably was Bread for the World, a faith-based movement to end hunger.

5. The influence of Foundations. I’ve blogged on a number of papers on various topics coming out of various US Foundations in the last week. It’s very evident that they’re powerful financial backers of many of the campaigns and from that they are producing lots of interesting and exciting research on issues such as M+E and assessing impact (this is an interesting study on just that). I need to do more research to find the key foundations and networks, but it’s worth keeping an eye on the website of organisations like New Organising Institute,  Institute for Sustainable Communities and others who are putting out some great materials.

Have you been to the US recently or are you based in the US? What are your observations on the advocacy scene in the States? 

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Don’t delay, apply today….

Are you?

  • Someone who wants to take their campaign to the next level?
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  • Working on the issue of Consumer Action, Environment, Social Justice in London, Social and Economic Justice and Transport or fit the following criteria you’re an international campaigner, local Campaigner, aged 14-18 or aged 60+.
  • Yes? Then stop reading this blog and apply for a Campaigner Award organised by The Sheila McKechnie Foundation (SMK). The deadline is 10am on Monday 27th June.

    Are we really out-of-touch, ineffective and bureaucratic? Thoughts on Charles Secrett’s article

    Charles Secrett has an article on the Guardian website today which concludes by saying ‘Today’s activists regard once radical organisations as part of the NGO establishment: out-of-touch, ineffective and bureaucratic. The wheel has turned full circle. It is time to rethink and reorganise again’.

    Secrett who was executive director of Friends of the Earth (FoE) in the 1990s uses his article, written to mark the organisations 40th birthday, to argue that Greenpeace and FoE are “conservative and unimaginative” and their “ambition is lacking through the fear of being seen to be too political

    I’m sure the article will get passed around campaigning organisations in the coming days and will lead to some interesting debates across desks. That’s something to welcome.

    Here are a few brief thoughts on some of the comments that Secrett makes.

    I agree with the suggestion that we’ve lost some of our creativity in the sector and that perhaps we’ve become over reliant on sending campaign postcards or emails to our campaign targets, rather than exploring more creative forms of action. Secrett writes that ‘Street theatre, consumer boycotts, marches and rallies, backed by authoritative analysis and political campaigning, underpinned strategy’ in the early days of FoE.

    It’s good to read the article and be reminded of the way that FoE and others made use of legal channels and other tactics in their earlier campaigning. From this the challenge comes about the need to have a discussion not just about how we use a broader range of tools and tactics, but also how we think more creatively about the targets that we focus on.

    I disagree with the assertion that Secrett is making that ‘managers, administrators, communicators and fundraisers outnumber campaigners and researchers’ in our organisations is a wholly bad thing. Why? It’s because it overlooks how vital they can be to running an effective campaign. A good communicator can help to craft a campaigning message that has real impact with a new group that’s currently unengaged, while an effective administrator is the person that plays a pivotal in organising to get activists together.

    From my experience many of those ‘managers, administrators, communicators and fundraisers’ have started careers working for NGOs, so they can use the skills and experiences they have to increase the impact of our campaigning. They can be as much a ‘campaigner’ as those who have the word ‘campaign’ in a job title.

    I agree that at times some of the larger NGOs haven’t been as agile as they should be. I’ve written about this before and argued that one of the main things that we can learn from movements such as 38 Degrees is that being first to market matters more than ever before.

    I disagree with the inference that the higher-levels of activism that built FoE and Greenpeace are the only ones that matter when it comes to policy change. One of the main contributions that organisations like FoE, Greenpeace and WWF have made is that they’ve taken activism from a small group of individuals to a much broader community of activist. We need to accept that not everyone wants to be involved in direct action, but our strength can come from being part of a movement. Sure, we need to continue to debate the most effective tools to use but I think we should find a way that as many as possible can engage.

    I agree that we need to think more about how to counter corporate PR. In part, this is a product of the success of our activism which means that companies and other institutions have felt the need as Secrett says ‘employ legions of PR firms to keep campaigners at bay, and support climate deniers and free market optimists to muddy the waters of public opinion’. I don’t think we’ve done enough to understand the extent of these links and the impact that they’ve had on the debate.

    No doubt, this is a debate that is going to continue in the coming days. Secrett has highlighted some important challenges, but his article fails to acknowledge a number of things. The role of organisations like FoE and Greenpeace in creating global movements around these issues, the importance of evidence based research to ground our policy recommendations, the changing nature of the media and the way many organisations have innovated around digital media.

    What parts of Secrett’s article do you agree or disagree with?

    Great free daily organising tips from @neworganizing Institute

    I’ve just signed up to get ‘Tip of the Day’ from the New Organising Institute. They’re based in the US and every weekday they send a free tip about organising, many of which would be relevant to campaigners in the UK. How brilliant is that?

    This is my favourite so far (which I’ve reproduced in full to illustrate how brilliant they are*). I can’t encourage you enough to sign up for the tips….

    The difference between goals, strategies and tactics by Nick Gaw
    I see so many campaigns get excited about a new tool, and then use it without considering how it impacts their strategy. There are some really sexy organizing tools out there. In the midst of some amazing innovation, it can be all too easy to get excited about using a particular tool and forget to think about where it fits in to the grand scheme of your primary objective. Unless you can use it to reach your goal, it’s not worth spending time and money on. So, here’s an example to demonstrate the difference between goals, strategy and tactics.

    Your Goal: Getting backstage at a Justin Bieber concert.

    Possible strategies, with accompanying tactics bulleted:

    Strategy 1. Become friends with Justin Bieber’s mom

    • Join her book club
    • Join her church
    • Get your mom to introduce you

    Strategy 2. Get Justin to notice you from on stage and invite you back

    • Procure front-row tickets
    • Coordinate posters and outfits among other attendees
    • Throw something attention-getting onstage

    Strategy 3. Become friends with the bouncer

    • Dress in a way that he notices
    • Buy him beer
    • Date his best friend

    Notice that the tactics for each strategy are unique, specific, and don’t fit any of the other strategies. If you can stay committed to your goal, put creative strategies into place, and use tactics that are effective in your specific situation, you’ll be in good shape!

    And remember, if a tool or tactic helps you implement your strategy to reach your goal, you should use it (Justin Bieber’s mom probably appreciates a nice young person in her book club). If it doesn’t, then it’s only going to be a distraction (throwing something attention-grabbing on stage at her church is probably counter-productive).

    If a tool fits your strategy and tactics, use it! But make sure you know why you’re using it, and how it benefits your work.

    Go to for more and to sign up.

    * if you’re from the wonderful folk at New Organising Institute, firstly thanks and secondly let me know if you don’t want this tip to be published in full here…

    Five thoughts for those campaigning in smaller organisations

    I work for a large NGO (and always have) so I’m not permitted to attend the ‘Campaigning in a small organisation‘ session that NCVO are running tomorrow (although I might follow it via #F4CCSO), but here are few thoughts that I might pass on if I had the opportunity to do so. What would you add?

    1. Don’t skip the planning – It might sound boring/time-consuming/hard to do (*delete as appropriate) but it’s worth the investment of time and energy, and I promise you it’ll mean you’ll have a better campaign at the end of it (I’ve learnt the hard way). Bad campaigning comes from rushing in without pausing to consider what you want to change, who can change it and how you can influence them, so make use of the advocacy cycle as you set out. There are excellent tools available, start here at the NCVO website & don’t be afraid to ask campaigners from other organisations to advise and help you. Campaigning for most is more than a job, it’s a vocation and most campaigners are only too pleased to help (look for example at this example from the Digital Charity group).

    2. Capture the stories of success and failure – Become meticulous about recording what’s working and what’s not working so well. Use the stories of success, for example a comment from a local decision maker, feedback from a beneficiary, a campaign victory, etc, to build a case to invest more resources in campaigning. Use the not so good to learn for next time.

    3. Small should mean agile – Agility is becoming a precious commodity in campaigning. The power of the internet means that you don’t have to have a massive print budget or a network of thousands of supporters to get notice. As a small organisation, you have an inherent advantage when it comes to making quick decisions, so make the most of it.

    4. Don’t under-estimate the power of a coalition – Every organisation, no matter what it’s size, has something to contribute to a coalition. It could be the ability to connect with a specific audience, expertise and insight or links with a specific beneficiary group. Whatever it is, find others working on your issue, diverse groups often get noticed by decision makers.

    5. Never stop believing that you can change the world! It’s quoted too often but Margaret Mead was onto something when she said “Never underestimate the power of a small but committed group of people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has’

    What other thoughts would you share with those attending tomorrow?