What progressive communicators everywhere can learn from Rachel Notley’s victory

Rachel Notley at a campaign rally

When the dust settled on Tuesday night, Rachel Notley and the Alberta NDP had won a stunning victory—and electrified activists from coast to coast to coast. Alberta is a progressive communicator’s “New York, New York”: if we can make it there, we’ll make it anywhere.

So how did the woman who is now premier-designate of Alberta create the magic that propelled the NDP to victory? Because while she didn’t cause the scandals and cynical manipulation that derailed the PCs or the chaos that plagued the Liberals, Rachel and her party were well-prepared to make the most of the opening when it came.

I’ve just posted an article in our NOW Strategy section suggesting six ways Rachel Notley laid the groundwork for the Alberta NDP’s victory. For instance:

Get ready: Yes, Alberta was clearly ready for Rachel…but Rachel was also ready for Alberta. She worked hard on her message and her connection with voters, and that work began long before she was elected leader. It paid off throughout the campaign, and nowhere was that more evident than in the TV debate. In the face of a relentless attack, she kept her cool, stayed on message and even maintained a sense of humour.

Be real: Rachel’s quick wit and highly-tuned bullshit detector are matched by her genuine caring for people, her sense of community and her passionate belief in what the NDP stands for. She had the confidence to let that all shine through authentically; none of it felt forced or insincere. And voters — and the media — clearly recognized it.

Check out the full article here… and let’s talk about what lessons (and inspiration!) you drew from Rachel’s victory. What do you think communicators can learn from Tuesday night’s results?

Photo from Rachel Notley’s Facebook Page.

Your newest must-read website: Civicist

Civicist front page

The high-speed tango that is the dance between technology and politics can be hard to follow. It moves quickly; people seem to be constantly trying new steps; and the folks who fall flat on their faces can take your attention away from the very real successes. Read the rest of this entry »

Memejacking: hopping the bandwagon without getting run over

ACLU meme image excerptEver been tempted to jump on board the latest meme bandwagon—and hope it brings your message along for the ride?

It’s called “memejacking”. Done right, it lets you tap into the energy of a lively conversation to help amplify your message. Done poorly, it can do you some damage. Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome to the new NOW

Change happens, and we’ve had some big changes at NOW over the past while. New faces. New partnerships. A new head office.

And as of today, a renewed brand: a new logo, a new name and a new tagline. We’re now The NOW Group, and our tagline is “communications creating good.”

Why rebrand? Partly because it’s time: every design grows worn over time, and while ours has stood up far longer than any of us expected, we knew we wanted a change.

And we’re a different company today. The company’s leadership has changed (when the dazzling Ron Johnson retired five years ago, it turns out he meant it!), and we have a nationwide presence with more staff and associates across the country than ever before. We can do more, in more places.

In more ways, too. We’re doing much more training and coaching of our clients’ staff and leaders. Digital has taken on much more prominence, and our online campaigning expertise now sports NationBuilder developer certification. We’ll soon be opening our research facility for conducting focus groups right in the Vancouver head office.

And the work has changed dramatically. Audiences aren’t passive recipients of messages; they collaborate in building your brand and spreading the world. Collaboration is deeply ingrained in our approach: amongst ourselves, with our client, and with their audiences and supporters. Our new name underlines the importance of that collaborative approach—and the team of passionate, experienced professionals we offer our clients.

Which brings us to the things that haven’t changed about NOW… and we’re not just talking about the parallelogram in our logo. We’re coming up on our 25th anniversary next year, and alongside the freshness and innovation, we bring a lot of experience to the table. We’re a modern, forward-looking firm, but we’re still steeped in the values that brought NOW about in the first place back in 1991. Every one of us believes that the forces of positive social change deserve professional, effective communications—“communications creating good”—and we’re committed to delivering on that belief every day.

We look forward to hearing what you think of our new look and our new website. And most of all, we look forward to 25 more years working with you… and creating good together.

Good luck, Kristen! And three big hellos!

KristenWe’ve started spring this year with an exciting new adventure for Kristen Keighley-Wight, who is wrapping nine months of production on an actual human being! We wish Kristen and her husband Nate every joy in the world as they wait for their new arrival. We’ll miss her to bits, but she’s returning to us at the end of December—which, at long last, is a good reason to look forward to winter.

Meanwhile, we have a few new arrivals of our own to announce!

ChristinaChristina Day has joined us as our new Production Coordinator, helping to wrangle people, pixels and products into the communications corral. A graduate of BCIT’s Media and Communications Program, she already has an extensive background in TV production (including The Bachelor Canada!) and has helped organize fundraisers for such great folks as Disability Alliance BC and the Coquitlam Variety Show of Hearts Telethon. Which you might think would leave no time to be a competitive dancer, but you’d be mistaken.

CarlaCarla Olson is coming aboard for the next several months as our Agency Producer, and she brings with her years of film and advertising experience. Her ads and videos have told the stories of such diverse clients as the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, a Crown corporation, an activewear company, a National Historic Site and the Wickenheiser International Women’s Hockey Festival. Her independent short films have received international festival acclaim—with her latest funded through Kickstarter. She has that rare combination of creative vision and hard-headed production smarts, and we’re delighted to work with her.

TrevorAnd Trevor McConnell is joining us as a Strategic and Creative Associate out of Calgary. Trevor’s career spans three decades with some of Canada’s best-known advertising firms. When Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Olympic Games, Trevor led the brand launch of the Province of Alberta—and developed the province’s tourism brand for the next five years. These days he’s devoted himself to the labour movement, helping unions connect to the public in new ways. We’ve already enjoyed working with him on several projects, and we’re looking forward to many more.

A new office, new faces—and you may have noticed one or two other new things. More on that shortly. :-)

Your Facebook Page probably got less popular. Here’s why you don’t need to panic.

Facebook logo with a downward-trending graph

Obsessing over metrics like the number of “Likes” your organization’s Facebook Page has received is a fool’s game.

It’s also damn near irresistible, which is why a few cheers went up at NOW headquarters recently when we passed a minor milestone on that front. No bottles of anything were uncorked, mind you—we’re not that numbers-crazed.

And besides, we all took a hit on March 12. Read the rest of this entry »

Get me rewrite! Study says many union print ads aren’t connecting with audiences

Photo of a stack of newspapers

Two University of Saskatchewan researchers are about to publish a must-read study about union communications—specifically, print advertising.

Professors Barb Phillips and Dionne Pohler studied 177 union ads spanning five years, and while “unions are doing a better job on advertising than the researchers thought,” they could be doing a lot better.

“[T]he ads were often far too text heavy, often did not have a call to action, and missed the mark on answering the ‘what-does-this-mean-for-me’ question, particularly when it came to providing an understanding of what unions do for the general public,” according to the university website. “They also found that many union ads too frequently focused on strikes.”

Of course when a strike is underway and your audience is being affected, it’s important to keep communicating, and avoid leaving the conversation exclusively to management. But an effective strategy involves communicating and building support, trust and relationships long before a strike is on the horizon.

And it requires communicating based on your audience’s values, needs and experiences. The study’s authors suggest unions “focus on what they do for society to build good will with the public.”

The study hasn’t been published yet, so we’re not sure exactly how the authors mean this, but we’d frame it more sharply. “Society” doesn’t vote, decide where to shop, or phone their elected representatives; individual people do. Building public support requires you to show your audience how unions benefit them personally.

And there’s another factor we hope the study addresses, one that comes up frequently for us in our work with public- and private-sector unions: the need to engage your members as well as your external audiences. Often labour communications are aimed as much at reinforcing internal solidarity in the face of management attacks, or at mobilizing members to take action, as they are at persuading members of the public. Reconciling messages crafted for those different audiences is one of the biggest challenges unions face.

But that aside, what we’ve seen so far suggests this study could open a lot of eyes. It reinforces much of what NOW’s Paul Degenstein said a few years ago in his manifesto Reviving Labour’s Image, when he urged unions to “Make friends – because when you need a friend, it’s too late to make one,” “Know your audience” and “Talk about them, not you.” It amplifies what Marie Della Mattia told the Canadian Labour Congress Political Action Conference two years ago, when she said “Our real power is when you talk about what’s in it for everyone,” and advised attendees to ask themselves, “Are my words and actions telling everyone, every day, that I care about them?” And it underscores Joanne Deer’s bargaining communications tips published just last month on the Canadian Association of Labour Media blog.

NOW was founded in 1992 to help bring a new communications discipline to the Canadian left, grounded in modern methods and strategies. Progressive communications have come a long way in Canada since then, but this study makes it clear there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

Bargaining communications: Eight tips for an effective message

CALM logoThe Canadian Association of Labour Media recently invited me to contribute a post about bargaining communications to their blog. As a long-standing fan of CALM’s work supporting labour communicators, I jumped at the chance—and wrote a post detailing eight ways to ensure your bargaining communications connect with your audience:

One of the keys to successful bargaining is building solidarity—with your members and with the public.

A clear, consistent message is critical to persuading people to be on your side. And the best way to get people to be on your side is to let them know you’re on their side.

Whether your audience is your members, the public or your employer, you’ll be more successful if you talk about your bargaining objectives in terms of solving real problems. Don’t focus on clause x or protocol y. Instead, talk about concrete results that make a difference for people.

Here are eight tips to help you get there:

1. Start now.

As the saying goes, “When you need a friend, it’s too late to make one.” Every communication should be working toward your objectives far in advance. If your audience only hears from you when the going gets tough, they’ll be less inclined to hop on board.

Your members and the public will be more inclined to support you if you have invested in your relationship over time. Show them now how the work you do makes a positive difference in their lives.

Read the full post on the CALM blog. And let me know what you think!

Download this tool to check your Facebook ad images instantly

Advertising on Facebook can be an effective way of reaching a highly targeted audience, especially when you use a compelling image. But Facebook has an arbitrary, maddening requirement on images in ads: a 20-per-cent limit on the amount of the image with text on it,

That limit is understandable; Facebook doesn’t want newsfeeds full of big blaring marketing copy. (They want newsfeeds full of photos of kittens and sunsets, onto which small blaring marketing copy has been squeezed.) It’s how they implement that limit that turns would-be Facebook ad moguls prematurely grey. The company asks you to divide your image into a five-by-five grid. And if even a little bit of text appears in more than five of the resulting 25 squares, they’ll disqualify your image.

You can check your image by uploading your image to Facebook’s own grid tool, tweaking, uploading, tweaking and finally getting it right. But smart designers drop a grid on the image from within Photoshop.

Now you get to be an even smarter designer. Thanks to this tiny Photoshop file and these five steps, you won’t have to recreate the grid every time.

  1. Download this handy file from us here at NOW. You’re welcome.
  2. Open it in Photoshop.
  3. Select the layer labelled “Shape 1″.
  4. Click on the “Edit” menu and choose “Define custom shape.”
  5. Give your new shape a name like “Facebook ad grid”.

From now on, that grid will be as close as your Custom Shape Tool. Drag it across your image from upper left to lower right, and voilà: instant Facebook grid!

Download the file

Four of our clients’ projects are Reed Award finalists!

There aren’t many stories more compelling than dedicated public-sector workers under attack from governments bent on cutting services and staff. We’ve been helping unions tell—and change—that story in provinces across the country. And this week, four of those stories were honoured by being named as finalists for the Reed Awards, where Campaigns & Elections salutes the best of political communications from the past year.

The finalists include:

Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario: Direct mail

ETFO election postcard

For Ontario teachers, recovery from the Mike Harris era was a slow, painstaking process marked by setbacks and political attacks from the governing Liberals. But even by those standards, PC Leader Tim Hudak‘s agenda of cutting teachers and other school workers was extreme. This piece went into 1.7 million households in swing ridings, exposing the threat posed by Hudak’s plan.

Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario: Web video

This video let us expand on the teachers’ story, explaining how larger class sizes meant less individual attention for students, and making the case for smaller classes. We posted it to YouTube as well as embedding it on the ETFO election website, BuildingBetterSchools.ca.

Ontario Nurses’ Association: Direct mail

ONA election postcard, side 1

ONA election postcard, side 2

Teachers weren’t the only ones targeted by Tim Hudak’s plan. Nurses—already under strain from ongoing shortages—faced the prospect of even heavier workloads, layoffs and wage and pension cuts. This postcard, delivered to 1.4 million households in swing ridings, helped convince voters that Hudak’s plan would erode patient care and put their families’ health at risk.

BC Teachers’ Federation: Campaign website

AFairDeal.ca screen capture

For years, Premier Christy Clark and the BC Liberals repeatedly provoked the BCTF, hoping to trigger a conflict that would swing public sentiment away from teachers. Last year, still riding high on an election victory, the Liberals demanded a 10-year collective agreement locking in the cutbacks and overcrowded classrooms of the past decade. This website, at AFairDeal.ca, helped teachers take the government on, making the most of third-party validation that established both the Liberals’ bad faith and the province’s dismal performance in funding education.

* * *

What really matters, of course, is whether these stories make a difference. And the good news is that they all did.

In Ontario, teachers and nurses helped to defeat Conservatives in all of their targetted ridings. Tim Hudak suffered a huge, leadership-ending defeat as voters rejected not just him, but the conservative public-service-cutting values he campaigned on. And parents throughout BC stood with teachers to a degree that confounded pundits and right-wing strategists alike. The province and the BCTF reached a contract that addresses class size and composition, leaves the teachers’ court victories restoring class-size contract provisions intact, and has a term of just six years, not ten.

We’ll learn who won the Reed Awards on January 23. But as happy as we’d be to see our clients carry home some lovely trophies, we’re satisfied to have helped them tell compelling stories that made a big difference for their members—and the public they serve.