By Dan Ekstein, Sagac Public Affairs
“I never worry about action, but only inaction.”
– Winston Churchill
It’s the second quarter in a non-election year. You might be looking at disappointing open rates for grassroots action alerts or lagging a bit in quarterly PAC fundraising targets. If so, you’re probably frustrated and wondering how to motivate your audience.
The answer is easier than you think, but it requires that you pick up the phone – a barrier that is often so daunting it snuffs out the spark needed to ignite action. But if you want your members or employees to act, you must first explain why action is necessary and why inaction is detrimental to them, their company and their industry. Policy and political practitioners often overestimate the background knowledge their members and employees have; our audience may not know why those emails or their contributions matter. The best way to educate them is to get them on the line with experts who can explain the stakes.
There are several components needed to create a successful and engaging conference call, but once you’ve mapped out the steps and executed them once, momentum will quickly build and running several calls a year will seem as easy as dialing 1-2-3 on your keypad.
So what are those steps?
Build the Infrastructure. The first step is to understand what resources are currently available to you. Does your organization have access to a conference line? Does this service allow for a moderator? (You’ll need one.) Can you keep participants on mute while speakers are talking? (You’ll want to.) If your organization doesn’t have a line, is there an association to which you belong that would be willing to provide one? You’ll also want to consider recording the call, which should be no more than 45 minutes to an hour in length, so you have a transcript. One final note: remember to include your legal and compliance colleagues in every step of the planning process. You’ll be wasting valuable time if you seek sign-off at the last minute only to have legal nix your ideas.
Go Through the Phone Book. Next, decide on your audience. There are three basic lists from which you can choose: all employees/members, PAC-eligible employees/members, or PAC donors. For your initial call, cast a wide net in order to build a buzz for this new service. Volume is key to driving action, so at the very least, invite all PAC-eligible employees/members. If they don’t give already, the knowledge they gain from the call may compel them to – especially if you subtly suggest other briefings may be open to donors only.
Leave Your Calling Card. Once you’ve decided whom to invite, send an invitation with all details – speaker, date, time, registration link, etc. – at least two weeks in advance. Follow up with reminders a week later and the day before the call. In these two follow-ups, release a bit more information. For example, questions that will be asked, or an explanation of how the day’s news will impact the conversation. Then, the morning of the call, send one last note to attendees only to remind them of the call-in number and access code. Finally, be sure to log and track participants’ contact information and attendance in a database since it will be a good tool for future fundraising and grassroots efforts.
Phone A Friend. Chances are, the pool of potential speakers available to you is much deeper than you think. Leverage your current relationships: use company experts, trade association partners or pundits who have previously addressed other organization gatherings. Conference calls are also a good way to recognize employees or members who are particularly engaged. Asking a PAC member superstar to speak (i.e., host the call) will not only boost that person’s profile, but it will also give audience members a chance to understand how people just like them get engaged and make an impact. Finally, remember political candidates will rarely turn down an opportunity to speak to their donors and constituents, particularly those who create jobs, drive wages or are already active and motivated to cast a ballot. The primary barrier for a candidate is time, but if you give ample advance notice, candidates will make it work. Ask your speaker to talk for 10 to 15 minutes and expect about 20 to 30 minutes of questions. Don’t forget: you’ll want to hold a pre call prep session with your speaker to make sure all logistics and other conference call items go smoothly when it’s show time.
Remember: Silence Is Not Golden. You don’t want to go to the trouble of securing a headliner only to have he or she listen to crickets after their presentation is over. While you can’t control the questions your audience will ask, let them know in advance what the topic of the call is. The electoral landscape? How to positively impact the legislative process? A deep dive on a certain proposal or policy issue? Being specific about a topic is the first step in guiding the conversation toward the end you want. Additionally, your advocacy, government relations and legal teams should work together prior to the call to come up with five to seven questions the moderator can ask to keep the conversation moving. Asking a few questions up front or during the Q&A is also a good way to set the tone for the conversation – or to alter it.
Follow Up With A Note. Remember to thank your speaker and participants. If there were specific questions left unaddressed, provide answers in a follow-up note and use that note to preview your next call. You’ll need a sustained campaign to turn your audience’s inaction into action. That effort continues as soon as your first call concludes. Don’t forget to encourage people to check out your PAC website.
When Can I Call Again? In a non-election year, aim to have one call every six to eight weeks. Calls should be more frequent in an election year, but they don’t have to be locked into a strict schedule. Instead, tie them to major events on the political calendar.
The first step toward action is always daunting, but getting on the line with members or employees is one of the most cost-effective ways to drive engagement. The price of inaction is too steep not to make this call.
Dan Ekstein is a partner at Sagac Public Affairs, a national firm that provides communications, market research, fundraising, and issue advocacy solutions to hundreds of political, nonprofit and corporate organizations. Sagac and Ekstein are industry leaders in the implementation of comprehensive strategies for political finance operations. The firm’s clients represent more than one-third of all federal qualified funds raised each election cycle by corporate and trade association PACs.