Question: Which of these tactics have I actually done?
a) Stuff fur coat pockets with leaflets at Saks Fifth Avenue’s fur salon (fun when you’re 13)
b) Initiate conversations between White House staff, congressional staff and local stakeholders, which weren’t going to happen otherwise
c) Pack a congressional hearing with fishermen
d) Pass a dozen city council resolutions in support of an issue
e) Provide ground support for tree sits
f) Sing anti-corporate Christmas carols at the Mall of America on Black Friday
g) All of the above
The answer is g. In the nearly 30 years since I was chased out of Saks by security guards, I’ve learned that tactics must be rooted in strategy. Tactics that don’t advance your strategy are at best a waste of time and money, and at worst are counterproductive.
Effective tactics are the culmination of a process that begins by defining a concrete goal, then laying out a strategic plan for meeting that goal. Then come tactics in support of your strategy. Example: Curtailing alcohol marketing aimed at youth is a concrete goal. Mobilizing parents, supporting legislation, tightening regulation and influencing businesses’ behavior are strategic pathways toward that goal. Effective tactics directly help accomplish one or more of those strategies.
Tactics are the actions you take to influence the opinions and reactions of decision-makers. Concentrate on the ones that really move the needle.
Leave your organization stronger than it was before. Take a petition, for example. It not only demonstrates support for your cause; it also adds names to your list of potential activists.
Focus on your targets. They are the ones you need to move. Your tactics are there to support a concrete strategy aimed at creating a specific change. Sometimes, your tactic may have an ultimate audience of one—one CEO or one lawmaker.
Be backed by a specific demand. Tactics are means to an end, not an end in themselves. Ask yourself: What exactly are you asking to change, who can change it, and what will get them closer to action?
What purpose will your tactics serve?
Are you going to cost your opponent money?
Make their life harder?
Build unity among current supporters and attract new ones?
Will it surprise your opponent?
Will it target a specific person?
Will its effects be felt immediately or sometime in the future?
Will it teach members new skills and build your organization?
Will it be fun?
These are just a few of the questions you need to ask yourself. But think about potential pitfalls too.
What risks would the tactic expose your members to?
Will someone risk losing a job or be held liable for damages?
Could someone get arrested?
Do you risk antagonizing potential supporters?
Will this tactic be weak and ineffectual?
Will it pass unnoticed?
Can your opponents simply deny it and let the storm pass?
It’s a red flag when a team first sits down to discuss a campaign plan and starts with, “Let’s have a press conference,” or “Let’s issue a report,” or “Let’s have a demonstration,” or “Let’s build a website.” These may indeed be good choices. On the other hand, it might be too soon or too late for that particular choice. There may be groundwork that needs to be laid first. It might be too expensive for the likely payoff.
How did you arrive at the tactics you’ve chosen for your campaign? What’s been your favorite tactic so far? I always love hearing from you so let me know.
And if you haven’t already downloaded these free guides, you can get them at the links below. If you can think of other tools that would be helpful, please let me know.
One of the biggest challenges organizations have is the campaign planning process. To help serve them, I’ve created a guide of the 11 essential points that I use with organizations, as well as with my grad students at Johns Hopkins. In it you’ll find the critical elements your campaign must have. Use this as an easy reference guide for staff, volunteers & trainers.
- The 10 steps of power mapping
- The questions to ask and where to find answers
- Easy reference guide for staff, volunteers & trainers
- What coalitions do
- Who to recruit
- How to pick the best coalition name
- Attracting diverse coalition partners
- Leadership & structure of coalitions