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We’ve Got Advocacy Marketing All Wrong

It was a great plan

I was on the phone today with a prospective non-profit client that we were excited to work with. We had put together a proposal for him that would help them get their messaging focused and organized, so that they could do the work of creating awareness of, interest in, and preference for his organization and the work they do. (See how I worked that ages-old marketing funnel in there? Search-bait, my friends.) I was particularly excited because our family has a personal stake in this space: education. Shelly, my business partner and spouse (it works, I swear!) is a former educator, we have lots of educator friends, and our eldest son is currently student teaching in his second-to-last semester at Calvin University (free plug, please reference search-bait comment above). This is where I insert the content of the  conversation: educators are wearing out.

Have you seen the news lately?

To reiterate: educators are wearing out. Stretched thin. Pushed to the limit. And our kid wants to be one. He wants to help educate the next generation, share his love of history, sports, good books, and foster a life-long love of learning. It’s a noble profession that up to the past 24 months I’ve been wary of for him, and now I’m just straight up alarmed. Because teachers and administrators are resigning or are considering resigning in unprecedented numbers. And the reasons are myriad and sundry and have been well documented (seriously, do I need to point you to Google?) elsewhere. The gist? Our educators need our help.

Where are you going with this?

Back to the phone conversation with our prospective client. He said, “there’s no money to fund the plan. There was supposed to be money.” The pandemic not only changed behaviors and expectations but also emptied reserves. In our client’s case, revenues that would typically come from in-person training events and conferences evaporated over the course of the last 24 months as those trainings and conferences went virtual, with the expectation that the online experience be free. If you pull the camera back a bit to get a fuller picture, the sponsors of said trainings and conferences supported these free, online events for a time, but they’re feeling the pinch as well now. Because those sponsors were looking to leverage those dollars into relationships or sales or both. There’s no money to fund the plan.

And that plan was to create a public advocacy marketing program for educators.

Help me connect the dots…

You might be familiar with public advocacy ads. If you’re a child of the 80’s like me, you’ll remember Smokey the Bear, or possibly The Kite Man (you had to be a west-coaster to enjoy this gem). Not only is marketing the practice of creating demand for goods and services. It’s also, at its best, a tool to help people understand, appreciate, and advocate for issues that affect the common interest. Such as educator burnout.

Because just like putting out a forest fire properly, if we don’t start understanding, appreciating, and advocating for educators and education of the public variety, my friends, we will have a forest fire that will destroy communities like the wildfires we’ve seen in the western states and around the globe. To paraphrase Linus VanPelt, “that’s what advocacy marketing is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Isn’t the title of this piece misleading?

So like any proper modern blogger, I began to support my argument by searching the internet for definitions of concepts key to my little missive here. And we’re talking about marketing advocacy. Or advocacy marketing. Or… what? Excuse my “get off my lawn!” moment here, but when did a community-facing concept turn inward and self-serving?

The practice of marketing should allow for more than a funnel or cycle that perpetuates unending commerce that benefits only the agency or the client. Marketing has a rich history of doing incredible work to further incredible causes that make the world a better place without having to add commerce into the mix (reference the link above that gives you a nice history of advocacy advertising). How does that commerce benefit the non-profit? Does it pay their bills? Does it bring the need to greater attention? These questions should be asked as a commerce-based advocacy campaign is presented to a non-profit for consideration. For your consideration, here are two organizations that are advocating improved global living conditions, including clean drinking water: one uses a “traditional” approach to their marketing advocacy by creating relationships, telling stories, and fundraising. The other uses a commerce-focused approach by selling goods of which a portion of the proceeds go to charitable causes. Is one right and the other wrong?

Conclusion confusion

Our story today began with a prospective client hitting a roadblock due to funding. He has an important message to share with the public about the dire state of educators. He wants to inform and influence so that two outcomes are met: educators stay in the game and more join it. By informing and educating the public, the hope is to help our society better understand how vital educators are to our society and, as long as we’re talking commerce, our economy. As far back as 2013, economic development groups understood that a well-educated workforce led to more sustainable jobs, stronger communities, higher wages, and greater satisfaction. Someone must teach those workers. Since that time, we’ve taken to villainizing, overtaxing, overregulating, and exhausting our educators. Our fuel for a strong economy.

2 Fish Company was founded, in part, to help improve the voice and message of non-profits. Organizations that are dedicated to making the world a better place. That’s why we have a 10% Program. We give non-profits 10% of our yearly revenue to help them communicate as effectively as possible. That doesn’t make us saints; it makes us part of a community. It makes us advocates for the greater good. We, all of us, should do no less.

Want to help?

As long as I am still on the soapbox (look that up, kids), I want to share with you a couple of non-profits you should consider supporting. These organizations are focused on advocating for, supporting, and creating resilient educators. They advocate for our educators. We all should advocate for educators.