The Intersection: Jun 2011

Welcome to The Intersection, a series designed to help you anticipate and prepare for public policy challenges and opportunities.

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Let me guess how your day has gone so far.

You probably woke up to a radio or iHome alarm clock. While drinking your coffee, you checked your email. You probably know what all of your friends are thinking today because you found a few minutes to read their latest posts on Facebook, even if you didn’t find the time to post an update of your own. You might have watched a few minutes of TV news; perhaps you’ve browsed a favorite blog or two; and maybe (although it’s statistically unlikely) you’ve even tweeted something interesting to your followers.

At some point today, if it hasn’t happened already, someone is going to send you a completely hilarious video to watch on YouTube. Before you call it quits for the day, you’ll watch a little more TV—most likely recorded a week ago on your DVR—or an online episode from Hulu. You’ll read posts from social channels and news sites. And you’ll probably reach a point where you think to yourself: I’ve had enough input for one day!

You are surrounded by a cacophony of information.

It is increasingly challenging to reach the people who make America’s decisions. Policymakers, their staffers, journalists and opinion elites are overwhelmed with information. Their attention spans are short. If you want to reach them, you have to deliver a surround-sound campaign. Here’s how to do it.

Research your targets’ information consumption patterns. If you want to surround your target audience, you must first appreciate how they consume information. For example, in Washington, D.C.:

  • Email, news websites and TV (in that order) are the most influential media formats across D.C. Shared links from personal contacts and radio follow closely.
  • More than half of Hill staffers visit social channels at least once per day.
  • Twitter isn’t as popular in Washington as other social channels, but it’s twice as useful for reaching Democrats compared with Republicans.
  • Mobile apps are on the rise among Washingtonians. So is social sharing of news and information.

You have an overwhelming variety of ways to deliver your message. Pick the channels and formats that will surround your intended audience.

Surround your targets. Members of Congress (and, for that matter, most public figures) really care what people are saying about them. When they start hearing your message from their closest contacts, it will have an impact. Start with earned media tactics that will get bloggers posting about your topic, mentioning your targets by name. Pitch your story to the journalists and news platforms that influence your targets. Recruit your allies, membership groups and supporters to join your comment army. Ask them to make supporting comments on the stories you favor and to post their feedback on your targets’ social media properties. Your targets will start to see a pattern forming. Your ideas and allies will start showing up in their daily Google Alerts.

Deliver the right mixture of paid advertising. It used to be simple to run a paid advertising campaign: raise a ton of money and deliver lots of TV and possibly some radio ads in your target market, carpet-bombing a broad section of the public into emotional conformity with your messages. This no longer works.

After you have analyzed your audience and implemented a surround-sound earned media plan, you might need more volume through paid media. Resist the urge to carpet-bomb. Employ surgical precision. Deliver your paid ads to:

  • People they know, including their friends and family. Do this through highly targeted advertising based on social graphs (e.g. Facebook or LinkedIn ads).
  • The news sites and blogs they read (and possibly contribute to). Plan your ad delivery thoughtfully to ensure that your display ads are being delivered at the right times of day, in the right zip codes, and alongside the right content.
  • Their physical environment. You can own critical ad space in your targets’ neighborhoods through a variety of delivery vehicles. This could range from outdoor signage, direct mail and gas pump toppers to geo-targeted mobile ads.

Breaking through the information curtain is tough, so set yourself up for success by crafting really interesting messages. Be funny, fearsome, thankful, provocative… just don’t be dull.

Today, you ingested media from radio, TV, a phone, a computer, your friends, the great outdoors and possibly even a tablet. You squinted at screens of all sizes. Some of your information consumption was by choice. Some of it was involuntary. You tried to ignore a lot of it—skipped some commercials and deleted those annoying bulk emails—but this consumption influenced you nonetheless.

It takes a lot of planning and even more work to surround a target audience with your messages. But as information abounds and attention wanes, it’s critical to think in 360 degrees. Ideally, an information consumer just like you is waking up today and reading your op-ed over breakfast. He’s seeing your ad on the side of a bus on his way to work. Your online ad is meeting him on his favorite news site. Tonight, he’ll see your commercial on TV, and when he checks Facebook, he’ll have the opportunity to “Like” your page. When these messages are seamlessly integrated, it will seem less like a barrage and more like a symphony in surround sound.