INSIGHTS: DON’T FALL IN LOVE WITH YOUR STRATEGIC PLAN
Winning teams, campaigns and strategies constantly evolve. When performance assessments, or numeric “come-to-Jesus moments” reveal that a campaign’s best laid plans aren’t getting the job done, it is imperative to adapt—whether by revising strategy, retiring tactics or allocating resources differently among existing tools. That’s why, if success matters, you can’t let yourself fall too in love with your own strategic plan.
That’s not to say strategic plans aren’t important. They are. Every single campaign should have one. It should state clearly what the campaign hopes to accomplish and lay out the vision for how to get there, with messages and tactics to be employed along the way. Strategic plans must be carefully devised and adhered to with discipline, but they also need to be understood as living documents.
If advocacy professionals are doing their jobs, the plans with which they start a campaign will rarely look the same as the plans they have at the end. No campaign team, even those powered by the most advanced analytics, is omniscient. So check the egos at the door and commit to rigorously scrutinizing how the components of a strategic plan are holding up in the field.
The point is not to gauge whether messages, tactics and tools are clever or contain enough of the newest, shiniest things. The point is to prove every day that a client’s capital is being used most effectively, and that each campaign expenditure that occurs on your watch, whether of money or time, is actually bringing the client closer to victory.
In a world of limited resources, it’s essential to edit out the superfluous. If a tactic is not building toward a client’s goal, stop wasting their resources. Determine whether the problem exists because the wrong tactic was used or because the tactic isn’t being utilized well. If it’s the former, easy—trash what doesn’t work. If it’s the latter, suit up. Advocacy is a complicated business and some of the tools at our disposal require a lot of testing to finally make them sing.
Without compelling, relatable messages tailored to specific audiences, campaigns will fall flat. Whether the campaign intends to activate or simply educate audiences, it’s essential to realize that each communication with an audience is delivering an ask. Tactics put you in touch with those audiences. Messages determine whether your campaign will actually get a foot in the door and compel your audience to engage.
The words and images that define a campaign should be tested in real time. As the Obama political machine found through the course of the President’s reelection bid, it is often the shortest, most unlikely email subject lines that deliver the best results. Acting on that concrete information, subject lines with poetry and alliterative brilliance were tossed for those that could churn out higher open rates and higher dollar contributions—because that’s what mattered in the end.
Life happens, curve balls are thrown and environments change. When, not if, those doses of reality hit, successful campaigns will adapt. They’ll measure what works to reach their audiences given the new circumstances, and they’ll adjust their strategic plan accordingly. It takes careful planning, self-scrutiny and adaptability to deliver the win today.
ON THE ECONOMY: DON’T CRY FOR ME ARGENTINA
And as for fortune and as for fame, I never invited them in. Though it seemed to the world, they were all I desired, they are illusions, they’re not the solutions they promise to be. The answer was here all the time. I love you and hope you love me. Don’t cry for me Argentina. These words written by Tim Rice and sung by the character of Eva Peron in the play Evita (ok and also by Madonna), in many ways describe the idea of populism, a political doctrine that has been around for thousands of years and now making a comeback in the United States and countries as far flung as Venezuela, Russia, and France.
Populism is a very intriguing political/economic concept that sees the world as an extremely adversarial place. Much like in a game of football, populist ideology is all about the zero sum game. There is no compromise in football – one side wins, and one loses. A yard gained by the Denver Broncos (ok so they only gained one yard in the Super Bowl), is a yard lost by the Seahawks. Over the vast course of human history this was how politics and how economics worked. Empires became wealthy not by creating new things, but by stealing things from other empires. Actual worldwide levels of wealth and production were fairly stagnant. Based on series developed across areas and across time, per capita GDP for the world doubled between the year 1 and 1870 – from about $467 to $873 per person. Between 1870 and 1970 per capita world GDP rose by over 400 percent to $3,700 per person, and by 2003 it had nearly doubled again. What changed between the year 3 and the year 2003?
Probably the most important thing was the development of impartial legal systems and property rights. In the year 2 as in the year 1202 legal systems were highly arbitrary as were the borders of jurisdiction of those systems. One cannot create wealth (or capital) unless one can store it over time. No matter how the wealth is measured – gold, jewels, art, dollars or bitcoins – those who generate capital need to know three things. First, that the capital is secure, and that it can be used in the future. Second, that the capital can be exchanged for something else, like land or labor, and third, that the wealth is a standard measure that can be understood by both buyers and sellers. The “gold standard” came about because the metal was recognized as valuable across a number of different empires. Gold could just have easily been salt, or silk, huge rocks or cowrie shells had those forms of money been more widely accepted.
In a winner take all world one gains wealth only by garnering more gold, or more huge rocks or more cowrie shells. Kings and armies are needed to protect that wealth from other groups or other kings who are trying to grow their wealth by – well, stealing it. This began to change drastically beginning in the 12th and 13th century when ideas like accounting, contracts and international legal systems began to take hold – primarily through the Medici’s in Florence and later Venice.
The ideas of the market differ greatly from those of populism in that those involved in market transactions are all winners. If you purchase something from me in an open marketplace where buyers and sellers compete – even if you get a great deal, we are both winners. Markets allow people to generate wealth by moving resources from low value and low productivity activities to higher value, higher productivity ones. This allows capital to be created rather than simply stolen, and allows everyone in a society to benefit – not just the strong and politically connected.
In order for markets to work, there needs to be a legal structure that protects property from seizure by thieves, by rival powers and by the government itself. This is why when President Obama so ingloriously proclaimed that entrepreneurs did not build businesses by themselves, he was actually correct. Systems of laws and protection are developed by societies not by potentates, and a strong and fair legal system allows entrepreneurs to create business.
This brings us to the idea of populism. If you are struggling to make ends meet, it might sound great when a presidential candidate calls for a 75 percent tax on the rich, or when a generalissimo suggests that it would be great if everyone just broke into the store and took a television for themselves, or when a mayor wants to “tax millionaires,” just because, or even when a dictator thinks taking land from a neighboring state will enhance his honor. But all of these activities are like the football game, zero sum. None of them create anything new, but merely take wealth away from one group and give it to those with the guns. Taxing the rich does not create. Rather it discourages the development of new ideas and investment. Allowing people to simply steal televisions does not lead to abundance, but rather to shortages, and taking land from your neighbor eliminates the property rights that are necessary for investment in the attacking country. In the end, everyone is poorer.
As Evita sings, the ideas of populism, though enticing, are but illusions and not the solutions that they promise to be. Maybe Francois Hollande, Valdimir Putin, Nicolás Maduro and Bill de Blasio should think about Argentina the next time they promote these ideas.
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