BOOK REVIEW: Getting back to your grass-roots in the Internet age The Public Affairs Council has updated its guide to grass-roots PR, Winning at the Grassroots, for the Internet age. Ron Culp takes a look.

As a PR tool, grass-roots lobbying efforts appeared static for several years. Recently, however, programs appear to be gaining stature, which is partly due to the Internet economy.

As a PR tool, grass-roots lobbying efforts appeared static for several years. Recently, however, programs appear to be gaining stature, which is partly due to the Internet economy.

As a PR tool, grass-roots lobbying efforts appeared static for

several years. Recently, however, programs appear to be gaining stature,

which is partly due to the Internet economy.

Take, for example, the dilemma faced by the Sears government affairs

staff earlier this year. Proposed privacy legislation in Washington

state would have prevented department stores from using their own

customers’ information as a marketing tool, so Sears launched an

aggressive effort to communicate its point of view to those proposing

the legislation.

In addition to calls and letters from store staff, the company arranged

for privacy experts to meet with state officials to explain the

difference between using a company’s own customer data versus buying

such information from others. The well-intentioned Washington state

officials accepted the differences that had been pointed out to them,

and ultimately shelved what would have been overreaching


This effort exemplifies grass-roots programs that have mushroomed since

the Public Affairs Council published its first handbook on the subject

in 1989. The council’s latest publication,Winning at the Grassroots,’ is

a hefty 291-page handbook containing a variety of academic-quality

papers and case studies. The book is logically divided into 11 sections,

each with two to six ’chapters’ (articles were contributed by an

eclectic array of corporate public affairs managers, association

executives, consultants and lobbyists).

Given the same title as the council’s earlier handbook, the new work

carries some of the same rationale as the first effort, but it

adequately bridges to the 21st century.

The struggle to reach down

The art of mobilizing grass-roots efforts remains a struggle for many

companies and associations. Politics, like religion, is difficult for

many to comfortably embrace. This book, edited by the council’s manager

of programs and research, Tony Kramer, becomes an important addition to

the literature on this emerging PR technique.

Most articles, especially those discussing the Internet, globalization

of grass-roots initiatives and the bullish forecast about the future of

grass-roots, effectively separate this publication from its predecessor,

which was one of the first significant works on grass-roots


The handbook will be especially helpful to politically oriented

individuals who want to pursue what will become a fast-growing PR niche

over the next few years.

The Council’s book also provides a handful of useful tools, although one

must sift through the entire text to find them. This could have been an

excellent opportunity to publish some effective worksheets or related

tools. This deficiency becomes more glaring when compared with

easy-to-use hands-on Web sites, such as, which provide quicker

access to information and tools.

However, Thomas Dowd’s government quiz is fun and lends practical


The thought-provoking quiz consists of four true-or-false and six

multiple-choice questions and a tiebreaker (see sidebar).

DaimlerChrylser moves the masses

DaimlerChrysler’s Linda Becker, who describes an ambitious voter turnout

project conducted in 1996, provides another interesting set of


She supplies a helpful timetable template and a visual depiction of the

key campaign elements. The automaker’s $100,000 program was launched in

February 1996 with the mailing of an election-year almanac to Chrysler’s

20,000 salaried employees. The mailing carried the endorsement of the

company chairman, who urged involvement in the political process.

Chrysler’s campaign netted 3,000 new voter registrations from its

employee base, and the company’s political forums drew more than 200


National Public Radio carried unrehearsed sound bites from Chrysler

employees, who clearly articulated the top policy issues of importance

to the company.

In a refreshing admission that not everything works out according to

plan, Becker details the difficulty of conducting a meaningful candidate

survey. The survey was intended to create a connection between

Chrysler’s issues and the candidates in states with Chrysler facilities.

This portion of the article could have been enhanced through a listing

of some of the issues being tracked.

The forward-looking article by Michael E. Dunn, head of his own public

affairs consulting firm in Arlington, VA, emphasizes the importance of

ongoing relationships as the foundation of effective grass-roots


He says the shift in attitudes towards grass-roots programs by corporate

and association leaders is based on success stories they have heard from

their CEO-level peers.

Dunn also notes the important difference between grass-roots campaigns

and programs. He cites the consistency and value of an ongoing

grass-roots program versus running one ad hoc campaign after another.

Dunn also questions the effectiveness of ’astroturf’ grass-roots

efforts, which are run through third parties or thrown together without

well-rooted support or constituents.

The programs outlined in this book originate from public relations

principles in existence long before someone invented the term

’grass-roots.’ Although there is little breakthrough information in this

handbook, it will provide valuable insights for young people entering

the profession and for those who are on the fence about the value of

grass-roots programs.

- Ron Culp is SVP, PR and government affairs, Sears, Roebuck and Co.

- Winning at the Grassroots is published by the Public Affairs


It costs $145 for PAC members and $295 for non-members. To order, call

Joanne Poindexter at 202 721 0911 or go to



1. Approximately what percent of state spending do federal laws


a. 20% b. 40% c. 50% d. 60% e. 75% 2. The number of lawyers serving in

Congress and state legislatures has dropped substantially in recent

years. True or False?

3. The largest state legislature in the country has 24 senators and 400

representatives. Which state is that?

a. California b. Massachusetts c. New Hampshire d. Texas Source: Winning

at the Grassroots.

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