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
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 Voter.com, 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
- 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 www.pac.org/pubs/index.
TEST YOUR GRASS-ROOTS KNOWLEDGE
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.