Jack Bonner Talks About The Future Of Advocacy and Corporate America
Advocacy has always existed. In the United States, advocacy is us, from the beginning. Over 230 years ago, the colonists advocated for more freedom, and backed it with musket fire and their lives. Farmers to shopkeepers stood up, spoke out, and prevailed. The Boston Tea Party was certainly advocacy in motion.
What is constant is that advocacy has made a difference.
What has changed is how corporate America thinks about advocacy. Every day, business is coming around to appreciate the need and value of advocacy on their behalf.
The future challenge is to sell third party advocacy to corporate clients to apply in a great variety of new circumstances, M&A to reputation and marketing.
A similar evolution of corporate thinking on a particular type of advocacy, “grassroots”, occurred in the 1980s. In an era before restrictions on political campaign contributions, corporate America lost big in Washington on huge bottom-line issues like the Clean Air Act. As a result, corporate focus began to change. At that point, getting corporations to use grassroots in any of its manifestations (employees, vendors, shareholders, customers, etc.) was difficult. But once it took hold, hundreds of millions of dollars were spent annually at the local, state, and federal levels on corporate legislative and regulatory fights. Grassroots advocacy worked.
As a result, the direction of the trend line on the advocacy spending chart has climbed steeply and steadily up. Advocacy is now “hot” and “in”. That is why most big PR firms prominently offer “advocacy”. Simply put, advocacy sells because it is sought, bought, and works.
That the dollars spent on corporate advocacy campaigns will continue to grow is a sure bet, but there are two considerations to keep in mind. First corporations are “getting smart“. They are beginning to realize that not all advocacy is equal, and not all advocacy can produce a significant and sustained ROI. Already sold on the need for advocacy, clients become much more open to improved and more effective advocacy offerings. Second, of the array of new advocacy actions available, third party advocacy makes prima facie sense to corporations.
This potential market for advocacy is huge, looming, and as yet significantly untapped. The lessons of what happened when corporate expenditures on grassroots exploded will apply here as well. Corporations will seek new, more effective advocacy services, and be willing to spend a lot more on them. Third party advocacy presents this option.