GrassScoops: An Interview Series – Erik Rosedahl

Welcome to the inaugural post of GrassScoops: An Interview Series! We will be chatting with grassroots advocacy changemakers from leading associations, non-profits and corporations each month, and highlighting the challenges they encountered, lessons learned, and best practices they recommend, so that others may learn from their experiences.

First up is Erik Rosedahl, the former Vice President of Issue Advocacy & Political Action at the National Association of Manufacturers, the largest manufacturing association in the US founded in 1895. Erik recently joined the Phone2Action team as our new Head of Alliances and Stakeholder Impact. Read below for his insights.

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Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into the advocacy space.

I attended New England College, a small college in rural New Hampshire, and caught the political bug during the 1996 presidential primary. Working on the Dole campaign, I was drawn in by the passion of everyone on both sides of issues. It was wonderful to see the engagement in and the excitement for democracy. Ever since, I’ve been in the advocacy space. It’s hard to believe, I have been working in politics for 20 years!

Has advocacy always been something you’ve been passionate about?

Yes, there is nothing more professionally rewarding for me than working with talented people to develop campaigns that advocate for important legislation and influence public policy. Each project or campaign is very unique, with different goals, circumstances and challenges. From role to role, I’ve been able to take what I’ve learned with me and build on those lessons to accomplish exciting things for each new organization.

In your most recent role, you were the Vice President of Issue Advocacy & Political Action at the National Association of Manufacturers. Can you tell us a little about what you did there?

I like to say I was the political and grassroots guy. My responsibilities included running the NAM political action committee (NAM-PAC), which I launched in 2012, as well as overseeing the ever-expanding Get Out The Vote (GOTV) program. I also created and managed the “Friends of Manufacturing” program, which is the association’s main grassroots effort. Lastly, I worked with the NAM policy teams on several key legislative campaigns and national coalitions.

During your time at the NAM, you led a data audit of all your organization’s databases, which led to the creation of the “Friends of Manufacturing” grassroots program. What was the motivation behind the audit, and what findings did you gather from it?

The motivation behind the audit was to figure out how to connect all the data that was constantly coming into the NAM through multiple channels. We had a wealth of data and had to figure of how to put it in one place so we could leverage it to make strategic decisions.

You see, trade associations big and small, and corporations, all have several departments (membership, external relations, communications, policy, etc.) that are all constantly collecting new and important sets of key information. But the reality is that this critical data gets siloed or stuck — not on purpose, but because internally the right people are not connected and may have different CRMs or databases.

This was certainly the case at the NAM. We had to sift through all our data and figure out who were still supporters and how to re-engage with these individuals. And, this takes time. We naturally just wanted to email everyone, which wasn’t a good idea because of spam filters and regulations.

Overall, the audit opened our eyes and resulted in changing internal policies on how each department handled its data. It was a big cultural shift, but the changes made our advocacy efforts that much stronger. By compiling and analyzing all of our data and using it to drive our advocacy strategy, we were able to increase the numbers of calls and emails to the Hill tenfold in a very short time. It was cool — we challenged the NAM staff from top to bottom to think about how data is handled, and it worked!

You created the highly successful “Friends of Manufacturing” program at the NAM. Can you talk about the vision for the program and some of the challenges and lessons you learned during the process?

We created the “Friends of Manufacturing” program as a hub for engaging our members’ 12 million employees, and to recruit thousands of new manufacturing advocates in key states and congressional districts. We needed a platform that was mobile-friendly and allowed us to quickly update content. It also needed to be non-Washington, DC-centric and have a personalized feel to it. Most importantly, we did not want it to be seen as “astroturf,” or over-leading.

I would say that one of the main challenges on the road to success was really rethinking our entire advocacy program and changing how we did our outreach. We needed to be more like a political campaign — very targeted and nimble — which for a large and well-established trade association is difficult to do. It was really tough to scrap how we had historically been doing things and start over from scratch. Still, once we took that leap, it paid off in spades.

The most important lesson learned when creating the program was how critical it was to take the time needed in order to build a solid foundation. For us, the foundation was:

  • Having a dedicated or central advocacy database/CRM
  • Having call-to-action technology embedded on our website
  • Targeting the right advocates in the right states and congressional districts
  • Using content or messages, not “wonky” Washington speak, that resonate with real people

What metrics did you use to measure the success of the “Friends of Manufacturing” program?

We saw success very quickly with this program, and in less than a year, we increased the number of advocate emails and calls to Capitol Hill, more than we had ever had in the history of the NAM. For the first time, we had real manufacturing supporters taking multiple actions in key states and congressional districts.

In terms of specific success metrics, I used our dashboards to look at real-time email open rates, letters sents, social activity shares and likes. We also monitored advocate actions in key states to make sure we were contacting the right elected officials. Lastly, new advocate sign-ups were very important and a measurable indicator for engagement. We knew that our targeting and messaging were solid if we had a steady stream of new advocates being added to the database.

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As an advocacy executive for many years now, what have you found to be some of the best ways to engage people online and offline?

The top online engagement tool is Facebook. It allows you to drill down and put your ads or message in front of the exact right people.

The best offline engagement strategy is to use SMS texting software. If a supporter provides you with their mobile number, it is truly advocacy gold. Rarely does anyone ever change their cell phone number, so, for the most part, they are evergreen. Additionally, the unsubscribe rates tend to be low, and open rates very strong. All corporations and trade associations should absolutely incorporate a texting strategy into their advocacy programs.

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For those looking to create a grassroots advocacy program, how would you recommend rallying support and buy-in from executives? What tactics worked for you at the NAM?

Our Executive Team at the NAM was great — they saw an opportunity to leverage all the valuable data that our organization possessed and pushed my team to perform the data audit I discussed above. This, in turn, allowed us to build the foundation for a best-in-class advocacy program. So, my first recommendation would be to summarize the scope of data you have in-house and outline a plan of action for what to do with that data. Present that information to your executives to get their initial buy-in. You can propose a pilot program to start out if you think that would be more palatable.

Once you’ve implemented your pilot, focus on the return on investment (ROI). Make sure you are using the right tools and have a plan in place to track results. My team leveraged the real-time dashboards from our advocacy platform to ensure our executive team was always aware of how our program was performing. We could also quickly and easily arm our executives with compelling stats and stories that they could use in their external communications and presentations. That type of information is invaluable in showcasing the value of your program to the organization.

What are your predictions for the future of advocacy?

Facebook will continue to dominate as the best way to reach potential and existing advocates. Texting and social mobile will continue to catch up to direct email and will be one of the best ways to generate advocate actions.

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To hear more about Erik’s experiences transforming the advocacy program at the NAM, please join us on our upcoming webinar on Wednesday, October 25th at 1pm EST, Overcoming the Status Quo to Modernize Your Advocacy Approach.

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