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    Coming Soon — ComNetwork.org 2.0

    We built something for you, and it’s been a long time coming.

    Soon, we’ll be unveiling an entirely new and reimagined ComNetwork.org — designed with you in mind.

    We partnered with the experts at Atlantic Media Strategies, the team behind theatlantic.com and quartz.com, to create a site that’s sleek, intuitive, and most of all, useful. To make sure we would deliver you a product that would meet your needs, we talked to you. And we listened.

    You wanted a site that looked cleaner, was better organized, and featured more information on the topics you care about.

    With the new ComNetwork.org, you’ll get all of that, plus more.

    Some highlights of the new site include the ability to:

    • Filter articles by topic area
    • Easily access new resources including case studies, how-to guides, research, and templates
    • Quickly browse upcoming and past events, set reminders, watch live streams, and get directions
    • Filter ComNetworkLOCAL events by location
    • Get to know us better via all-new staff, board, and supporter pages
    • Go straight to our ComNet16 site from the main navigation menu

    And that’s not all — as a part of the redesign, we’ll unveil a refreshed Network logo and branding palette.

    More importantly, Communications Network members will have access to an all new private and dynamic community powered by Salesforce.

    The new members-only Network community will feature:

    • Robust member profiles with pictures, contact information, social media profiles, and more
    • A complete directory of our nearly 1,000 that can be filtered by name, organization, location, interest area, and area of expertise
    • Archived discussions that are searchable and organized by topic
    • Member-driven discussion groups
    • File sharing
    • Notifications from the people, groups, and discussions you follow

    We’re thrilled to share the news with you. Stay tuned as we move closer to launch.

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    Driving Change in LA

    Ten tips for driving change in Los Angeles through effective communications

    Recently, the newly formed ComNetworkLA group held its inaugural public event. About 45 hardy souls braved the weather traffic and made it to the headquarters of our host, First5LA, one of LA County’s leading early childhood advocates. The goal of our newly-minted group is to gather some of the region’s leading communications professionals to network, share our experiences, and learn from each other.

    The main draw of this first event was a discussion between Naomi Seligman, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Director of Communications, and Ann-Sophie Morrissette, Director of Communications and Policy at Downtown Women’s Center, a local organization dedicated to addressing the needs of women overcoming poverty and homelessness.

    Seligman and Morrissette entertained the audience with a wide-ranging and lively conversation about the power of communications to effect change.

    Ann-Sophie Morissette and Naomi Seligman in conversation

    Ann-Sophie Morrissette (left) and Naomi Seligman discuss the challenges and opportunities faced by communications professionals in the Greater Los Angeles region

    Here are the top ten takeways:

    • As a communicator, there are three qualities you absolutely need in order to be successful: be an advocate, be agile, and be entrepreneurial. 
    • Pick an organization in whose ideology you believe; if you don’t mesh with their ideology, you will suffer lots of personal compromise along the way and in the end, you will likely not be as effective as you may be with a better fit. 
    • If you are asking other people for help or support, make it clear how your organization is helpful to them, not how it will benefit you personally or professionally.
    • With regard to policy efforts, make sure you listen. Think beyond your agenda: try to figure out the goals of the elected officials you want to engage.
    • Explain to government officials how you can help them accomplish their goals. Be creative! If you’re a foundation, you can offer monetary resources. If you’re a nonprofit, you can connect them to your community and partners through social media, outreach, and meetings. 
    • For those among us working in a small shop, Seligman recommended training someone young and enthusiastic full-time to help with outreach efforts, and then providing a senior communications professional to check in with them monthly, rather than hiring a part-time person. Empower staff to be entrepreneurial.
    • It’s not all about experience. Hire those in whom you see star quality and court diversity in every way. In interviews, ask candidates how they thought strategically in their previous positions.
    • When it comes to positioning communications and PR as critical to moving an organization forward, use a trial balloon approach. Pitch a reporter on your idea—which is not a significant investment—and, even if it doesn’t result in a story, it can spark a relationship. 
    • It may seem obvious, but remember to develop relationships with reporters—invite them to coffee to chat about something they’re interested in and help them when they’re not helping you: connect them with your contacts who might be connected to their stories. Sending releases is never enough. 
    • Finally, in times of crisis, Seligman recommended taking a breath and not being too reactive. It’s okay to say ‘I don’t know’ and come back to the reporter. It can also be helpful to pitch a different story to show a side of the story that the reporter is not focused on, but may lend the readers a new perspective. Remember to be more creative than the people chasing the crisis story. You can resist being dropped into someone else’s framework. You should also offer to connect reporters to other organizations that may be vying to be within their story framework.

    Naomi Seligman

    Naomi Seligman (right) giving ComNetworkLA attendees advice on how to increase the impact of their communications efforts

    Seligman ended the evening with a collective charge for LA communications professionals to keep our minds open and “think outside the building.” And, that’s exactly what we did at happy hour, where we toasted the success of our first public meeting and learned more about each other’s work. We hope you will join us next time, if you’re in town.

    Alexandra Carew is Senior Manager, Communications and Grants at Southern California Grantmakers

    Danielle Kelton is Co-Founder and Managing Partner of INsight→INcite Campaigns

    Marc Moorghen is Communications Director at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation

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    Now Trending: Communicating for Social Good

    Now Trending: Communicating for Social Good

    Key takeaways from South By Southwest from Six ComNetwork Members


    To gain insight on the latest trends and technologies in communicating for social good, several members of the Communications Network attended the South By Southwest (SXSW, or SX, or “South By”) Interactive Festival in Austin earlier this month. That’s right, South By is no longer reserved for musicians, filmmakers, app designers, and hipsters. Nonprofits and foundations were present and accounted for, joining in on the fun and soaking up ideas from high-caliber speakers, ranging from the director of Google.org, the CMO of BuzzFeed, to President Obama. While many of us ComNeters met plugging in to a track focused on purpose-driven content, we also gathered at a breakfast co-hosted by the Communications Network and Atlantic Media Strategies.

    Despite the early hour, we were all eager to share what we had been hearing and swap ideas. Excluding the abundant and competing recommendations about the best local BBQ, following are key ideas that stood out for six of us at SXSW. I add mine at the end before giving the last word to President Obama.

    alejandro-de-onisReduce, Reuse and Reuse 

    News sites are seeing dramatic increases in site traffic coming from redistributing previously posted content. Jean Ellen Cowgill, of Atlantic Media Strategies, noted that, in some months, almost 50% of The Atlantic’s monthly site traffic comes to content not created within the month in question. What’s the takeaway? Instead of looking at communications as a stream that just flows down, we should be treating it as a whirlpool of opportunities to repurpose and recirculate relevant content, especially for organizations with small communications teams. What’s a good strategy for 2016? Focus on producing less noise and create more evergreen content. Experiment more with distribution and embrace platform specificity.

    Alejandro De Onis, ‎Director of Digital Strategy & Design, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, @aonis

    nVDsw7cfTelling the New Narrative of the Faces of Entrepreneurship

    There were countless organizations and companies gathered at SXSW doing transformative work to increase the ranks of entrepreneurs of color and women founders across the U.S. and abroad. We heard from leaders at Powermoves, Code 2040, Impact America Fund and Kapor Capital and their message was clear – there is a new face and new narrative for the future of entrepreneurship and they are shouting the story from the rooftops!  We also witnessed the power of the pitch in several competitions hosted by USAID and Village Capital focused on diverse entrepreneurs. As SXSW unfolded, I heard from several journalists inspired and ready to expand their coverage and exploration of how diverse entrepreneurs are creating stronger communities, closing the opportunity gap and scaling creative solutions to persistent problems. The stories shared at SX in these settings not only help to elevate the inclusive movement, they are a testament that the full potential of entrepreneurial talent has yet to be reached. 

    Jade Floyd, Senior Director of Communications, The Case Foundation, @JadeFloydDC

    LOR_Headshots_13-1024x1024Professional Adrenaline Is Real! (And Fun Is a Requirement)

    We are all adrenaline junkies, seeking the thrills of life through adventure and exploration. Adrenaline and fun are often associated with outdoor activities, and rightfully so. Picture this, the snow report reads 17 new inches since the lifts closed at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. First thought: yep count me in for first tracks. But, what about that rush you get just before President Obama takes the stage at SXSW and calls on the audience to apply their ideas and talents to tackle the nation’s biggest challenges? Or when you see Emmy and Golden Globe nominated actor Kerry Washington out of character, relaying her successes and missteps in social media? Or when fellow Communications Network members Jean Ellen Cowgill and Jade Floyd lead a session on how a hashtag can break the news while dozens of aspiring attendees stand in the hallway hoping for their chance to get in.

    Having served witness to the aforementioned experiences at SXSW provided me with professional adrenaline that I could not have received sitting behind a desk. There is no show without an audience. We’re on all stage at some point, as the keynote, moderator, panelist or the messenger of lessons learned to our colleagues. The fruitful pursuit of professional Zen requires that we purposely seek fun as a requirement to our careers. Connecting with people who are passionate about their work will keep us motivated in pursuing adventure and exploration in our professional growth. See you at ComNet16!

    LaMonte Guillory, Communications Director, LOR Foundation, @LaMonteG

    NQ-BPbHPDon’t Forget the Humanity in the Digital World

    I was struck this year by how technology is simultaneously pulling us in two directions. On one hand, it was evident that virtual reality is about to hit the mainstream in a big way — a technology that can immerse us in other worlds, both real and fictional, but does so in a way that abstracts us from humanity. On the other hand, on numerous occasions I heard the call for authenticity in the way we communicate – that we can’t let how we use technology channels get in the way of putting our true selves out there. In this theme, one of my favorite sessions at SXSW was the somewhat philosophical musings of Steve Selzer, experience design manager for Airbnb (@steveselzer). In his session, Steve talked about how we should intentionally put some amount of friction and collisions between people into the digital products we create, as these experiences are the most memorable and are what cause us to stretch and grow as humans. 

    Keith Mays, Director of Communications, Kauffman Foundation, @keithmays

    JeanEllenOnce a Piece Gains Traction, Flood the Zone

    The buzzword of SXSW 2016? Platform specificity. I heard it in just about every session I attended, from a Buzzfeed keynote to a Wholefoods panel to programming specifically designed for non-profits. The concept, in brief: design and format each piece of content “specifically” for the platform on which it will live. Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter… each platform is different, the reasons people use them are different, and the resulting conversations on a given topic are different (as fellow panel member Katerina Matsa, of the Pew Research Center, noted). Your content should be different as well. This goes against the now-outdated tenet of “create once, post everywhere.” Even something as simple as a recipe can be re-imagined platform by platform, as CMO Frank Cooper noted regarding the exceptional success of Buzzfeed’s “Tasty” Facebook videos.

    If the concept sounds too time- or resource-intensive, I would suggest a related principle is useful to help you get started: platform transcendence. Once an initial piece gains traction (as an Instagram photo, or a Facebook post, or a tweet), ask yourself: what is making this successful? How can I go beyond this first success and go big with the core idea? What would this idea look like as a competition? An event? A video? At Atlantic Media Strategies, we call this “flooding the zone.” Not flooding social platforms with the same, tired blog post. By unleashing the idea behind the post in a flood of new, platform-specific formulations. By taking this approach, organizations can begin to build momentum around their best ideas and get the most out of their most distinctive work.

    Jean Ellen Cowgill, President, Atlantic Media Strategies, @jecowgill

    square_cropWant to Break Through the Noise? Break into a New Medium

    It’s no small feat to capture someone’s attention and get your message across before the mind drifts…

    (What was I saying again? Oh right…) someplace else.  This is especially true for those of us communicating about the social challenges of the world, asking people to think beyond their own needs and donate their time or money. But, if you offer a media experience unlike anything your audience has ever known, suddenly you have a unique opportunity to break through the noise.  This is exactly what the United Nations (UN) is trying to accomplish through their virtual reality documentaries.  They are capitalizing on the emerging medium to draw in the masses and connect them to a cause through an immersive and moving experience.

    While at SXSW, I watched the UN’s first virtual reality documentary, Clouds Over Sidra, in which a young Syrian girl takes viewers on a tour of the Za’atari refugee camp where she lives.  The experience proved powerful and I was excited to know that the people waiting in line behind me were going to not only get a taste of virtual reality, but connect with a cause in an impactful, new way.

    “It’s not enough to focus on the cool, next big thing,” President Obama said, “It’s harnessing the cool, next big thing to help people.”  That was the President’s challenge to all of us in attendance at SXSW this year.  And it remains our challenge as those dedicated to improving lives through the power of smart communications.

    Mary Duggan, Communications Project Manager, Barr Foundation, @MaryEDuggan

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    Navigate through the Noise with SMARTS

    Do you feel overwhelmed trying to stay on top of the latest digital innovations, or worse, are you reeling in your boss’s obsession with the newest shiny object online? It’s easy to get distracted or overwhelmed by digital communications, but don’t let that deter you from embracing what the digital world can offer your organization.

    Digital communications are critical to every nonprofit organization, but far too often nonprofits see their digital strategy as an afterthought or disconnected from their overall communication strategy. We get it – it takes time, effort, and money, three things we know are limited at nonprofits. However, in today’s age, nonprofits will fail to reach important audiences and miss out on crucial conversations if they don’t have an integrated digital strategy.

    Just consider that we now measure the success of a presidential candidate’s debate performance not just with pundits’ opinions, but with social media analysis. Or take the net neutrality debate, where the conversation online showed that Americans were drawing their own conclusions about the issue. They were concerned with fairness and the diversity of the Internet while media coverage focused on corporate control and corruption in Washington.

    At Spitfire, we see firsthand how organizations are using digital to enhance their communication strategy. And we identify where they can improve – from thinking more about digital or developing a deeper understanding of what certain channels can offer them. Most importantly, we help nonprofit staff think critically about the resources they have available and prioritize how to make the most of them.

    That’s why we developed our Digital S.M.A.R.T.S. guide – to help organizations successfully navigate through the vast world of social media, websites, email and mobile. We update it throughout the year to include the most recent statistics and trends in the digital field. Here is just a sampling of what you can find in the guide:

    • Developing an integrated digital strategy;
    • Content creation that resonates with your audience, including how to craft compelling visuals;
    • Facebook ads and best practices for content on the platform;
    • Twitter ads, live-tweeting, hosting a Twitter chat;
    • Guides on additional channels like LinkedIn, Snapchat and Google’s program for nonprofits; and
    • Live-streaming to reach your audience.

    Whether you’re building your digital strategy from the ground up, or just searching for tips on taking your digital outreach to the next level, this guide will help you effectively divide your time across the most important digital platforms and create a comprehensive and integrated digital strategy. Download your free copy of Digital S.M.A.R.T.S. today to get started.

    Ellie Klerlein is a Vice President and Director of Digital at Spitfire.

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    Down Goes Goliath: The Outsized Impact of No Boston Olympics

    Chris Dempsey served as a co-chair of No Boston Olympics, a loosely organized volunteer group that sprung up to challenge the US Olympic Committee and New England businessmen and public officials, who were leading a bid to bring the 2024 Summer Olympic Games to Boston, Massachusetts. You can read the back story of their work here and learn why The Boston Globe named Chris Dempsey their Bostonian of the Year for 2015 here.   

    Prefer to listen to the interview? DOWNLOAD THE PODCAST

    The Communications Network: The Olympics. Boston. For those who don’t know the history here, can you offer just a brief summary of what was happening? Take us back…

    Chris Dempsey: In early 2013, a couple guys got together who thought that bringing the Olympics to Boston might make a lot of sense. That morphed into an effort that was really led by a couple of leaders in Boston’s business community, who over the course of 2013 and then 2014, started to push a Boston 2024 bid. [They were] sharing potential plans with the media, bringing elected leaders and business folks together to try to see what an Olympics would look like, and then ultimately working with the USOC.

    [No Boston Olympics] formed in a living room in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston in 2013. We were 3 people just saying, “Look, we’ve seen the economic evidence that Olympics do not leave cities better off. We’re concerned that this bid already has a lot of momentum, even at this early stage. We think that we need to do something to help level the playing field and make sure that the other side of the story is being told.”

    Fast forward to all the way to January 8th, 2015 — it happens to be exactly a year ago today, that you and I are talking Sean — and the United States Olympic Committee meets in Denver, Colorado at the airport there. Their 16 board members vote and decide to award the United States bid to Boston 2024 over bids from Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and San Francisco.

    The Communications Network: What made you think that you could take on a mayor, these monied and powerful, long-standing interests inside the city of Boston?

    Chris Dempsey: We knew that we could never match their firepower, but we always felt like we had the facts on our side. We were hopeful that the media in Boston and the public at large would really see the value in having a healthy debate — rather than sort of having a herd mentality with everyone agreeing that this was a good idea. Our backgrounds were in government, politics, public policy, business. Some of us had MBA’s. We had some experience in political communications and in grassroots organizations. Our job was really just to try to get good information out there and hope that the media and the public would sort of take it from there.

    The Communications Network: Why do you think your work galvanized people?

    Chris Dempsey: In the beginning we were the only organization talking about it. Unfortunately, a lot of the civic institutions in Boston that would normally raise some concerns about a $10 to $20 billion dollar project with taxpayer risk — the organizations that would normally speak out against that and raise some concerns — were essentially conflicted out of the debate because a lot of their funding was derived from the very same people who were pushing the bid. These civic organizations were just not in a position to tell the other side of the Olympic story. It was going to have to be a citizen-led movement — a movement that was never going to have a lot of funding and not necessarily have a lot of stature, at least in the early days. We had a very consistent message. That message was, “Look, there are some positives to bringing the games to town. Certainly Boston [as a community] could “pull off” an Olympics if that’s what we decided to do. But there are enormous costs associated with that decision. We need to look at the costs, not just the benefits.”

    In particular there are significant opportunity costs to hosting. Because your city’s civic infrastructure focuses on the Olympics, it is less focused on much more important issues like education, healthcare, transportation, open space — any number of other things that residents really value and care about and which ultimately leave your city and your region much better off. We had a very positive message of, “Boston is a great city. We could pursue this bid, but there are so many other things that we should be doing. Let’s bring the attention back to those things [education, healthcare, transportation, etc.] rather than be worried about building a stadium and a velodrome and an aquatics center — catering to the international community [instead of people who actually live here].

    We knew that we could never match their firepower, but we always felt like we had the facts on our side.

    The Communications Network: How did you get started? Beyond the living room, what happened?

    Chris Dempsey: One of the great things with all these new technologies out there is that the cost of starting an organization and raising its profile are very low. We started by registering a URL, NoBostonOlympics.org. That cost about $10 bucks. We got a Twitter account, @NoBostonOlympics. That’s free. Then we started posting some information on those two places and both started to become a depository of good information. Very quickly there was a back and forth on Twitter between us and the proponents about whether or not the bid was a good idea. The media picked up on that and pretty soon there were articles about how, “Wait a minute. It’s not just a one-sided story here. It’s not just a positive to bid on the Olympics. There’s also this other side of the story to be told.” We went from obscurity to having a relatively high profile over the course of just a few months based on some interaction on Twitter and having a webpage where people could go and learn more information.

    The Communications Network: My mother told me never to talk about money, but let’s talk about money. How much did you spend to take on these very, very powerful folks, in the city of Boston and the International Olympic Committee?

    Chris Dempsey: Boston 2024 had a very impressive fundraising effort. They spent more than $15 million dollars on their entire effort. Their average contribution size was more than $70,000. Most of their fundraising was made up of very large 6- and 7-figure contributions from wealthy individuals, corporations, and foundations. On the other hand, on our side, the average contribution size was about $100. We ended up raising over the course of 2 years about $35,000, but we actually spent less than $10,000 on the entire effort. We were outspent 1,500 to 1 by Boston 2024, but we were still able to “win” the debate because we mobilized the grassroots, because we used earned media and social media to get our message out there.

    The Communications Network: History clearly shows you as the victor. There were almost certainly some obstacles that you encountered along the way. Can you talk a little bit about what those might have been?

    Chris Dempsey: We were making this campaign up as we went along. We had kind of a core strategy of being involved, being responsive and trying to put good facts and information out there. We never had a plan of, “Okay, this is what the next 6 months look like. This is what the next year looks like. This is how we go about organizing.” There were some real challenges and some real soul-searching at a number of points in the process.

    The Communications Network: You took what I call “the Indiana Jones approach,” “Don’t ask me. I’m making this up as I go.” You have a background in business. You value a plan and yet, there was no plan. Talk a little bit about that.

    Chris Dempsey: I’ve always loved that phrase, which I think is attributed to Eisenhower [planning for battle]. It’s something like, “Planning is essential, but plans are worthless.” Basically, how I interpret that is you need to understand your strategy. You need to have a sense of how you could potentially win the argument — but it’s going to be such a dynamic environment with so much changing and so much out of your control that it’s not worth spending a lot of time sort of charting what every day, every week, or every month is going to look like. You just don’t know what’s around the corner. Your strategy, your planning is all about being responsive, being nimble, having kind of a core message that you’re always going to iterate off of, riff off of — not some sort of rigid structure or detailed plan.

    The Communications Network: Let’s get back to the obstacles.

    Chris Dempsey: There were a lot of them! Lots of soul searching. I think especially for me and one of my other Co-Chairs, Kelley Gossett — in February and March of 2015, we actually both left our day jobs. Kelley was in the nonprofit world. She had been an advocate for social services. I had been working at Bain & Co., the consulting firm. By the end of March 2015 neither one of us were getting a paycheck and our work with No Boston Olympics was purely volunteer. There were some tough days in there thinking about, “How long can we do this for? Is this really sustainable? Will we ever be able to get to a point with fundraising where we can afford to pay ourselves and make this something that can be a lasting effort?”

    We were very fortunate that within a few months of leaving our jobs the tide started to turn and it looked like we had the momentum — it became clear that there was potential for the bid to end before the all-important September 2015 date when the USOC had to submit the city to the International Olympic Committee. But there were some really dark days in there — not just from an organizational perspective, but from a very personal perspective. We were dedicating ourselves to it full-time and very much wrapped up in it.

    The Communications Network: Where did the momentum come from? What happened?

    Chris Dempsey: Throughout 2014 the USOC had Boston 2024 conduct a process that was very private — they did not involve the public. When Boston 2024 finally released its bid to the public [in 2015], there was a lot in [that bid] that people were not happy about, that caught neighborhoods and residents by surprise when they started to realize, “Hey — the Olympics is not just a really fun event, it also has some significant consequences for our community.” I think magnifying that was that there was some real misinformation or inaccuracies in those 2014 bidding documents. Boston 2024’s credibility took a hit there. They had developed this bid behind closed doors and it hadn’t been tested. It hadn’t had that sort of sunlight that might actually improve it. As people saw more about sort of what was in store for them and their neighborhoods, the public began to realize that [the bid] was just not a good deal.

    The Communications Network: How important was having a public conversation?

    Chris Dempsey: The media was absolutely essential to our efforts. We feel incredibly fortunate to be in a region that has a dynamic and thriving press. Like anywhere in the country, journalism as an industry is suffering and there are fewer and fewer resources to bring to bear there. But there really are some amazing journalists: both long-time journalists in Boston and then also very young journalists who were in their first or second jobs with smaller outlets — who were breaking some of this news and doing investigative reporting.

    [The press] really helped drive the conversation. They were very good about showing both sides of the story. We had a responsive strategy where Boston 2024 would push an idea or have a significant media effort to publicize the bid and we needed to be there and to be responsive with a quote, statement or with a call to a journalist to talk about why the things that Boston 2024 was saying or pushing didn’t make sense or what the other side of the story was. We were lucky to be included in a lot of the stories, to really raise our organization’s profile so that it looked like we were a much larger and more dynamic organization than we actually were.

    The Communications Network: The Potempkin village strategy. It was just the three of you and yet to the many, many people observing from across the globe, it was easy to assume that this was an effort of dozens, if not hundreds of people.

    Chris Dempsey: There were three of us who were the core, who were working on it kind of 24/7. But there were many other people that were able to rally around the No Boston Olympics brand. I think that was a result of our ability to create an organization that looked like it was strong but also like it was open. It looked welcoming to people at the grassroots level. So there were those dozens of volunteers helping, but there was certainly never the fancy office space or the significant contributors or the powerful elected leaders that were pulling strings behind the scenes. We were a true grassroots effort, working out of cafes, out of people’s living rooms, and painting our own signs when we needed to before going to a public meeting.

    The Communications Network: Let’s talk about what ultimately happened.

    Chris Dempsey: Over the course of the spring and the summer, public support for Boston 2024 dropped from mid 50% to the high 30s. It eventually plateaued around 40%. Meanwhile, opposition rose from the mid 30s up to the low 50s and really stuck around 50%. It was very clear to really everyone — Boston 2024, the USOC, elected leaders — that this was not a popular bid. The USOC was in this essentially untenable position where they were trying to stick with Boston and the Boston 2024 group they had awarded this bid to, but without the political and popular backing that they needed to prevail.

    At the same time they’re facing a date from the International Olympic Committee, which is their partner on the international level, to submit a bid by September 15th. In the middle of summer, at the end of July actually, the USOC finally announced that it would be pulling the bid because it did not believe that it would ever be able to achieve the public support that it needed in Boston. A few months later the USOC, kind of after closing ranks for a little bit, came back out and gave the bid to Los Angeles. Over the next few years, people will be hearing a lot about the Los Angeles 2024 bid. That was meant to be the Boston 2024 bid — we were able to stop that.

    The Communications Network: What surprised you about this work, this experience?

    Chris Dempsey: For me the experience was a reminder and confirmation that a group of citizens truly can have an impact and truly can make a difference despite being up against some very powerful forces. And it does not necessarily take a significant amount of resources to have an effect. You’ve got to have facts on your side, you’ve got to have good information and a sound argument. But if you can position that information in the right way, you really can create a movement and an organization that can punch above its weight and make a difference in a policy area that’s important to you. I don’t know if that’s a surprise — because I would like to think that’s been always true — but No Boston Olympics was a very good reminder of the power of a grassroots effort.

    The Communications Network: Are there a few lessons you take away? The 2 or 3 things that if you were going to do this all again, these would be in the playbook?

    Chris Dempsey: You have to take advantage of some of the opportunities that new technology has created to very quickly form an organization and raise that organization’s profile. We were able to go from 0 to 60 in a matter of months because of those platforms. That’s everything from Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress to a great organizing tool that we used called NationBuilder. I recommend NationBuilder to any social organization or nonprofit that wants to organize people. That was an effective way for us to bring new people into the fold. I think that’s one lesson.

    The second is to continue to use, and most organizations do this already, but continue to use more traditional media as a platform and try to develop earned media where you are producing information and facts so that you make it easy for reporters to have information at their fingertips and to have that other side of the story. Reporters want to publicize the story and they are looking for resources to do that. If you can provide those resources, you can increase awareness of and confidence in your brand.

    The Communications Network: Where else could you see this approach working?

    Chris Dempsey: In some ways it was a unique situation because, look, an Olympic bid is this incredible combination of sports, politics, government, transportation, and housing. It raises all of these issues. The bid was an almost unbelievably high-profile issue in Greater Boston. It was unique. On the other hand, I do think that the strategy that we used could be applicable to other situations where there are a small group of interests pushing a particular idea that impacts communities more broadly.

    One thing that we showed is that it is now easier in today’s world to organize that sort of broader public to speak up to magnify their voice so that they can match the better funded and more powerful, but ultimately narrow interest groups that are pushing a particular idea. Whether your issue is more funding for social services — or anything in the entire range of public policy where the broader public needs to have their voice heard — I think our model could be instructive and I hope it would be effective.

    The Communications Network: The folks who make up The Communications Network are especially  interested in this work through the lens of communication. Obviously, a huge element of this work was communication. What does the word “communication” mean to you?

    Chris Dempsey: In a broad public policy issue like this, communication is about relating the particular public policy to people’s everyday lives and finding something that they can understand and grasp on to. One thing that was effective about the No Boston Olympics movement here is that there were different messages that appealed to different types of people. For example, there was a whole segment of the population that was opposed to Boston 2024 because there was going to be a lot of traffic for 3 weeks. To be clear, that’s not one of the reasons that compelled me to fight this. I actually thought the 3 weeks would have been kind of a fun! For me it was about the years leading up to hosting and the years after hosting that we were going to be significantly harmed by the bid.

    But we did want to appeal to those people who were [concerned with traffic]. We wanted those people on our side, so we had a particular part of our message that worked with them. That was around the fact that the International Olympic Committee actually required a lane to be reserved on every highway in the state so that IOC dignitaries and sponsors could have unobstructed trips — while everyone else is sitting in traffic. If you’re someone who is already worried about traffic around the Olympics — and then you hear that the IOC officials will get to avoid it, that really makes you angry. That brings you on our side.

    Then there’s a whole other group of people who were concerned about some of the civil rights and civil liberties impacts around the Olympics — the fact that Olympics tend to be associated with governments clamping down on free expression so that they put on a pretty face for the TV cameras. Our coalition wanted to appeal to those people also. Then there were a whole bunch of people in the middle who were fine with the Olympics one way or the other, but they didn’t want to have to use tax dollars for it. For those people, we talked about the fact that the International Olympic committee requires this taxpayer guarantee for Olympic cost overruns. So I think at the end of the day the 50%+ of people around the state who were on our side had different reasons for being with us. We were able to kind of communicate with each of them, ultimately, on sort of an individual basis.

    The Communications Network: If you don’t mind my putting words into your mouth, it sounds like to you communications was more than just a press release, more than a tweet, more than a quote in a newspaper article, it was about gathering intelligence. It was about understanding an audience. It was about building relationships. Is that a fair reflection of what you were thinking?

    Chris Dempsey: I think our Co-Chairs’ backgrounds in political campaigns was probably what allowed us — or enabled us — to think that way. At the end of the day we were trying to build a coalition of different constituencies. Effectively, people were going to “vote” for our effort for a whole set of different reasons, and you have to appeal to all of those reasons.

    The Communications Network: What’s next for you? What’s next for the team?

    Chris Dempsey: We get asked a lot whether No Boston Olympics will continue on and try to fight for some of the things that we talked about as a better alternative to the bid. I think the organization itself will probably go away. We don’t think that we’ll be able as a formal organization to move on to the next thing because we did have such a broad coalition. We had very serious supporters who were conservatives and very serious supporters who were progressives and a whole bunch of people in the middle. So we won’t necessarily agree on whatever the next issue is. But you will see certainly the three co-chairs and many others who are involved in No Boston Olympics continuing to be part of the broader civic debate – about how we need to grow and how we need to change as a city. In the meantime, I think Kelley and I are happy to be back in the working world and getting a paycheck again! We spent 6 months not getting paid in 2015. So now it’s sort of back to our daily lives. At the same time, we’re back to those lives with a kind of renewed feeling about how important some of these civic debates are — and our ability to have an impact.

     

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