John Tsarpalas: If you are running for local office, no matter what you think, your campaign is a brand. If you are an activist and you have an issue that you are focusing on and working on, what does the world think of it? What is that brand?
If you’ve got an organization, a Tea Party group or tax payer group, what is that group’s brand? Do you have a look? Do you have a consistent message? Do you have positive ways of saying things? Well, we are going to talk about all of that today on Commonwealthy #54, Branding for Political Candidates and Activist Organizations.
Well, my guest today is Nicole Williams. And Nicole Williams is someone I met I think back (when was it) in about 2008 or 9?
Nicole Williams: Yeah, somewhere in that range.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, in that range. And Nicole has always struck me first of all as fun and interesting and creative and a person who thinks a little differently about things. I think she’s perfect for what’s she’s doing, and that’s basically marketing packages. Is that sort of how to sum it up quickly, Nicole?
Nicole Williams: That’s exactly right. We work with organizations and candidates to put together a marketing package, first from the strategic level so that when they implement on the tactical level, they get better result.
John Tsarpalas: You have two organizations. One is SparkFreedom.org. If you are an activist and you are not a candidate but you are in a not-for-profit organizations… Can Tea Party organizations work with your not-for-profit, which is SparkFreedom.org?
Nicole Williams: We can work with 501(c)4’s as long as we aren’t doing any campaigning ourselves.
John Tsarpalas: Right. Okay, great. And then for the candidate side, you also have an organization known as Arrowhead3, correct?
Nicole Williams: Correct.
John Tsarpalas: Okay.
Nicole Williams: That’s actually not my organization. It is owned by our partner, Kevin Kjar.
John Tsarpalas: Okay.
Nicole Williams: But we’ve been working together for five or six years now.
John Tsarpalas: Great. I will give contact information for all of that at the end of this podcast. And I think it is going to be important as we go through this discussion of what you can do that we kind of spell out how to divide the world.
Because the IRS exists and because there are tax-exempt organizations, you have to keep campaigns complete separate from tax exempt organizations. They can’t intermingle. So I want to make that clear to people who are new to this whole world.
I operate in both worlds as well. I am actually on the board of two 501(c)3 not-for-profits that educate on different issues, which people might construe as political. I just think of them as educating on issues. And then I am over on the other side coaching candidates every day.
As we go through this today, I’d like to make that clear along the way so that people understand because I have people who listen to this who are activists and I have people who listen to this podcast who are candidates.
I think where we really need to start about an organization is you need an image. You need a brand. You need a market. I know you’ve done something with Mr. Clean in a seminar or webinar where you explained branding. I think you kind of need to start right there with us.
Nicole Williams: Yes. Well, so we work organizations to go back to the basics and look at their organizational brand. But before you can even think about your brand, you have to know what your long-term end goal is. How is the world going to change when you are successful with your mission?
Step one is to set up that plan. And based on that, how do you measure results? Based on defining your measuring results, we can then start breaking into all the traditional things you are thinking of when you develop a strong brand. And that is who are you targeting? What do you need them to do to change? What do they care about?
So that’s where we start with most organizations. And then with that, I almost think of it like a filter. I’ve handed you a filter through which you can look at any opportunity that comes in the door and say, “We are doing this because it gets us to our end goal” or, “Actually, while that sounds very exciting and fun and I personally want to do it, it might not really get us to our goal so I am going to prioritize my time in a different direction.”
Our own end goal is to equip those around us- candidates and organizations- to communicate to what we consider the most important target audience in the country, which I define as our neighbors, to the person next door why freedom leads to opportunity and what that is much more important in our society than begging the government for a solution to your latest problem.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, well said. So I just want to kind of define who your market is in terms of the principals and philosophies. And that’s the same principals and philosophies of this podcast. We are trying to coach people who are-
Nicole Williams: Yeah, we are not going to help them develop their brand, that’s for sure.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, we are not looking for progressives. They don’t need our help.
Nicole Williams: No, but we have learned a lot from them.
John Tsarpalas: Yes! Yes, we have unfortunately. Where does someone start? They contact you guys. You guys have some meetings with them, phone calls, Skype, and whatever you are using to talk to people.
Nicole Williams: Yeah, it’s pretty easy to get started. You reach out to us. And we usually have a phone call to just analyze where you are right now because a lot of people have a strategic plan.
If you have a strategic plan, you are one step ahead of most of the world. And a strategic plan fits for a candidate or an organization, right? You need to know what you are going to change as a candidate when you get in office and use that as your platform to communicate to potential voters.
We do that. And then based on that, we give a customized estimate of what we think engagement with us would look like. And then we usually do an in-person meeting, although we can provide the services digitally. It is about the same amount of time over the Internet. In person you can knock that out in one day and be done with it, right?
So that’s where we go. At the end of that, then there is regular check-ins. We help with creative development, that sort of thing, on the logo design or web development and those things.
John Tsarpalas: Okay, so you give them an image. You give them colors and fonts.
Nicole Williams: Yes.
John Tsarpalas: Designs you just said.
Nicole Williams: Unless they have a designer they really like working with, and then we work with their designer.
John Tsarpalas: Okay.
Nicole Williams: Message strategy in hand.
John Tsarpalas: Okay. And let’s talk about message strategy. I mean, you talk about different media, different ways to get the message out as well as then what are the topics and the wording. How do you go about deciding some of that?
Nicole Williams: Well, everything goes back to your end goal. So when you have your end goal and you know who you need to bring over to be on your side to win, a message strategy should only be about one or two sentences. It should be, “We will convince this person that their life is better when less government is in the way because it creates opportunities for them to take care of themselves, their communities, and their families.”
So it is usually something pretty standard like that. Very simple. What you are doing when you have a message strategy or a copy strategy is coming up with, “Okay, we have this list of twenty things we like to communicate to the world,” right?
John Tsarpalas: Okay.
Nicole Williams: Which one or two things are what we want to communicate to the world every single time we talk to them, whether it’s a Facebook mean or I am telling a story about a farmer who was suddenly able to sell the raw milk they have? They are no longer regulated by the USDA. But one or two things are we communicating every single time?
That becomes your filter. When you logo comes in and you look at it, you say, “Does this communicate our core? Yes or no? I mean, it is great that it’s purple, but does purple do that?” That is what it is.
Covered with that, we do talk about an end goal, a measurable year over year goal. I’ll just share what ours is. We expand our top of the funnel pipeline of partners by twenty-five percent per year, year over year, for market audience. So I can measure that in the beginning of the year. I can measure that at the end of the year and I know if we have made it or not.
John Tsarpalas: Wow. Someone comes to you. You guys help them put together an entire message, look, feel, and keep refining it so that they stay on track and the organization or the candidate is consistent.
And you mentioned one or two key points. I think that’s important for most organizations and campaigns. You are not going to get across more than two or three points. And you shouldn’t be. And if you are going to go off in other areas, you can try targeting those based on what you know from research that you can target to people.
Nicole Williams: Yeah, I would say in the world that we work in, John, you and I, candidates have traditionally been better at this than organizations. George Bush was very good at going back to his three points.
John Tsarpalas: Right.
Nicole Williams: Someone would ask him a question about rocket fuel and he would go back to I think it was education. What was it? Education, the economy, and something else. If you watch him, he can turn any question into his three points.
John Tsarpalas: Right.
Nicole Williams: That really helped him win the election.
John Tsarpalas: Right. When I am coaching candidates in public speaking, we are trying to keep them to one, two, three points maximum, depending on how much time you’ve got. If you’ve got a five minutes stump speech, you are going to get to one or two points and that’s it. And if you’ve got an hour, you are going to get to three points with more stories. But you are still not going beyond three because people won’t remember.
Nicole Williams: And you know what? The ladder we bring to that, John, is that we help them on the front end determine which three points are truly the most important to the target audience based on empirical research rather than their best guess.
John Tsarpalas: Okay, that’s important.
Nicole Williams: Yeah.
John Tsarpalas: That’s really important. And talk about empirical research. How does one go about that? How do you do that? What do you guys use?
Nicole Williams: Oh, boy, there are different ways to do that. The first thing you need to know is what your budget. If you have a big budget, you can afford a high end market research firm. And Carton Mind Strategies is somebody we have worked with a lot on big projects. But you also are looking at a bill of well over seventy-five hundred thousand dollars. You can go up into infinity.
John Tsarpalas: Right.
Nicole Williams: Not all of us have that, but did out of the chutes. So when we have determined who we think our target audience is and what we think our message is, sort of a cheaper way to do it is to come up with your own survey and put it out on your own.
One of the tips we like to give people when you live in an area with a university with a marketing program is to offer an internship. That internship is to execute your survey.
John Tsarpalas: That’s a great idea!
Nicole Williams: Yeah, isn’t that great? And it’s free!
John Tsarpalas: Yeah.
Nicole Williams: The money we put into that is then to pay a professional survey writer to review the questions and make sure they aren’t leading. Because when you are doing true market research, you don’t want leading language. I am not using this as a communicate tool later to convince legislatures or the population that everybody wants Obamacare or something, right? No, I want to know what they really think so that we can make our decisions on what our core message strategy will be.
John Tsarpalas: The intern thing is interesting. I had not thought of approaching universities for their help. I don’t know if I can do that. You can do that for not-for-profits; I don’t know if we can do that for candidates or not.
And it is interesting you reminded me way back in the 1970’s, I owned a restaurant called It’s Greek to Me in DeKalb, Illinois. And it was across the street for Northern Illinois University. And I had a graphic design student approach me to do design work for the restaurant for free as a part of a project for university for part of his education. And that was huge in that restaurant being successful.
It’s interesting. I used interns all the time as volunteers, but I’ve never thought about approaching the universities. So I think that’s a great idea.
Nicole Williams: I would think it would be worth it for candidates to do that because I’d bet it would be different university by university. I see no reason why if my garlic business can provide an internship to a university why can’t a candidate. It’s experience and it is market research experience.
John Tsarpalas: Well, and the poli-sci department, too. I mean, there are multiple places you can approach besides marketing.
Nicole Williams: Exactly.
John Tsarpalas: That’s a really cool thought.
Nicole Williams: And if you don’t have that, you can put it online. But then there’s different margins of error online.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, that’s true. Okay, so you put together a plan and you come together with ideas on how to get this out. I mean, social media or is it print. What are the different sources you tend to lean towards?
Nicole Williams: Oh, gosh, that depends on who they are trying to reach and where they are.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah.
Nicole Williams: We worked with someone recently who needed to reach primarily blue collar workers. And you know, the best way to reach them in that geographical area was local radio stations.
John Tsarpalas: Wow.
Nicole Williams: When they are at work, the radio is on. And so we helped them determine do you want to put more investment in robo-calls? Do you want to put it in radio in this case? Where is your target audience? Are they on Facebook groups? Are they mommy bloggers? Are you targeting women who are primarily the caretaker but who are in upper middle class? Well, then look at the mommy bloggers as a target and put advertisements there or try to get covered on their blogs.
So from the point you have the plan, it becomes clear where you need to go. But the universe of different ways to get your message out is pretty big and growing, as you know.
John Tsarpalas: You guys do a bunch of things that I want to hear a little more about, too. What are Spark Sessions?
Nicole Williams: Well, Spark Sessions is a webinar that we do once a month. About every other month we do something called Ask the Expert. It is actually kicking off this month I think on April 28th. Our listeners send in a question they have about marketing or communications. And then one of the people on our expert council will answer it.
We have somebody who was a category manager at Proctor and Gamble. We have Kevin Kjar from Arrowhead3 Consulting who is an excellent storyteller. Not only that, but he helps people refine their elevator pitch and build it into stories. So he’s a fantastic person to ask about making the emotional case for your not so emotional sounding policy.
We’ve got digital experts. We’ve got market research experts. So that’s a Spark Session. And then every other month when it is not Ask the Expert, we concentrate on just a core marketing concept.
John Tsarpalas: Oh, wow, okay. So how do people find Spark Sessions? Let’s roll out the address now. We’ll have it all at the end again. And we’ll have it on our website.
Nicole Williams: So if you go to SparkFreedom.org, and the under Events, click on Spark Sessions. You’ll see the latest Spark Session that’s coming up. And you can just sign up to listen to them. We use Go2Webinars, so you just sign up and then a couple days before you’ll get a reminder.
John Tsarpalas: Excellent.
Nicole Williams: And then we put the previously recorded ones on YouTube. So you’ll see the links to them on our website.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, I did see that when I was looking at your site. And I am going to sign up because there was a lot of topics here that I could use more knowledge in. And I just thought it would be interesting. My gosh, it’s free, so why not?
Nicole Williams: Right?
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, so it is really cool. Then you guys have something that will be important for not-for-profits, the ArrowHead Accelerator. You’ve got that coming up, Protecting Donor Privacy.
Nicole Williams: Yes. So we’ve worked with more than forty-five organizations over the last four years to do what we would call a big messaging project. So it starts with a strategic plan, the marketing plan. And then we do a little bit of market research and come into what we call an ArrowHead work session.
That work session is brutal. It takes two and a half days. We bring people in from all over the country to work on one policy topic and basically duke it out until we find the core strategic emotional message. And then we find stories, like real stories, to support the policy issues.
So donor privacy was something we worked with State Policy Network on over the last couple of years. They worked with so many different vendors. They brought in some really solid market research on the issue. So it is one of the best message packages that has been developed.
The Accelerator is a way for a candidate or someone in an organization to come in and benefit from all of that work and learn, “Okay, how do I handle objections when I am accused of taking dark money or being on the dole from Koch Brothers,” my two favorite objections. And how do I explain why protecting donor privacy is important to keep minority opinions active? It’s a matter of free speech.
So the Accelerator is in Nashville on May 11th and 12th. Both Kevin Kjar and I will be facilitating. There is a heavy influence on speaking there. You will be up and about and telling stories and giving short presentations as apart of the Accelerator.
John Tsarpalas: And again, you can find information about this at SparkFreedom.org. And donor privacy.
Nicole Williams: Yes, well, our goal is to empower people not to disclose their donors if they don’t want to. And we’ll explain why. Most of the examples we have of people being bullied by the left or in one case a group of bioterrorists went after somebody who was loosely associated with a company they didn’t like but who had donated to the Kerry campaign. And so her address was public information. She was on a go-get them list, like actively encouraging people to go beat people up.
So the examples we have come from candidate disclosures. We’re explaining that so you can connect the dots for people about why transparency of donors in 501(c)3s just opens up a huge door for people to be bullied and hurt just because they have an opinion.
In this country, the great thing about our country is we all have different opinions. A friend of mine likes to say, “Together we fall; divided we stand.”
John Tsarpalas: I like that.
Nicole Williams: Yeah.
John Tsarpalas: It is sad. It is a terrible situation. If you haven’t been active in some of these not-for-profit educational issue oriented types of organizations, it is brutal. The left blog sphere just starts attacking, ramps up, and tries to destroy people.
From my point of view, God bless the Koch brothers for putting up with all of the crap they take. And the other thing that I find amazing is the left sees the Koch brothers money in so many things. There are so many things I have been involved in where there was no Koch money, but it was always Koch money according to the left. I was like, “Bring it on! Think everybody is Koch money because it just isn’t.”
Nicole Williams: Yeah, I am like, “I would love some Koch money!”
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, exactly. I am always waiting for the Koch check it show up and it didn’t. But we were always thinking he’d sign, “Oh, it’s a Koch funded operation that way.”
Nicole Williams: It is amazing to me the level of transparency the Koch brothers do provide on what they support, but there is this big, secret conspiracy behind it. And I am thinking, “Well, you can just pull any of the paperwork and see.” They are fairly open about what they support and why.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah.
Nicole Williams: It’s not a big secret.
John Tsarpalas: No, it’s not.
Nicole Williams: But they’ve spun it into this dark world of crazy, behind the scenes conspiracy funding that just doesn’t exists.
John Tsarpalas: Right, exactly. But you also do something I believe is called the Spark Freedom Trend Setter Awards.
Nicole Williams: Yup, we like to highlight organizations that are doing a great job of marketing and communications. We are going to kick off the new cycle I think next month. So we’ll start taking applications in different marketing categories. If you’ve done something really awesome from a marketing/communications standpoint, you can submit your application. Then a panel of judges reviews it.
We issue awards at the State Policy Network annual meeting. And that’s in October.
John Tsarpalas: Wow. That sounds fun.
Nicole Williams: It is. It’s actually become fairly competitive among the organizations we work with. We’d love to see more people apply for it. The one thing is you do have to be a non-profit to apply for that award.
John Tsarpalas: Okay, so if you are in that world, you have a not-for-profit, take a look. You should be looking at what other people are doing because it is going to give you ideas on your marketing as well, what is working and what is not.
Nicole Williams: Yeah, and we do publish the winners and what they did so you can see why they were chosen. We also do ask for some measurement of results. So we are wanting what were you trying to achieve results-wise and did you get it.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, which is important. And tracking is always a hard thing, isn’t it? How do you come up with ideas on how you are going to come up with quantitative measurements? Some times it is quality.
If it is for fundraising, it is easy because you know if the money came in or not. If it is an election, it is easy because you know if you won or you didn’t win. There are always those bottom lines. But for an organization, some times it is tougher to know where you are at.
Nicole Williams: Yeah, you need to have people’s perceptions change. That’s not always easy to measure and it is not worth paying hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to measure that. So we do help people come up with simpler things to measure.
Web traffic, for example, (a lot of people like to measure that) is largely meaningless if you don’t know who is coming to you right. I mean, we work with somebody in Tennessee who has traffic of about eleven thousand a month. That doesn’t sound very good, does it?
John Tsarpalas: Eleven thousand hits to their site, is that what you are saying?
Nicole Williams: Yeah.
John Tsarpalas: That’s not bad for an organization.
Nicole Williams: It’s not bad, but it is a hundred percent politicals and political advisors.
John Tsarpalas: Okay.
Nicole Williams: So anybody interested in politics and people working for the legislature in Tennessee. I can tell by where the traffic comes from, right?
John Tsarpalas: Right.
Nicole Williams: So it’s not a hundred thousand people a month, but it is the people you want to reach if you are trying to get in front of-
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, I mean if you are looking at legislatures, how many are there? A couple hundred in the state? Five hundred? I don’t know.
Nicole Williams: Yeah.
John Tsarpalas: Obviously then you are doing a good job if you are reaching them.
Nicole Williams: We like to help people figure that out so they know what to measure and don’t just- you know, I can get you a lot of traffic to your website that won’t help you at all.
John Tsarpalas: Correct.
Nicole Williams: Just do a little with fate.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, okay.
Nicole Williams: John, one thing your listeners might be a little interested in that is different than a typical PR firm is that we do focus on equipping the people and organizations we work with to run their own communications.
So every package we have has a strong coaching component because our goal is not to add a bunch of clients that stay with us for the long term, although many of them do work with us on and off for the long term. But it is to make them independent so that they are able to run their relationships with PR firms if they are using them or other outsourced people in a way that brings them always back to their goal.
John Tsarpalas: I think that’s huge. I think that’s a big difference. And it is important.
Nicole Williams: We are successful when we put ourselves out of business in other words.
John Tsarpalas: Right. I think for a campaign especially they think that way. But an organization could be on term. But they are going to come back to you if things are working or not working, they get off track. But you are not handling it all through you in house so to speak.
Nicole Williams: Correct.
John Tsarpalas: You are teaching others.
Nicole Williams: In fact, we encourage people to use local trusted vendors. We have a trusted vendors list that is always growing. But if they have somebody local, we can help them asses the quality a little bit if they are worried about that.
John Tsarpalas: Oh, that’s good.
Nicole Williams: And then help them work with those local sources. Because your local sources have the local relationships.
John Tsarpalas: Absolutely. Not to mention if you are candidate, they are voting in your district! You want to use the local business guy so he talks about your campaign to his friends, etc. and network locally and provide business to your community. All of that works hand in hand and makes a lot of sense.
Nicole Williams: I think the other thing we do that’s different is the strong focus on story.
John Tsarpalas: I think something that I like in your brochure and that I’ve seen in your website and in talking to you is you do talk about story. When I coach people in their campaigns and in their public speaking, it’s always about a story.
You’ve got to have a story. Stories stick with people. For some reason, facts just go in one ear and out the other and they don’t care. But a story stays with them. So let’s talk about story because I think you are good at story. Tell me more.
Nicole Williams: Story is one of the things that we used early on with the organizations that we were working with to help them move towards using strategic marketing. So not everybody says, “Hmm, today I am going to get up and do some strategic marketing. This is exciting,” right? But telling a story is exciting. If you can turn lower taxes into something a little less geeky and a little more personal, it can help you really win.
So again, with Arrowhead3 Consulting, we help people determine which types of stories to tell that will move action from their target audiences. And then we really hone in on… Okay, I could tell you a story right now that would last half an hour and put you straight to sleep, right?
John Tsarpalas: Right.
Nicole Williams: How can you tell a story in fifteen seconds? You can tell a story in fifteen seconds. And so we work on some of those things: how to pull out the key pieces so that you can explain how a woman who worked at a pharmaceutical company was targeted by a bioterrorist group because of a contribution to John Kerry and that’s why you should protect donor privacy.
And then people are going to say, “Well, who was the woman?” And you need to actually know that it is a real person and be able to talk about them. We found the entry point of story into many people’s minds helps them remember your message. It gives them the emotional case for why it is important so that they have time to think about the logic.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, I think that’s great. Everyone needs to think about their story, how to say it, how to make it succinct for certain situations and longer for other situations, because there’s time when you have more time to expound.
Nicole Williams: Story framework really clearly worked out, you can tell any story, different stories over time and stay true to your brand. So part of the branding work we do is to work out what is your brand’s story. When you bring in your new digital diva, you can say, “This is our brand story. This needs to come out as part of what we are doing so people understand the emotional they are connecting with us.”
John Tsarpalas: Wow! No, that’s cool. I like it. I like it. I like. Well, Nicole, I think we gave people a general idea. I think it is time to tell them where to find you, how to reach you. We’ll go from there. We’ll let them come to you.
Nicole Williams: Great. Well, I am pretty easy to find. If you got SparkFreedom.org, that’s our organization’s website. I believe my email in on the front page, but it is Nicole@sparkfreedom.org.
And if you are interested in working with us, just reach out to us. We have a lot of free things that you can take advantage of. And we will be launching more in about two weeks. So reach out. We have a crisis communications guide you can download right now that helps you plan for crisis communications before it lands on your head, for example.
And then for candidates who are interested in looking at their own candidacy brand, it’s better to work with Arrowhead3 Consulting. The owner of that is Kevin Kjar. It’s arrowhead3.com. He brings me in on my off organization time to work with candidates and other private sector companies.
So those are the two easiest ways to get a hold of us.
John Tsarpalas: Perfect. And we will have all of that in the show notes at Commonwealthy.com. I think that is behooves every campaign and every organization to take a look at their marketing. Or if they are just getting started, they need a marketing strategy right from the beginning so that they get off on the right foot.
I would suggest you get a hold of Nicole one way or another. Thank you so much, Nicole! I really appreciate it.
I would check out the Spark Sessions at SparkFreedom.org. If you are a candidate and you are in need of branding, check out Arrowhead3.com.
I just got an email from Nicole. If you go to Spark Freedom and look at Arrowhead Accelerator Workshops, she is offering a discount. She is offering a discount to Commonwealthy listeners with the discount code COMMONWEALTHY.
The Arrowhead Accelerator Workshop is only $595 to Commonwealthy listeners. That’s more than fifty percent off. It doesn’t include the hotel or the flight. It does include the cost of the workshop at more than half off. So check that out. That’s happening in the Nashville area May 11 and 12th in 2016.
And we’ve got something new that just happened. We have an app for iPhones in the iTunes app store. Just put in the search bar Commonwealthy and find our new app. It’s free. We’ve got them coming for Google and Microsoft as well, but they are not here yet. But I am excited that the Apple one is here. So check it out.
As always, we will have show notes and a transcript of today’s podcast at Commonwealty.com. If you have questions, you can reach me at email@example.com. I’m happy to answer your email questions.
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