4 Truly Inspirational Advocacy Campaigns

Public relations is glamorous. Many practitioners are quick to tell you how much work it is, and of course, they’re right. But the job can come with some pretty sweet perks, too. A PR professional at the top of her game may enjoy the fruits of highly-visible campaign success. Google the phrase “best PR campaigns” and you’ll see a slew of lists peppered with words like “innovative” and “brilliant”. But what about those who focus on government relations and advocacy? Don’t they do brilliant and innovative work?

Of course, government relations (GR) often plays a crucial role in larger public relations (PR) campaigns. But due to common misconceptions about PR, the contributions of GR professionals often fail to receive the same attention as those from professionals who do more general PR work.

In some ways, industry awards can be considered equalizers. Though awards for GR and public affairs campaigns may not carry much cachet (at least not in the eyes of some), they provide recognition to practitioners doing innovative work in sometimes-overlooked fields. With this in mind, here are four remarkable, industry-recognized GR and public affairs campaigns.




The Ontario IPF Patient Watch List Advocacy Campaign

For their role in a recent advocacy campaign related to IPF (idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis), members of Cohn & Wolfe’s Toronto team received a silver award from the Canadian Public Relation Society. The award, which was in the “Government Relations/Public Affairs Campaign of the Year” category, was in recognition of the agency’s efforts to spur Ontario government funding for Espbriet, the only drug available to treat IPF.

IPF is a serious lung disease that causes the death of 3000 Canadians each year. In order to increase government awareness of the disease’s devastating impact, members of the CPFF (Canadian Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation) delivered patient watch lists to MPPs; these lists were designed to help MPPs keep track of sufferers in their constituencies. These efforts are detailed in a press release listing Cohn & Wolfe professionals as contacts.

The practitioners involved in this Canadian campaign – which also won the IABC OVATION Award of Excellence in Government Relations – found a simple way to connect passionate advocates with politicians. They brought human faces to an illness most don’t know enough about. In so doing, they helped give sufferers a voice in queen’s park. If that isn’t inspiring, what is?

Espbriet is now funded in Ontario through the Exceptional Access Program (EAP).




Corn Farmers Coalition Education Campaign

This American campaign for the Corn Farmers Coalition is so good, part of it was recently placed in the Smithsonian. An advertisement educating viewers about family farms and their role in the country’s corn production will soon be placed in the museum’s Mars Hall of American Business.

The ad was part of a larger advocacy campaign that started eight years ago. It was conceived by public affairs guru Morgan Young. In a recent interview with Connectivity, Young states that the family farmer was his greatest asset. Says Young, “a smiling farmer was front and center in our approach.” Such tactics highlight the complexity of campaigns that aim to impact public opinion as well as legislation. Often, the two can not be separated.

The Corn Farmers Coalition states that it was formed to “educate policy-makers in Washington about how tech-savvy, innovative farmers are growing more corn every year – for food, animal feed, ethanol and exports.” The inclusion of this message in one of the world’s largest collections of art is sure to serve as a reminder. 



Reclaim November, Ohio

The “Reclaim November, Ohio” campaign may seem like an odd choice for this list. It was carried out back in 2012, and received an honourable mention (not an award) for PR Week’s “Public Affairs Campaign of the Year”. Nonetheless, this effort from Fast Horse – a Minneapolis-based marketing and PR agency – stands out out.

Here’s the story: a think tank known as the Jefferson Center for New Democratic Processes was in serious trouble in 2012. According to PR Week, the groups’s “sole donor had written his last check.” Enter the Fast Horse professionals, who positioned Jefferson Action (as the think tank quickly came to be known) as a group of idealists hoping to restore dignity to American politics. Fast Horse decried “the usual mud slinging” that corrupts the political process, and championed Jefferson Action’s plan to “[r]eturn the democratic process to ordinary citizens”. Creative engagement initiatives included citizen forums, like this one in Akron.

The result? PR Week reported that the campaign generated “60 news stories and 9.5 million-plus unique impressions”. Looking back, this is still impressive. The tactics of those involved were bold, and the belief that things could be turned around in a dire situation is truly inspiring.





I Am Licensed

This is the third American entry on the list, not because there’s a dearth of innovative Canadian campaigns, but because there’s such a variety to choose from south of the border. The “I am Licensed” campaign, which was created by the country’s Professional Beauty Association, stands out because, as a grassroots campaign powered by social media, it s truly representative of our times.

Government affairs and industry relations manager Bridget Sharpe helped licensed beauty professionals understand a growing threat. Proposed legislation in states across the nation was on track to deregulate the industry, an act that could have invalidated the licenses of cosmetologists, hairstylists, estheticians, and others in the beauty industry. The PBA’s campaign encouraged practitioners to use instagram – and the #IAMLICENSED hashtag – to speak out against this change. The result, as the Public Affairs Council (PAC) notes, was “1,700 new and active advocates.”

The campaign won a 2015 Grassroot Innovation award from PAC. Its success illustrates the power of social media, a tool that can be used to reach beyond circles where political engagement typically occurs.



Feature Image by A Squared Photography

Corn field photo by fishhawk

Stylist photo by COD Newsroom

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