All causes are not created equal.
Those of us who work in campaigns, communications and advocacy learn quickly that we must adequately vet and prequalify clients we champion. Otherwise, we can get burned personally and professionally. We are who we represent.
When a new or expanded assignment opens up, we encourage you to join us in utilizing this comprehensive checklist of factors to vet before committing to all causes.
- Are we being asked to blaze a new path or adding value to existing territory on a particular issue, project or candidate?
- Who is bankrolling the campaign and why?
- Does the entity (entities retaining us) have the money, or do they need our help raising some or all of it?
- What are the expectations for success of those behind the cause?
- Do I have an existing conflict and how might that be resolved?
- Is it partisan or non-partisan?
- What are the internal capabilities of the leaders of the causes?
- Who are the proposed spokespersons of the causes and are they credible at this stage?
- Are there natural existing audiences that need to be motivated, or will we be recruiting and grooming new advocates?
- Is it media worthy for reporters, columnists and producers to help amplify our initiatives?
- Is there a social responsibility appeal?
- Will our engagement require us to file under the Foreign Agents Registration Act or the Lobbying Disclosure Act?
- Are there any apparent or perceived ethical issues involved in supporting a cause?
- What’s the projected time frame of the cause-related campaign and could it be extended if positive results are forthcoming?
- Could the assignment lead to additional business with this organization, or be a catalyst for additional business in a specific sector?
While some of these questions might be easy to answer and move on, others may take some research or soul searching among you and your colleagues.
If you have initial doubts about the cause or the catalyst behind it early on, heed this red flag warning and do your due diligence. Conversely, if you’re anxious to get started and all cylinders appear to be a go, slow down a few minutes to do your homework.
Once engaged, it’s difficult for all parties to amicably alter or end the arrangement. While we recommend a flexible 30- to 60-day out clause for both parties in any agreements, measuring twice and cutting once in any new project is highly recommended.
After you vet a cause and commit to working with that organization, you’re going to have to be willing to deal with some challenges that result from your association. If the organization clearly represents a certain issue area and you vet and accept their business, you can’t cut and run at first sight of public pressure. This can be very challenging when you’re providing a software, service, or consulting on a wedge issue that’s hyper-partisan and of social or political importance.
From experience, achieve the signed contract before starting any substantive work. Then, work your magic supporting that cause.
Mike Fulton directs the Washington, D.C. office of the Asher Agency and teaches public affairs in West Virginia University's Integrated Marketing Communications program.
Joshua Habursky is assistant vice of advocacy at the Independent Community Bankers of America, chairman of the Grassroots Professional Network, and adjunct professor at West Virginia University.