Bryan Fratkin was working as a technologist for CQ Roll Call when he had an epiphany. At the media company, he helped clients build communities for advocacy efforts, but he quickly grew frustrated with the tools available. From experience, he knew there had to be a better way for organizations to connect members with legislators.
“What frustrated me was the lack of innovation,” he said. Later, he worked for Illumen, a software firm, and then CQ Roll Call. “I have a tech background that’s mixed with understanding issues and getting people involved and interested,” he said. “I’m here to elevate the advocacy game.”
Fratkin recently founded Whistle Stop Digital, which last week launched a platform called Spark Influence aimed at trade associations, corporations and non-profits groups.
C&E: How does your platform, sparkinfluence.net, work?
Fratkin: Today, a user sends a letter, the organization gets another name on a spreadsheet. The platform I built actually goes out and pulls back some of the initial information around a person by leveraging a couple different APIs [application programming interfaces]. It pulls back somebody’s LinkedIn profile. It pulls back social media like Twitter and Pinterest. It pulls back all of these relevant data so the user can get a sense of who these people are and can target them better.
Take Amazon, which says, ‘hey, you’ve looked at golf clubs, how about looking at golf tees or golf shoes?’ It follows up. That was the kind of atmosphere I thought needed to be there with advocacy. I didn’t like the straightforward-tool aspect.
C&E: Are you aiming this platform at people who use NationBuilder?
Fratkin: I’m not aiming necessarily at them. I wouldn’t want to say that, but what I’m bringing to the table with the platform is simply elevating the advocacy game to take advantage of the world of data. I have a computer science background and I love how data relates from one table to another and how every action that somebody takes or an inaction is a data point we can use.
C&E: Why advocacy?
Fratkin: A lot of people go into government relations because they love policy. They go work for, say, Save The Whales because they believe in the [cause]. Then they’re tasked with getting letters to the Hill, but don’t necessarily know how to do that. My idea was: let me give those people as well as the rest of these trade associations, access to the data that can help them drive their entire effort forward.
Now, I can find 100 people in Kansas who are big on Twitter who I didn’t know about, let me have a tweet up for them. Let me send a white paper to some people in Massachusetts who have a large Klout score and show interest in that specific topic.
C&E: So the target client base is an issue campaign, but not a candidate, right?
Fratkin: There are three verticals here that it works really well with. One is the trade association, or government relations staffer working on grassroots issue advocacy. An example is the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA) — anyone who is doing these awareness campaigns where they want a legislative target to understand their issues.
At the same time, there doesn’t need to be a legislative target. It’s a great way for campaigns to do all of the things they need to do – segmentation, targeting, donation emails to people based on what they donated last time. Then the third vertical is content marketing and marketing services. There doesn’t have to be a legislative or political trigger, it can be just ‘I want to build a better website.’
C&E: Where did the name come from?
Fratkin: I grew up in Adams Morgan in D.C. My parents met working for the government and my dad loves political Americana. My upbringing was antique stores shopping for things like ‘I Like Ike’ buttons. Whistle Stop Digital came out of that, the historical reference of whistle stop tours. That was a platform to go out to the people and convince them of something. I thought there was a nice crossover there of bringing that feeling to a larger group.