It’s 1943 and the German air superiority has devastated the Allied forces. The Allies lack the planes to fight the Luftwaffe directly.
The U.S. Army Air Corps proposes a new strategy: attack the German ability to make and repair planes. The Allies launch a targeted campaign to destroy the German factories producing ball bearings vital for the Luftwaffe. The strategy worked and the Allies eventually gained aerial superiority in the war.
The lesson? Hit 'em where it counts. How do activists apply this principle?
Opioid overdose is now the No. 1 cause of accidental death in America - more than deaths from car crashes or gun homicides. More than 33,000 people died from opioid overdosing in 2015. Deaths are highest in the Midwest and northeast, among white, middle-aged men living in rural areas. Nearly 80 percent of people with opioid addiction—over 1.9 million people—do not receive treatment.
Here’s how an activist group might advocate for better opioid treatment services with a targeted Facebook campaign. Mothers For Superior Opioid Treatment (MOST), is an (fictional) activist group advocating for more affordable opioid treatment services. Opioid Care Corp. (OCC), is a (fictional) corporation juggling profit maximization and providing patients with opioid recovery services. OCC isn’t responsive and overwhelms MOST appeals with an advertising blitz.
What should MOST do with their limited resources? What might influence OCC management to lower their prices? Who should be targeted? How should the appeal be crafted? When should the campaign be run?
All about corporate structure
Corporations are legal entities with a Board of Directors to provide oversight and represent shareholders interests to corporate management. A corporate board has the decision-making authority for the company, and has the power to set the company's policies. Shareholder meetings are a regulatory requirement. It is, the one time every year where shareholders have an opportunity to sit with corporate management.
“Mutual funds, hedge funds and other investment vehicles controlled by financial services companies usually control the majority of a corporations publicly traded stock. Individual investors can express opinions on various topics and by putting forth proposals. The biggest corporate voting blocks are often the financial institutions, pension funds that hold large stakes in the firms”. Shareholder meetings are often scheduled at inconvenient times and remote locations to discourage shareholder protests. “Corporations are people too,” Mitt Romneyfamously explained. By that logic, they have feelings and care what others think about them.
How can activists get their appeals heard with these barriers? Activists can use social networks to hold corporations to account publicly. And when there are shortcomings, there protests often come in two forms.
Boycott - Customers are encouraged to boycott a firm’s offerings till they fix the issue. #DeleteUber campaign for instance resulted in changes at Uber. My recent blog about Grab Your Wallet describe “How tech activists harness purchasing power to bring about change”.
Agitate - Public sentiment about corporate policies is harnessed through social media to encourage management and the board of directors to do better.
Designing an activist campaign
There’s strength in numbers. But for maximum impact, military strategy teaches that it has to be focused where it matters. MOST had to choose the point of maximum impact at OCC.
- Who had the power to bring revise corporate policies at OCC? Management? Board members? Legislators responsible for laws governing opioid treatment services?
- What motivated them? Corporate profits? Shareholder support? Re-election?
- Who would they listen to? Patients? Care groups? Voters?
MOST chose to launch their campaign before an OCC board meeting to maximize exposure. Patients hurt by the high cost of opioid treatment would record their personal experiences on video. The clips would be shared on Facebook threads linked to OCC, its management and board members.
How would they find the patients willing to record testimonials? Using an approach recommended by Earl Dos Santos, a Facebook marketing expert and volunteer, MOST chooses Facebook to target its campaign precisely by interest (opioid treatment, addiction, recovery) and finds ‘look-alike audiences’ based on their email list. To further refine their search and reduce costs, MOST restricts its Facebook search to OCC’s key markets in the Southeast.
Videos of opioid patients explaining how OCC’s policies were hurting them, motivating people to act as they saw the effects on people to which they could easily relate. The ads were rolled out before OCC’s shareholder’s meeting and had the desired impact, leading OCC to soon lower its prices.
The above case study is fictional, but Advocates for Opioid Recovery is a real group. It's a nonpartisan effort led by founding advisors Newt Gingrich, Patrick Kennedy and Van Jones. Donate here to support their worthy cause.
The Allies first tried indiscriminate bombing. The approach was costly and didn’t work well. The Air Corps plan to destroy German ball bearing production, on the other hand was focused and worked.
Activists similarly need to pick their targets strategically.