Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The biggest waste of advocacy money: a New York Times ad

Why do so many advocacy organizations insist on raising $150,000 to run an ad in the New York Times?

It is one of the worst ways I know to advance an issue.

An ad in the New York Times does very little besides make donors feel that they've accomplished something important because....they placed an ad in the New York Times.

One organization just issued an online action alert to donors to stop the slaughter of grey wolves (thanks to another poor decision by the Bush Administration) by sending in money to run an ad.

And this ad will presumably "alert millions of Americans to this attack on wildlife" and "spark an avalanche of citizen opposition"

(The organization is the National Resources Defense Council Action Fund and the campaign they are promoting is -- if I'm going to criticize their tactics I might as well try to get them some play).

The problem I have with the tactic is that there are so many better ways to invest that $150,000 to build up our infrastructure.

Run a full-page ad in every progressive magazine in the nation for a tenth of that cost (and likely generate more people than a New York Times ad).

Hire 30 organizers for a month (at $5000 each) to canvass in 30 swing or suburban Republican congressional districts in order to recruit Members to press the Administration to reverse the policy.

The campaign is clearly aiming to appeal to small donors (good for them), and I hope that the prospect of buying a New York Times ad is not that appealing to small donors. (Savvy organizations put the most popular part of their agenda up front -- like the beautiful wolf's face -- to attract the largest amount of small donors. I can't believe that a NYTimes ad really pulls in more donations than other pitches such as a targeted ad campaign for the same amount of money in different media).

In my view, when an advocacy organization tries to run an ad in the Times, it's a sign of a lack of creating thinking on clearly defining the objectives of the effort and identifying the best tactics to accomplish the objective.

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