Lessons From The Field Strategic Communications For Statewide Organizations

For statewide organizations that work on a variety of issues, it can often be difficult for their communications staff to manage and plan strategies to effectively get the word out about all of their organization’s work.

For statewide organizations that work on a variety of issues, it can often be difficult for their communications staff to manage and plan strategies to effectively get the word out about all of their organization’s work.

That was the case for two of the 2017 ReFrame mentees — Shaunté Harris of the Ohio Organization Collaborative (OOC) and JaNaé Bates of ISAIAH, a faith-based coalition in Minnesota.  Bates, who is the Communications Director for ISAIAH,  works with member organizations and also runs ISAIAH’s own communications work. Harris is the Digital Communication Coordinator for the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, which works not only in six cities and regions — Cleveland, the Valley, Akron, Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati — but runs statewide campaigns as well.

“It becomes a bit challenging at times,” said Harris, referring to the need to juggle different campaigns in different regions at the same time. “At the Reframe opening convening, my mentor recommended that we split up buckets of work within our department, so we could work more effectively. So once my champion and I got back, we did just that. We each have been paired with specific campaigns. This way, our department is informed on statewide issues.”

For Bates, the reality of juggling so many campaigns at once meant ReFrame was all the more helpful. “Because ISAIAH is multi-issue, we have seven simultaneous issues happening on any given day,” Bates said. “With me having so many issue campaigns and so many things to focus on, and so many literal priorities, being able to integrate the communications work I do with the organizing work on the ground, and having the tools to do it, has been an immeasurable, invaluable experience.

JaNaé Bates, ISAIAH The two agree that for statewide multi-issue organizations like theirs, in order to have the most impact, it is critical that organizers be trained as communicators. As part of ReFrame, they have been able to train organizing staff on the importance of integrating communications into all aspects of the work.

“We got organizers to think of the communications department as not just people who get media out to press conferences and actions, but as strategic partners on campaigns,” said OOC’s Harris.

Bates led a similar process at ISAIAH. Now, said Bates, “I’m not the only one doing the social media blasts and drafting media advisories and press releases. Organizers are also trained in how to do that. They’re not just creating these actions and then saying, ‘Oh and JaNae will handle the communications.’ It’s completely integrated. They’re thinking about it in the forefront.”

This already has led to results. “You’re doing this amazing work, but if nobody knows about it, it did not happen,” said Bates. “Reorienting them to realize communications is also a core part of their job has been great in building capacity and building power in the state. Getting that grounding in ReFrame has been a catalyst for us to do really great communications work.”

Deepening organizers’ understanding of strategic communications has made their campaigns not only more efficient, but more effective. As Harris put it: “We don’t win by having big actions and random articles written about us. We win by saying the right thing to the right people to get them to take the action that we need them to take.”

For both Harris and Bates, the ReFrame mentorship has not only helped them integrate communications into the organizing work — it has sharpened their own skills as communicators.

“ReFrame has helped me craft a way to balance all of my work,” Harris said. “It has helped us effectively create a strategic campaign plan around whatever issue the city or area is working on, and not just do press conference after press conference.”

Bates echoed Harris: “Through ReFrame, I’ve learned not just to think as a communicator but as an organizer — I’m strategically figuring out what is going to be the most effective in garnering public attention with the narrative that I want.”

She shared one example from this past year: as she and leaders from ISAIAH’s member organizations were brainstorming an action to preserve paid sick days for 150,000 Minnesotans, Bates came up with the idea of using the messaging “Thou shalt not steal 150,000 people’s sick time.” “We wanted to be authentic in our ISAIAH messaging, as we’re faith-based,” Bates explained. “It spread like wildfire. It became the messaging that we basically used throughout the whole legislative session, talking about workers’ wages and health care. Everything was ‘Thou shalt not steal.’ it was so catchy. Even in non-religious coalition spaces, people were chanting that.”

“It was a moment that kind of turned into a movement.”

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