ITL #7 A new approach to advocacy: Four global trends

10 years, 3 months ago


International actors have discovered different routes for collaboration as a new generation of leaders has come to the fore. By Lutz Meyer.

A couple of weeks ago a Kuala Lumpur based ex-colleague of mine shared via Linkedin a case study that is a perfect example of the different stages an advocacy campaign can take today. The main components of this case study: the internet (YouTube, Vimeo), two actors (Greenpeace, Nestlé), a global issue (Bio-diversity/tropical rainforest), an emotional theme (Orangutans), a visible consumer product (Kitkat), a creative campaign (video), consumer activation (social media), a new business model (Nestlé: “Creating Shared Value”), a reputable NGO (the Forest Trust) a global public private partnership (Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil), an open mind for dialogue, discussion of solutions and – ultimately – mutual decisions. (Financial Times).

This example demonstrates how the approach towards dialogue and issues resolution has changed, both from an international NGO’s and a globally operating corporation’s point of view. What in the past used to end in a confrontational deadlock between an NGO and a multi-national now culminated in a corporate decision with the support and input of another NGO, staged by a public private partnership (PPP) all to the sustainable benefit of the environment, the animals, the corporate reputation and the involved brand.

Back in 2009/10 the chain of events was triggered by a Greenpeace campaign against unsustainable forest clearing for palm oil production – and it was very confrontational. Today we see increasing collaboration between multi-nationals, International Governmental Organizations (IGOs), the donor community and NGOs that was originally initiated by the private sector.

YUM!Brands’ (KFC, Pizza Hut) annual World Hunger Relief campaign is the world’s largest private sector hunger relief effort, spanning more than 120 countries, nearly 38,000 KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell restaurants and over one million employees, to raise awareness, volunteerism and funds for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and other hunger relief agencies. Multi-Grammy Award winner and international superstar, Christina Aguilera serves as the global spokesperson for World Hunger Relief.

General Electric launched – in the context of their strategic initiative “Healthimagination” – a multi-million USD campaign to fight breast cancer in cooperation with governmental bodies, NGOs, patient groups and the medical community. These are only a few examples from a plethora of recent advocacy campaigns and initiatives on a global, national or even local level that aim at resolving (global) issues with the support of strategically planned advocacy campaigns.

In January 2012, the renowned Geneva based “Graduate Institute” launched an executive certificate programme “Advocacy in International Affairs ( A clear signal that the academic world has also been looking at the changing climate in which decision making processes are influenced in the public domain. And a signal that professionals are trying to acquire knowledge and skills to meet the increased strategic and communicative requirements of advocacy.

What has triggered this – I would say – is progress in terms of how international actors set priorities and interact; how they plan and implement their advocacy campaigns.

Actors must act now
Some observers say – and I tend to agree – that a new generation of leaders has taken up the reins in organizations and corporations. These leaders no longer carry the ideological burden of the Cold War. They have all studied or worked internationally and are more open to new ideas and approaches. They have learned and experienced that confrontation is less successful than cooperation and sharing. And the majority of these new leaders has understood and taken on board the existence of global issues – from climate change to food security or non-communicable diseases, to name a few – that need a global, collaborative approach by all international actors to address and resolve them.

The political, entrepreneurial and societal responsibility of taking action now is widely accepted at boardroom levels, as is the need to contribute to sustainable solutions and start mitigating already tangible impacts on humankind and nature.

However, it would be too simplistic to attribute the new and enhanced role of advocacy solely to the mindset of new leaders. Four global trends impact the way in which actors communicate and seek to influence decisions:

1. The changing media landscape
The most import difference the internet and social media bring to advocacy is the instant and permanent possibility of being in dialogue with individuals as well as large interest groups with a single mouse click or pad tap – on a 24/7 basis, simultaneously and whenever you want it. Traditional media as the main communication channel has been made more or less redundant.

What I regard as significant is the fact that you don’t need an advertising agency, large production budgets or complicated technical equipment to design creative visuals and to get the message across to your target audiences, be they individuals, a couple of hundred, thousands or even millions. Content and messages are key. Leave the distribution to social media. An impressive example of a very creative, impactful but simple campaign has been planned and implemented by WWF in Hungary in 2011. (Watch on Youtube).

To be successful today, a well-built strategy that defines target audiences, key messages and with a strong campaign theme is no longer enough. To manage the outreach and engagement process in a timely and orchestrated manor, you need to draw on a well-trained, social media savvy campaign team.

2. New platforms and the diminishing role of established political structures
In many of today’s democratic countries around the world, non-voters represent the single largest “party” in national or regional elections. This is a clear indication of disengagement from the political decision-making processes of established party systems as it is an indication of disinterest or loss of faith in the political caste. However, single political events or initiatives, be it “the occupy movement” around the world or – an example from Germany – the activation of hundreds of thousands of citizens to protest against the reconstruction of the Stuttgart main station (“Stuttgart 21”) indicates that there is a deep interest and potential for activation among all levels of society beyond parties and established democratic structures. It seems the internet and social media play a vital role in organizing and maintaining these political initiatives outside of party assemblies or parliamentary sessions.

Major decisions regarding the global legal or regulatory framework are discussed and agreed in circles that are not directly empowered by an electorate or a democratic mandate: G8, G20, the Euro Group, the World Economic Forum just to name a few. Not to forget International Governmental or Intergovernmental Organizations like ITU, WHO, WTO, IMF or the European Union. In all these platforms, circles and groupings of actors we have the opportunity to set and influence the agenda and ultimately the decisions that influence our day-to-day life.

Everybody wanting to start an advocacy campaign should do his or her homework and understand who the relevant actors are, and which platform, circle or body is the most influential one. Only a systematic analysis of positions, opinions and relations provides the basis for defining the desired outcome, selecting the right messages and creating successful tools and measures to reach out to target audiences that matter.
3. The growing involvement of celebrities
Former political leaders like Bill Clinton (Bill Clinton Foundation), Mikhail Gorbachev (Green Cross International, GCI) or Kofi Annan (Alliance for a Green Revolution in African, AGRA) can still have a strong influence on political developments. By publishing their opinions in major publications or speaking at events and conferences they set the global agenda and, certainly, through their own initiatives or foundations. Equipped with an unmatched Rolodex these former leaders of countries or global organizations are active members of the inner circle that drive the global political discourse.

Together with iconic billionaires (Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, George Soros) or celebrities from arts, sports or culture this ever-growing group of individuals is teaming up for a cause, or acting as spearheads for awareness or fundraising campaigns together with IGOs, NGOs or public private partnerships.

The involvement of celebrities provides a great opportunity for attracting attention, activating supporters and increasing visibility. However, every advocacy campaigner should remember that celebrities very rarely are true team players and they follow their own agenda. Or they could become the source of negative public attention due to lifestyle or behavioral issues. Before involving celebrities in an advocacy campaign it is advisable to conduct an in depth risk analysis.

4. The rising importance of public private partnerships
I already mentioned that public private partnerships have been successful by combining know-how, resources and funds in order to address global issues with concrete local or regional action.

PPPs are endorsed or even initiated by IGOs and the donor community (i.e. USAid, EuropeAid, Norad). The private sector and NGOs too are actively involved as well as local, regional or national authorities, depending on the type of PPP, the specific issue and involved geographies.

Whenever a PPP is part of the consideration for an advocacy campaign, timing has to be taken into consideration. To set up a PPP and get effective traction can take years. Hence, considering a PPP as a mechanism only makes sense if there is a long-term commitment from the initial partners and if the actual topic or issue requires a long lead advocacy approach.

Consumer-oriented companies took the lead
Nestlé and Unilever took the lead in changing their business strategy from a pure “shareholder value” approach to a “creating shared value” concept. The academic foundation was developed in 2009 by Harvard professor Michael E. Porter ( and launched in 2010. Both firms took their conclusions and started individual, long-termed advocacy campaigns around their interpretation of the concept. In 2012 Unilever’s CEO Poland was quoted as saying “If you do not share our vision …… then don’t invest in our company.” By the way, both firms stopped reporting quarterly results, in line with their new approach towards sustainability and to distance themselves from shareholder value concepts.

Norway’s international fertilizer market leader “Yara” is, together with Syngenta and Unilever, one of the key drivers and private sector partners in a project called the Southern African Growth Corridor Tanzania (SAGCOT) project. This PPP was created with the objective to “…foster inclusive, commercially successful
agribusiness" in Tanzania and by that “fighting against poverty and contributing to food security”. Other partners include USAid, FAO, WEF, Kofi Annan’s AGRA, the Tanzanian Government and regional authorities. Through banks and funds, the project is even open to private capital investment.

If and when corporations embark upon a long-term advocacy campaign and intend to benefit from a genuine thought leadership positioning, they first have to adjust their business strategy. Their set of values and the commitment to resolve a global issue has to be driven from the top of the firm and should be part of the CEO agenda. Only in this way it can be guaranteed that the changed business model is instilled into the firm’s DNA and reflected in its value set.

An integrated advocacy campaign also requires a fresh look at a firm’s marketing, public relations, public affairs and regulatory affairs functions. All aspects of communications have to reflect the new advocacy model, ideally under a global thought leadership theme and concept. Advocacy campaigns will dramatically fail if they are not carried by an honest and transparent business model that is founded on absolute integrity.

Why? Have a look at the first trend I listed above. If claims made don’t match with the company’s corporate behavior it can swiftly become the subject of an effective NGO advocacy campaign. Do you need an example? Have a look at the fashion label Zara and the recent Greenpeace announcement. (
A classic example of a successful advocacy campaign – in this case from the NGO’s point of view.

Thought Leader Profile
Lutz Meyer is a senior consultant at international brand and reputation management consultancy LEIDAR. Based in Nyon/Switzerland, Lutz specializes in developing and managing global communications strategies and programmes for both corporate clients and government institutions.

A German national, who has lived and worked in Germany, as well as Dubai and Nicosia and operated from London, Brussels and Singapore, Lutz has focused most of his 30+ year career on agency management and client service positions for leading international public relations consultancies.

Previously, he spent 25 years in senior management positions at Weber Shandwick, the world’s leading public relations agency. Lutz has also held various senior management positions with Action Global Communications, an independent public relations consultancy that focuses on the world’s most promising and emerging markets. Lutz lectures regularly as part of the Executive Certificate in Advocacy in International Affairs at the Graduate Institute in Geneva. E-mail: [email protected]


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The Author

Lutz Meyer

Lutz Meyer is a senior consultant at international brand and reputation management consultancy LEIDAR.

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