We’re all familiar with the concept of Grassroots campaigns in public relations. Recently, I also heard about a “grasstops” campaign, which is analogous to what I have referred to often in this column as opinion leader relationship building. Even though we won’t see our lawns for some time to come this spring, I thought it would be valuable to make continued analogy between lawn management and your public relations efforts. It might just help us to mentally prepare for the real Spring to come.
Tending to the grass roots
In the beginning of the season, as in the beginning of a communications campaign, we need to fertilize the masses. Getting out the bag of Scotts turf builder in the spring, we know the grass roots all need fertilizer to better come back from the effects of a long winter. It is also a time to specifically address weeds. Similarly, we need to broadcast what our campaign is all about. We do that through press releases, newsletters and other one-way communications tools to reach lots of people we need to reach. This food for thought should fertilize the grass roots and help folks see and understand the value of what your organization has to offer. And, you have to be careful not to over fertilize. Too much of a good fertilizer tends to burn the plant and loose your audience. You do that through “fluff” and hyperbole. Generally speaking, over-stating or just plain exaggerating will do more harm than good. As artist Van Gogh said, “we need to exaggerate the essential, but leave the obvious vague.” Besides, the over use of fertilizer in public relations campaigns historically has lead to bad reputations for the profession as a whole?
And what about weed control? Unlike lawn control, we have come to learn that outright elimination of weeds to our communication efforts is nearly impossible, if not illegal. Much as we would like to eliminate those unsightly and uncomfortable individuals who muck up our otherwise perfect lawn—you can’t. And, you probably shouldn’t. After all, even dandelions are good to eat if you dig them before they go to flower. Instead, we should keep our enemies, our detractors, at “arms-length”. You want/need to know what people are saying about in order to adjust your strategies appropriately. In my research, some of the best information forthcoming to help the campaign came from interviews with people who were against what was being proposed. Know where your dandelions and crabgrass grow and systematically work to understand them.
Tending to the grass tops
Similarly, we know that we need to carefully maintain the grass tops in order to prevent the plants from going to seed or conversely burning up in the intense summer sun. The grass tops in communications come in two forms: opinion leaders and power leaders. Opinion leaders are those who every one else turns to when they speak about our particularly topic of interest (your campaign). Power leaders are those who are kept in power by true opinion leaders. Maybe this analogy is best witnessed by the annual rights of spring witnessed by our very Legislature. This time of year the power leader Legislators are all making significant decisions that affect our rules, regulations, programs and our pocket books. If you look closely at this activity, you will see that all Legislators are being helped by all sorts of opinion leaders and their lobbyist aides in making those decisions. And it is amazing how few people are involved in the making of this front lawn. It is also true that if this process is left out of public scrutiny, it can grow out of control—go to seed. On the reverse, if we try to control the process to tightly, we can ruin the roots of our democracy and ruin the plant in the process. We can all remember situations where both have happened.
So, as Spring nears (I have never seen a dandelion on March 21, have you?), let us get out our turf builder, watering cans and lawn mower management campaigns and prepare for a healthy front lawn. And, don’t let a few weeds spoil your otherwise perfect communications campaign.
Originally published in the Kennebec Journal in 2008 as part of a monthly guest series on public relations and marketing.