When to chase a headline: sending timely emails

When to chase a headline: sending timely emails

Tell me if this has happened to you: we had been working on a campaign for weeks, even designing a whole mini-website to go with it, when suddenly competing news broke (in this case the government shutdown).

All of a sudden, our non-profit client Environmental Action faced a choice: press on ahead with the painstakingly-planned advocacy campaign, pivot to a more timely shutdown-themed action, or do nothing.

We ended up doing all three with them, providing an excellent case study in whether to chase or not to chase the headlines.

First, let me summarize the case for all three courses of action.

1) Press on Ahead. Because people are no doubt getting a bazillion emails about the shutdown, we assumed they would appreciate the chance to take action on something else — and the environment is an issue whether there is a functioning government or not.

2) Develop a Shutdown action. The shutdown did have major implications for the environment – starting with the fact that the EPA was mostly shut down while polluters were not. A headline about Justin Timberlake might not be worth changing course over, but something this big deserves to be the focus. Besides, if your members are consumed with news and action about the shutdown, they may not have time for your other action – even as painstaking created as it is.

3) Do Nothing. If you don’t have anything to say, or there isn’t an natural fit for your campaign, it is also ok to be quiet for a day or so and let your members digest everything before hitting them with another petition.

So which did we do? Actually, a combination of all 3! We waited a day, then sent a shutdown action (send John Boehner a pacifier for funding big oil while shutting the EPA), which performed better than the pre-planned campaign in an initial A|B test. As the shutdown drew on for a second week, however, we launched our anti-fracking website targeting NPR, which ended up being more popular than the shutdown action over the course of 7-10 days.

The results are revealing. In initial tests, the timely shutdown action outperformed the pre-planned NPR campaign. After a week had passed, the fracking campaign had surpassed the shutdown action. But both campaigns had somewhat-depressed open and action rates, suggesting that the din of the shutdown was affecting all online advocacy actions for non-profits.

In conclusion, both were good campaigns, and each had their key moment. Testing showed that the safest course was to reject the impulse to rush ahead with either campaign to the exclusion of the other. Big news stories like the shutdown are worth responding to – if you are ready to add something creative. But in the end, what will grow your list, raise the most money, and excite your members the most is a campaign that you own and speaks to a longer timeline – nobody likes being bossed around by Tea Party Republicans, and we all prefer to take action on something that creates solutions instead of delaying problems by a few weeks.

Want help setting sorting out your non-profit organization’s priorities? Let us know and we’re happy to work with you. Contact PowerThru today!

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