June Spark Session – Ask the Experts!

For our June Spark Session, we tackled another round of your marketing questions. We covered the basic rules of successful coalition building, the do’s and don’ts of email marketing, and how to manage your organization’s reputation on Wikipedia.

Spark Freedom’s Jonathan Haines started off the session by discussing how to build strong coalitions. Your most fundamental task is to get a diverse group of people to set their individual goals aside in favor of working toward a common goal. You need to create a strong message that transcends differences in viewpoints among your coalition partners and generates full buy-in from them. Once you have that message you can then devise a joint strategy to achieve your coalition’s goal.

Next up, Sarah Johnson from Spotlight Liberty had some great tips for making your email marketing efforts more successful. There are several factors you need to consider when trying to get the most out of your email list. One key piece of advice Sarah mentioned was to scrub your list every 6 months so that you’re only keeping your most relevant and interested users. She also provided a few great email marketing resources. Check them out:

What’s a good email open rate & click rate? [Benchmark data]

How to get your sales emails opened

Email opens trends on mobile devices in 2015

Lastly, Spark Freedom’s Nicole Williams gave some great tips for tackling “vandalism” to your Wikipedia page committed by your opponents. When you discover inaccuracies, you may be tempted to correct them all at once. However, Nicole recommended to address them in small chunks and over time to avoid a “wiki war.” Make sure you learn and abide by the Wikipedia’s community standards and editing guidelines. And when you make your edits, use credible third-party sources instead of your own website.

Watch the entire webinar to find out:

  • The process for creating a coalition from the ground up
  • How often you should send out mass emails
  • What email marketing metrics you really need to measure
  • Essential tips for staying out of “wiki wars”

Spark Freedom Interns: Meet Emily Orr!

My name is Emily Orr! I grew up in Southern California. For the past three years, I have been living in Logan, Utah while attending Utah State University. I am entering my senior year, majoring in political science and minoring in organizational communication

I love hiking, kayaking, going to the gym, political activism, cooking, brunch(ing), traveling, and watching those weird documentaries on Netflix. I also really love dogs. I don’t have one (yet), but I find myself spending (too much) time watching dog videos on the internet.

Last semester I was a Koch Scholar, which gave me the opportunity to fuel one of my greatest passions: reading.The purpose was to get students of different backgrounds to talk about issues in government and society.  As a scholar, my favorite book was “How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life” by Russ Roberts.

When I was a freshman in college I was introduced to the ideas of classical liberalism, and since then I have been absolutely smitten. I attended a club meeting called Aggies for Liberty run by a good friend of mine. I loved the ideas they were sharing, and I thought that they made a lot of sense and I looked further into them. I later became the president of Aggies for Liberty (which is an affiliate of Students for Liberty), which has allowed me to spread the ideas of liberty across the state of Utah. Since my introduction into liberty, I have become very passionate about Free Market Environmentalism (I started an FME club on my campus), freedom of speech and expression (especially on college campuses), proper fiscal policies, and the war on drugs. I am interested in all aspects of a free society, but these are the spheres that get me super amped.

I am very excited to be interning for Spark Freedom. After going through the process of becoming a Koch Intern, I discovered the job listing as a communication intern. I explored their website and was impressed with how many people they have worked with to help promote their stories of liberty. I believe that sharing your story is very valuable in such a connected world. I see so much opportunity for personal growth here at Spark Freedom, and I am eager to learn everything they throw my way! As a result of this internship, I hope to gain new skills in communication and development that will spill over into my professional and academic life. I am very excited about this opportunity and very happy to be on the Spark Freedom team!


Spark Freedom Interns: Meet Allie Harris!

My name is Allie Harris. I go to Miami University (the one in Ohio, not Florida). I’m double-majoring in political science and international studies with a concentration in international development. I’m also double minoring in French and business legal studies. Next spring semester, I’ll be studying abroad in Luxembourg for 5 months, and I can’t wait!

I am the co-chair of Miami’s College Republicans chapter. Guiding the organization through the crazy 2016 election season will be quite the challenge, I think. Actually, the RNC Convention this summer is taking place 20 minutes from my house. I’m looking forward to volunteering with the convention and being around the city during all the chaos.

I love reading biographies (specifically about our Founding Fathers) and historical nonfiction about America and influential people.

I’m so thrilled to spend the summer with Spark Freedom. I was looking for an internship where I would do more than follow someone around the office and make copies. I wanted a real, hands-on experience. The Spark Freedom staff has already entrusted me with completing big tasks. I’ve learned more in my few weeks of interning here than I have during an entire summer at other places.
When I’m not involved in politics, I enjoy being outside. I love hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, and sailing (although sailing on Lake Erie is not the same as sailing on the Chesapeake Bay, where I learned). I was a competitive figure skater in high school, but now I just skate for fun when I have time.

[Webinar] April Spark Session: Ask the Experts!


For our April Expert Q & A Spark Session, we asked you to send us your questions about anything marketing and communications. Our experts who responded included Kevan Kjar from Arrowhead 3 Consulting, Sarah Johnson from Spotlight Liberty, and Corey Burns from eResources. (Learn more about them and other members of our experts council here.) Here are some highlights from the session.

Kevan Kjar responded to a question about how to engage someone who does not already agree with your policy. The best way to convince such a person is to tell a strong and meaningful story, one that is emotional to the buyer, differentiated from the competition, and stars a credible real-life hero.

Sarah Johnson shared advice with us on how to make your trade show booths more engaging and interactive. You need to do extensive research on your audience and really zero in on what message you want the attendees to go home with.

Corey Burns discussed the pros and cons of developing a phone application for your organization. Before jumping into the vast app market, consider: How much will it cost to create the app? Is your app new? Innovative? Why would people download your app if you already have a website?

Spark Freedom’s own Nicole Williams provided insight on how to develop a marketing plan for a market that seems to be constantly changing. Your plan should consist of goals that are grounded in change yet can be measured in terms of success. For example: “We want to change the way people are talking about liberty.” Such a goal is implicitly dynamic because it presumes the way people talk about liberty will keep evolving. But you can influence that change in the right direction, and you can create measures to determine that influence.

Listen to the entire April Spark Session to find out:

  • How should a company approach developing an app on a budget? Are apps worth the costs?
  • How do you avoid having a bad looking website on mobile phones?
  • 5 tips from Kevan Kjar on writing a successful story
  • 7 strategies from Sarah Johnson on having an attractive trade show booth



Image credit: xkcd.com

[Webinar] May Spark Session: How to use humor to (re)connect with your audience

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As many of us have experienced first-hand, it is difficult to make policy interesting and fun. So how do we lighten the mood and engage our audience better?

That’s what we talked about with our guest Wayne Hoffman in last week’s webinar. Wayne has spent 25 years in a journalism field before he took the helm at the Idaho Freedom Foundation. He’s well known for his coverage of the West Memphis Three murder stories, and he even appeared in a documentary about that. He has been running the Idaho Freedom Foundation for 7 years, taking it from a kernel of an idea to a thriving organization doing great work in Idaho.

Here are some of Wayne’s insights from the webinar:

Q: What is the first piece of advice you would give someone who wants to integrate humor into their policy work?

Wayne Hoffman: You don’t have to come up with the greatest punch line of all time. Just start out by looking at your policies and finding ways you can lighten the mood a little bit.

Q: What do you do if you’re just not funny by nature?

WH: First, remember this: You’re not trying to have people go home and say, “Oh, that guy from the free market think tank was so funny.” You’re trying to get them to connect with you as a human being. So be yourself; don’t walk into a room and try to be a stand-up comedian. Even poke fun at yourself sometimes.

Q: What things do you need to keep in mind as you’re trying to integrate humor into your policy communications?

WH: 1) Know your audience and know your issue. Know your opposition. Know the constraints of what you can say and not say. You don’t want to come off as callous or flippant when trying to lighten the mood a little bit. 2) Practice, practice, practice. 3) Run your presentation by someone who can give you very constructive, honest feedback about what works and what doesn’t work.

Q: People seem to think we need to take freedom seriously to defend it. Will adding humor to the freedom debate work for us or against us?

WH: It’s absolutely going to work for us, and it’s the one thing that’s been missing from our side’s tool kit. No one wants to join a club of old, stodgy people who are constantly talking about how bad things are.

Q: Who is funnier, liberals or conservatives?

WH: I think liberals do a better job with humor right now, and I mean that sincerely. You only need anecdotes to prove your point. The Daily Show. Give me a conservative alternative to The Daily Show and I guess you’ll demonstrate that I’m wrong, but the liberals have done a very, very good job. Most of the narrative, the dialogues, and a lot of the late night talk shows promulgate liberal ideology, so we’ve done a very, very lousy job of either communicating in terms of wit and light hearted moments.

Listen to the entire webinar to find out:

  • How using a good prop can break through the discussion of cold facts and big numbers
  • How tax policy can be funny
  • How we can help people get a real grasp of a debate by presenting an issue in a humorous way that also resonates them
  • On-the-fly ways to get a chuckle from your audience
  • Why Wayne once took a liquor bottle to testify at the state legislature


May Spark Session_ How to use humor to (re)connect with your audience


Join our email list to find out when our next Spark Sessions take place!

Also, check out our Spark Session archive.

Lessons Learned from Mr. Clean: How to hold true to your voice in times of change

Launched in 1958, Mr. Clean maintained brand consistency in its TV commercials for most of the product’s life. This Spark Session looks into Mr. Clean’s Facebook personality, starting in 2014 and continuing through the present day, to find out what went wrong with its brand consistency. More importantly, we considered how to avoid making this mistake ourselves. Two things that must already be in place in order to maintain brand consistency:

  1. Clear accountability for oversight of brand consistency, supported by a team and a clear process.
  2. A short, clear articulation of the brand’s goal, target audience, copy strategy, and brand character, understood by everyone in your organization.

Full Webinar: YouTube

Slide deck: MrClean March 2016

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Show notes

Topics Covered:

  1. A review Mr. Clean’s brand character and brand story
  2. A review of Mr. Clean’s facebook personality at its highest – when it earned viral interactions – and why this worked.
  3. A look at the present-day Mr. Clean Facebook – and what it tells us.
  4. Lessons we can learn from Mr. Clean.

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Review Mr. Clean’s brand character and brand story

Successful marketing is not rocket science, it’s discipline. We encourage all clients to go through this process in marketing and communications: DEFINE>ALIGN>LAUNCH.

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Spark Freedom Process

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This means that all communications campaigns are built from the key decisions made in Step 1 of the process. One of our favorite tools is to develop a copy strategy that must be incorporated into every bit of clients’ work. Among other good things, this process maintains brand consistency. It’s especially helpful in cases when clients depend on several content providers and vendors. Today, I’d articulate Mr. Clean’s copy strategy like this: “We will persuade middle-class women between 20 and 45 that Mr. Clean makes tough jobs easy and can clean anything in your home.” To be successful on Facebook, you have to build your brand story from your copy strategy. In the case of Mr. Clean, this brand story is his story. For many of our client organizations, the brand story (or StoryArc, if you use the ArrowHead method) is usually the tale of the people you help. Here is an example of what Mr. Clean’s brand story might look like: Mr. Clean Profile Notice that his brand story supports the three most important elements of a quality brand story. It is emotional, differentiated, and credible. [md_blank_space height=”40px” class=”” id=””]

Looking back to when Mr. Clean’s Facebook personality was inviting viral interactions – and why this was good

The trick, as social media has increased in its ability to reach and persuade people, is to translate the brand story – in this case of Mr. Clean – to a new platform. And it seemed to be going very well for the Mr. Clean brand in 2014. Posts were made regularly, they were engaging, they supported the copy strategy. Mr. Clean’s page manager was great at tapping into current events and bringing the message back to the cleaner. Most importantly, the content was:

  1. Emotional
  2. Differentiated
  3. Credible

For a deeper analysis, watch our webinar here. [md_blank_space height=”40px” class=”” id=””]

A look at the present-day Mr. Clean Facebook – and what it tells us

Between February 2015 and March 2015, something changed with Mr. Clean’s Facebook presence. The sterile corporate shoe dropped. If I were to guess what happened, either the brand manager changed, the social media vendor or employee left, or, as part of P&G’s massive offloading of brands in 2015, accountability over the brand changed. Whatever the cause, the social nature of the Facebook outreach for Mr. Clean changed at its core. The brand story now focuses on the product’s credibility and not on the emotional connection with Mr. Clean’s cleaning power. His sense of humor is lost, and he is no longer tapping into current events. For a deeper analysis, watch our webinar here. [md_blank_space height=”40px” class=”” id=””]

Lessons we can learn from Mr. Clean

  1. A strong brand story and copy strategy can see you through the long haul – over 50 years!
  2. Each advertising or outreach medium requires a different approach to be successful, but the core brand story and copy strategy should never change, no matter the platform. The only thing that changes is how you package your copy strategy.
  3. Story has long been king in reaching people emotionally. As you build your organizational brand, consider what your story is. Determine how to frame your brand in terms of the value you bring to the people you help. 
  4. Staying true to your voice in times of change is easy if you know the two things that must be in place to develop your strong brand story: 1) clear accountability, and 2) clear articulation of the brand’s goal, target audience, and copy strategy.

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Warning signs that things are slipping

  • Employees or vendors complain that they do not understand what the organization does.
  • Products don’t launch in a timely manner.
  • Higher employee or vendor turnover.
  • The communications editorial calendar runs behind.
  • Significant drops in donations, or other means of support for your organization (event attendance, web traffic, etc.).

Not everyone has a large outreach or marketing budget to get their message out. But if you take the time to set up a clear copy strategy and clear accountability, you can expand your reach to your targets by being consistent, engaging them emotionally, and keeping your existing supporters loyal.

Full Webinar: YouTube

Slide deck: MrClean March 2016

Nicole Williams is President of Spark Freedom and a strategic marketing coach. Reach her at nicole@sparkfreedom.org with comments or if you are interested in setting up a coaching package for your organization.

A simple tool brings your marketing budget in line with your organizational goals

One question I often get from clients is: What should be our ideal ratio of marketing dollars to our overall organizational budget?

While this is what I am asked, the question I hear is: How can we make sure that our marketing investments will accomplish our overall business goals?

My first answer is, of course, the dreaded “it depends.” What is your organization’s long-term business goal? What is your most important target audience? What are your supporting marketing plans? Without answers to those key questions, you will have a hard time determining how many resources you should focus on marketing and communications.

Once you have those answers, try the following approach to create an integrated overview of how much to invest in marketing and communications, across programs and for the organization in general.

Create one calendar combining general marketing activities with marketing and support required for specific projects.

This calendar gives you an overview of how much you invest in programs vs. general marketing and communications. You get a side-by-side view of general marketing activities with current programs, projects, and events. The calendar also helps you make decisions about optimal timing, based on workloads, revenues, and cashflows. Most importantly, you can evaluate whether the marketing budget and activities are in line with organizational goals, and adjust course as necessary.

For example, say that in order to maintain brand awareness with your target audiences, you figure that you need to invest 5-10% of your budget in general marketing. This is just to maintain the status quo. But your long-term business goal is not served by the status quo. In fact, to achieve your long-term business goal, you have to grow your influence. An integrated marketing calendar will help you to align your marketing and communications investment for both maintenance and growth with your overall budget and your primary organizational goals.

To get you started, we’ve created a communications calendar template for you. Download it here:

Sample communications calendar.

The War with Words

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We recently read a blog post from Hammock, a Nashville-based “customer media and content company,” that stuck home with some of the struggles we encounter in policy every day.
The war with words.
Seattle’s “war on cars” resulted in “bikelash” not because people were anti-bike or pro-car, but because the felt that they must pick a side.
Ill-chosen words and phrases can lead to unintended consequences for marketers or advocates of any type.
Rex Hammock writes, “

In 2009, those three little words, ‘war on cars,’ threatened to set back the efforts of people who wanted to make bicycling in Seattle a safer and viable option for transportation. When the phrase was picked up from Toronto for the Seattle initiative,  the “war on cars” made people take sides in a battle most citizens of Seattle hadn’t realized was being waged.
Instead of productive and civil conversations over whether walking or riding transportation should be improved, some people began to see the issue in terms of keeping driving from getting worse. A winning issue had become a losing one, according to People for Bikes, a bicycle industry advocacy group.”
His take away? Use language that supports the way you customers view themselves, not how you define them. And resist the urge to them into buckets with words like good vs. bad, pro vs. con.

Have you started your application?

We are excited to announce that we received our first submissions for the 2015 Trendsetter Awards in over the weekend!

Our team couldn’t be happier with the interest an excitement that we’ve received about this year’s awards and events. We can’t wait to read about all of the successes, trials, and even missteps in the submissions.

Don’t forget that you must submit all of your application materials by September 1st at 11:59 pm in order to be considered.

If you have questions, you can always reach Sarah Johnson, our director of marketing and communications, at Sarah@sparkfreedom.org.



Lasse’s Top 5 Takeaways From SXSW 2015

Another SXSW come and gone. Leaving Austin is always bittersweet, given how exciting it is to be around so many inspiring people and innovative ideas. I experienced a lot this year, and I could probably write endlessly about the things I saw and heard, but for brevity’s sake, here’s the cream of the crop – my Top 5 Takeaways from the 2015 South by Southwest Interactive Festival:

Great Sessions

The core of the SXSW Interactive experience is built around the panels, keynotes, workshops, and discussions you gain access to by buying a badge. These things can be very hit and miss, depending largely on the speaker, so it’s not uncommon for people to get up and leave mid-discussion if they aren’t getting the value they want out of it. There’s always something else to go see.

Evany Thomas at the Use Your Words session. Photo Credit

Evany Thomas at the Use Your Words session.
Photo Credit – @FashCommute

However, you always manage to find something worthwhile. The following are the sessions that kept me glued to my seat:

  1. Use Your Words: Optimizing Content For Growth – By far my favorite panel of SXSW 2015. Evany Thomas, brand writer and content strategist at Pinterest, was the best presenter I’ve seen and shared some insights about how small wording changes can result in huge growth. You can read more about it here.
  2. Advocates vs Agitators: the Social Influence – A panel that featured Chevrolet and Southwest Airline’s social media leads. They shared fascinating case studies about how they leveraged online conversation, positive and negative, to boost their brand.
  3. Bill Gurley and Malcolm Gladwell in Conversation – The author of The Tipping Point interviewed Silicon Valley venture capitalist, Bill Gurley. They covered everything from health care reform to the future of transportation.
  4. A Conversation with Senator Rand Paul – It was interesting to see Senator Paul approach the tech-oriented crowd at SXSW. Any time he mentioned the word “privacy,” which was often, he received thunderous applause.
  5. Society Is One Big Cult: The Science of Movements – A Manhattan marketer discussed how cults form using psychological manipulation and how those tricks translate over into societal movements. Bonus points for creative use of Stairway to Heaven as an illustration.

Amazing New Products

This year’s SXSW gave me my best show floor experience yet, which I owe in part to my coworker, Sarah. My usual convention show floor practice is to cover the entire area looking for things that interest me, then go back later and visit those booths. Sarah’s much more methodical, and stops at many booths to engage with the vendors, even if the product isn’t interesting at first. We discovered many new products, ideas, and tools thanks to her thirst for what’s new and exciting.

Here are the standouts from the show floor:

Roost – Push Notifications for your web browser

GigSalad – Need entertainment for an event? GigSalad connects you with high-quality, local talent

iqMedia – One of the most advanced digital listening tools I’ve ever seen

LinkReader – Taking QR codes where they should have been years ago


One of the best parts about SXSW is meeting new people at any of the numerous sessions, parties, meetups, booths, or Starbucks lines scattered throughout downtown Austin.

Shoutouts to a few of the awesome people I met this year:

Caleigh Ripp, Illinois Policy Institute
Jen Knoedl, JenKnoedl.com
Trina Garnett, IMP Media
Caroline Henley, Falcon Social
Joey Esquibel, GigSalad 


Any time you work in a specific industry, or a specific role within a company,  it can be easy to get tunnel vision on techniques, attitude, and methods. This year was refreshing and inspirational for me because it got me out of the bubble that I operate in day-to-day and encouraged me to look at our business, client relationships, services, and approach in new ways. There’s no one thing I can point to that caused that; rather it was the combination of panels, discussions over dinner, shared experiences at parties, and new relationships that forced me to think differently and decide to create new habits when I got home.


As usual, Austin food is amazing. Here’s what you have to check out the next time you are in town:

Gourdoughs – the single best doughnut, and possibly dessert, you will ever eat in your lifetime

Jackalope – Amazing burgers and beer, although our service was…interesting

Piranha – Great sushi located right next to the convention center


You can review our SXSW 2015 journey by heading over to www.sparkfreedom.org/sxsw_2015. Also, share your favorite moments with us by using the #SparkAtSXSW hashtag. You might like these SXSW posts as well:

Saturday at SXSW – Tech Ethics, Word Optimization, and Data Stories

When you’ve seen one man in a gold lamé jumpsuit…