On the morning of 24th June 2020 I awoke frustrated that;
1) I wasn’t doing enough to help #SaveTheArts, and
2) the Theatre Industry seemed to be very good at only talking to itself and was leaving audiences behind to speak on our behalf too.
So I set about doing a little project that could address those two things: I made an email template for theatre fans to write to their MP to ask to voice their concerns at the upcoming debate to an e-petition.
What I didn’t expect was a crash course in being the centre of a lobbying campaign that reached right across the UK and had thousands of hits within the day. It’s estimated that between 750 and 15001 emails were sent to MPs in 24 hours. Things clearly moved very quickly, and I had to learn a lot fast. There are definitely some things I would have done differently, so I am sharing this with you: a blog on what I learnt to successfully lobby for the Arts on social media.
I want to say a quick thank you to the thousands of people who engaged with the template, to those who sent it away, shared it, messaged me, shared their contributions to improving it, cheered the template on, and got stuck in with your MP. I am still blown away by the response to the template and the success of the campaign.
In this two-part blog, I will share my experience on making a template and then sending it into the world. Supplementing all good reading on lobbing MPs available on the internet, these blogs are for you to freely use and share should you want to create your own template to lobby MPs with. All I ask is you let me know how you get on – I’m happy to share your work!
PART ONE: PREPARTION
MAKING THE TEMPLATE
Lobbying templates are familiar ways we can quickly bring our requests to those who are paid to represent our voices in Parliament. These are better than petitions because each email or letter requires direct engagement. Good templates make it as easy to sign a petition. Do most of the work for them.
Unite Interested Parties
There are around 60,000 creative workers in the UK, but over 30,000,000 people have cultural interactions each year. That big number was being left out of the conversation which was full of insider jargon and templates that spoke on behalf of the workers and not those who engage with the arts – the people for whom it is made. So to make a successful template we must find a way to bring the big number into the small number; by uniting interested parties our campaign will be stronger. It’s much harder to ignore the issue if it is raised by big numbers. What do these parties have in common? What do they need to advocate on our behalf? It’s usually knowledge and awareness. Give it to them.
Word it from The Audience Perspective
As far as I had seen, there were no templates that allowed audiences to talk about how their engagement with Theatre benefitted their lives. All these templates were written by theatre workers for theatre workers. So, with our template, we must allow them to speak. From my work in community and education contexts I know that it can sometimes be hard for audiences to articulate the benefits they feel, so we can help them if we…
Write a Create-Your-Own-Adventure Template
Not all feelings are shared by all people. Not everyone went to a youth theatre, not everyone even goes to the theatre! But we know there are benefits that the theatre brings (like the famously well-trod “for every £1 spent in a theatre £3-52 gets spent in the local economy”), so let’s allow folk to talk about that!
Allow them to select some paragraphs that relate most to them: partaking in outreach projects, their family going to outreach projects, watching theatre, going to the yearly panto, and local business workers and owners. For each of these paragraphs include a delete-as-applicable section where folk can get personal. There are plenty of studies about why people go to the theatre (this is the one I used) which allows us to be as broad as possible. Why having nuanced replies is useful in the template is because it’s quick for office staff to lump all the replies in the same folder because they all read the exact same. With this method each has a different tone, perspective and content. There is an additional layer of reading that takes place supported by recent data. This data shouldn’t be older than 10 years old I’d say. It’s important to…
Include Good Statistics
Each and every paragraph should include a peppering of statistics that emphasise the point we’re trying to make. We are trying to include as much evidence for the case as possible. And think about who might be sending this email: we want to find data that is relevant to the area this affects. A lot of templates have England-centric data in them, but #SaveTheArts is a union-wide campaign, so the data used had to reflect this! Some of it is hard to find, but try hard, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. I added better data as I went through the day as it was passed to me. A small shout out to Culture Counts in Scotland who have a central advocacy document that allows people to easily find good data – a model that all four countries should adopt. Also take some time to figure out if writing to your MP is about a devolved responsibility: perhaps our template is aimed at your country’s political representative instead?
Give Clear Instructions for Use
A key is handy for this, as is colour coding can be useful to help highlight where the public can add/delete/choose as necessary (there is, of course, a limitation here for colour-blind folk which this might not work for). In my experience some folk were sending the document without amendments, or not sending it to the right place, or deleting the important statistics from paragraphs. Be clear in telling folk what you want them to do with the template.
Tie the Template to an Upcoming Event
Be clear in asking MPs to take clear action. And be clear on what action they can take. This might be tabling Urgent Questions, pressuring departments or colleagues, or attending debates. Do a little research on what they can do and include that in the template – you can follow along with current debates happening in the House of Commons online too. This will make it urgent. And this urgency will not only prompt the MP to do something, but also encourage the template to be shared widely. Nothing like a little time pressure to get some good work done!
Use Your Template for Good
This is a point I have thought about a lot since I embarked on this journey. Often templates for lobbying are very good at evidencing what is already being done, and therefore needs saving, but they can definitely be used to demonstrate potential action too. I have a fear in me that by only noting what the reach and impact of the work is I have enabled a status quo. By thinking slightly more carefully in advance I could have slipped a couple of lines in to evidence how Theatre could also transform to rise to the occasion in new ways. Once the fire of your template is alight on the internet, it’s difficult to change the colour of the flame in hindsight.
Encourage People to Forward their MPs Response
This is something I really wish I had included because it would have made tracking this project much, much easier. Include a request and routes for people to send you their MPs response (and kindly ask them to remove any personal information like addresses). Having this response is important because it allows us to do three things: it helps us know the reach of the campaign, it highlights the gaps in knowledge, it allows us to invite people into the action. By knowing which MPs are our allies, we know who we can rely on to help us for an “inside job”, and by having their response we can highlight and fill any gaps in understanding. Don’t expect everyone to want to forward their MPs response – even just sending an email is incredibly helpful already.
You can get a full spreadsheet of MPs ready to use here.
Add Your Contact Details
If people are going to forward you their responses, they’re going to need to know how to contact you. Add your social media handle and a public-facing email address. This will get busier during this time, so be prepared.
Link MP Addresses
By including a quick tool such as the MPs database or www.writetothem.com we can invite people who have never previously written to their MP to really easily find who they are and their address. WriteToThem is good, but in my personal experience it makes adjusting the template a little bit trickier because the colour formatting disappears. This does, of course, reduce the number of clicks between the template and sending an email, which is a great thing.
With all of these tips and lessons under our belts, it’s a good idea to plan a little ahead. Give yourself time to really think about the template if you can. It is very easy to feel the need to rush out a template to give people as much time as possible. Resist this. We want people to engage with it when it’s doing the best work it can. Only when it’s ready should we think about sending it into the world.
1 This figure is based on estimating 25-50% of hits resulting in a letter sent to MPs.
2 I have found figures ranging from £3-5 being regularly quoted but never the actual source for this figure – please pass it my way if you have it!