How To Lobby for The Arts: Part Two


7 Minute Read


Using your own creativity and keen understanding of the issue you’re lobbying for, along with some tips from my last blog, we will now hopefully be at the point where we are ready to share the template with the world and begin to find traction with any luck.

Here are some things I learnt during and after the success of my #SaveTheArts letter template on 24th June to help with your own Arts lobbying efforts. I’ll mostly be talking about twitter because that’s what worked best for me.

How the template reaches people is just as important as what it contains. Success depends on action, and action comes from reaching those who can find it. Expect to spend some time on this.

Ask Family and Friends
Get your family and friends to complete the template and send it. This will help you troubleshoot any issues with the template, and also ensure that at least a couple of responses have gone in. That is already more than we could have done on our own.

Write a Simple Tweet
A good heading, a brief synopsis of what’s in the template, a catchy line and a hashtag are great components of a good tweet. Apply some thought into this, because this is the face of your hard work. Keep it to the point and focused.

Track the Usage
This is a real rookie-mistake I made: I should have used a bitly link so I can follow exactly how many people accessed the template. This is a free service, and it is much more reliable than Twitter Analytics because it can travel across different users but we still hold the usage data. I’d also suggest popping the bitly link in the template blurb too so that people can quickly share the template with family and friends via that link (and we still have the data to know how far it went). Data is knowledge, and knowledge is power.

Find Good Allies
There are people out there who are already doing great work on the same issue we are lobbying for. They will help us. Identify them and share the template with them. I would like to thank Fin Kennedy right here on whom a lot of the good work this template achieved rests on. These people are connected and can quickly spread the word. Bring them onboard.

Reach the Crowds
There will be some accounts that have been softly tweeting or retweeting around the same issue. Identify who those folk are with the big follower counts – who are the biggest we can find? Make sure they get a copy of the tweet pass through their notifications because a couple of these accounts early on can make or break a campaign. It’s helpful to have a smaller but trusted industry-insider help to get this rolling, e.g. having Fin tweeting that it was a good template helped convince people like Lyn Gardner to share the template really widely. Arts journalist are really good for this kind of far-reaching impact, so take some time to tweet it to them too.

Quote Tweet Yourself
When tweeting it to potential allies, copy the link to your tweet in the tweet requesting an ally retweet or share the link. This is important because some will be happy simply retweeting your request and not the actual content. By having the tweet quoted in the request, if they simply press the retweet button, they’ve shared the good tweet you applied thought to. This was a frustrating lesson to learn after already spending some journalists and Artistic Directors good will on a retweet! If folk really like it, you can also ask they directly pass it along to folk they think will like it too.

Remember Who Shares It
By keeping our key allies in the loop who have big followings, it allows us to quickly and easily follow up with any new information or changes that emerge along the way. This will help reach people quickly with any responses to the campaign as it rolls along. Replying to their tweets about the work is a good way to do this too as people will see our tweets. Keep checking in with who has retweeted those tweets about the template because there’s some key allies to be found in those too – “retweet with comments” is a useful list for this.

Very soon you will start to receive notifications of responses, comments and questions about what you’ve created. This is a great time to embolden those who have shown early interest in the template and encourage them to pass it on even further.

Say Thank You
When people share the template or comment on it saying they have sent it off, give genuine thanks to them. It is these people we are relying on to make the template successful, and share it to others to encourage them to write to their MP too. They’re doing the bit we can’t: writing to one of 600 MPs. A heartfelt thanks will build goodwill which might be needed later on for follow up campaigns.

Answer Questions Kindly
Many folk will reach out with questions about some of the issues raised in the template, especially when you have included your contact details. That’s more than okay – what’s lobbying if it isn’t education? By bringing in people from outside The Industry we are going to have to fill in some blanks. You might consider opening your DMs for people to reach you quickly. Most of my questions were about why theatre was suffering, or hadn’t been funded, and whether the government had already given us lots of money? I encourage you to respond as compassionately and caringly as possible to these: the worst thing we can do is get defensive or impatient. One newly-understanding theatre-fan can lead to ten newly-understanding friends-of-fans very quickly.

Get a Good Spreadsheet
As the responses from the public and MPs start coming in, help yourself by logging who has been sent a letter and who has responded to one. This is especially useful when comparing who is replying with the same phrases. You can get a quick download here. By spotting these patterns we can quickly highlight gaps in knowledge, and tackle any disinformation taking place. This was a crucial part of this campaign, and allowed me to help people push their MPs further.

Prepare a Follow-Up Response
If all goes according to plan, we will soon start hearing of responses to the template. It’s a good time to think about what the follow up action might be. Perhaps it’s helping people with a second template to respond to particular points raised in responses? Maybe it’s to help those who have written their letter than the Conservative Party are sending back copy and paste responses with the same sympathetic stock replies? Maybe it’s a more corporeal response? Start thinking about that now; speed will be key as this advances.

So at this point the template campaign started to turn into what I dreamed for but never planned for. Retweets were getting retweets of retweets. My notifications were going crazy. People I’d not heard from in years were popping up to say hello. This was growing fast. So here’s some thoughts on how to deal with that side of lobbying, should you need them.

Turn Push Notifications Off
They’re not helpful anymore. They are happening too fast and are no use to you anymore. Instead, check your notifications when you go onto twitter and keep your phone from interrupting everything in your life (which might be already too engaged with twitter just now!). Trust me it’ll help a lot because you’re going to need to…

Take Regular Breaks
When all of this started really flying, I quickly found myself crouched in an alleyway with my can of lemonade trying to read responses to everything that was being tweeted about it, caught off guard by the response. Don’t do this. Choose to engage for fifteen minutes, then take a good thirty minutes off of twitter. It’ll be busy for two or three days now. Prioritise answering questions and thanking people. Go for a walk outside and leave the phone at home.

Remember the Bigger Picture
In those moments of being very tired and working through an influx of comments and questions, take a moment to remember that there is a lot going on, both in the campaign and the world. That stuff is really important too. Many people will be doing lots that we aren’t aware of. This will all feed into the wider work that is pushing in the same direction.

Resist the Pressure to Deliver
It is probably the case that this work is being undertaken for free to allow many people to benefit. That’s okay, as long as it is equitable. What are you getting out of this work? Is that worth the additional pressure? Do you really need to follow up everything? If you don’t have it in you to continue pushing you should remember there are lots of people who are pushing even if you stop for a moment. Trust in the excellent work of other excellent individuals.

Connect, Communicate, Coordinate
New allies will emerge who have found the lobbying work and want to connect with us. Do it. These are great people to ask questions of, such as “is this the right action to take next?” or “what else is coming up we should be aware of?”. Maintain communication with them, it’s a great time to build networks of like-minded people. Try to make our lobbying land alongside other lobbying projects. This will help keep attention focused and impactful. Some people will want to connect and then not follow up – that’s okay too, and not personal. It’s going to be a long road, so find some good buddies to take the journey with.

Focus on Praise
There does come a point int here where this work will meet criticism that it isn’t enough, or it isn’t the right approach, sometimes from the accounts of people you’ve loved the work of. I was fortunate in that that was a very, very small percentage of the feedback I received so my bracing wasn’t needed (remember when that pyramid diagram of theatre went viral and everyone bundled on it?). If the work is being adopted by many people, then it is likely to be making positive impacts. Keep you attention on action, and focus on the praise you are receiving. That is what will keep propelling you forward towards change.

And that positive note is what I want to end this on: lobbying is tough but essential work. Writing to MPs is the most direct and impactful way to see Governmental change (beyond voting – always vote). By writing often and regularly we can sustain the awareness of our issue to someone who has some ability to directly bring about change. Going viral on twitter is cool, but getting that digital attention to make real change in the physical world is incredible.

As it stands right now, I am waiting to firmly see how the £1.57b will roll out across organisations and freelancers before taking any next steps. Feel free to follow my twitter @nicholasbw if you’d like to be kept in the loop with that work (as well as my wider work).

Please feel free to send me any of your twitter campaigns that you think could I could help you with.