What’s an Advocacy Group?

This week in my PR Applications Class, my group did our presentation on chapter 20 of the textbook Public Relations: Strategies and Tactics. The chapter, entitled Nonprofit Organizations, was split between my group members and I, so I ended up reading about advocacy groups and hospital public relations. However, in this post I wanted to focus on advocacy groups.

Advocacy groups (also called pressure groups, lobby groups and some interest groups and special interest groups) use various forms of advocacy to influence public opinion and/or policy. They play an important part in the development of political and social systems as much of the media is dedicated to advocating.

Environmental groups and social issue organizations are two common types of advocacy groups. In the United States, Greenpeace is one of the most well-known environmental groups, using attention-getting tactics such as the 2007 project of building Noah’s Ark on Mt. Aratat to call attention to global warming. Others include the Rain Forest Action Network, National Wildlife Federation, and The Nature Conservancy.

Social issue organizations act like environmental groups but have social/behavioral goals. Well-known groups include Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the National Organization for Women (NOW), and People for the Ethical treatment of Animals (PETA)–which often times uses extreme confrontational tactics like raiding animal research labs or shaming fur wearers. Another group, the American Family Association, pressures advertisers to drop sponsorship of television shows they think are contrary to family values.

One of the emerging tactics used by some social issue organizations is creating cell phone ringtones (mobile-active.org) that make personal statements (i.e. sounds of endangered animals as conversation-starters).

The methods of operation for advocacy groups include lobbying, litigation, mass demonstrations, boycotts, and reconciliation.

  • lobbying = soliciting/trying to influence the votes of members of a legislative body–done often at state and local government levels (i.e. no smoking in public places)
  • litigation = when organizations file suits seeking court rulings favorable to their projects or attempting to block unfavorable projects
  • mass demonstrations = designed to demonstrate public support for a cause/ in some cases to harass operators of projects that group objects require intricate PR organizational work)
  • boycotts = is essentially a “hit them in the pocket” tactic; encourages people to stop buying some product/ using a service (one success was when the Rainforest Action Network boycotted Burger King for using beef raised in cleared rain forests)
  • reconciliation = good results found by cooperating with corporations to solve problems

Raising money is an unending costly program for advocacy groups. The fund-raising tactics typically used are direct mail and publicity campaigns. Ironically, lots of environmentalist groups advocate preservation of forests, but create mountains of waste paper by sending “junk mail” letters to raise funds.

Hopefully you learned something new about Advocacy Groups from this post, and will watch the funny video below for Greenpeace!


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