The Activist Ladder

MPH Agency’s all-purpose tool for cause marketing

MPH Agency is proud to be one of Canada’s leading cause marketing agencies. Our work has always surrounded the grinding task of moving audiences. Whether it is mobilization, awareness, engagement, or fundraising, we lead with the most effective and best tested marketing methods and tools. We have released over 17,000 products for our clients since our founding (all the way back to when we were called MPrinthouse!), this means we have a library of tools available that are battle tested. 

How we decide which tool to use, on which project, almost always starts with the same step. That is where MPH Agency’s Activist Ladder comes in. 

We start the project by determining where on the Ladder our client's audience is, and determine where our client needs them to be. The steps in between define the challenge we have to undertake. Those steps in between also inform the tools we need to use to move the audience. Whether it's from passive to supportive, or all the way from unaware to advocatory we help our clients build the most effective marketing campaign, designed for the highest success rates. 

Regardless of where an audience starts on the Activist Ladder (unaware, passive, supportive, or even unwilling) they will have to move through every one of the steps on the way to advocatory. There are no skipping steps, there is no shortcut, there is no ‘quick-fix’. 

Moving audiences along the ladder is a deliberate and methodical, yet often occurs  under very short timelines such as 36 days  (IYKYK). Each step requires slight modifications to methods and messaging - this will better move your audience up the ladder. This is what we do, this is how we love to help our clients bring their audience along. 

Each project, even in small or ad-hoc projects, our team applies the Activist Ladder. For larger programs, the Activist Ladder is one of the first steps in our trademarked STAMPS by MPH Agency product, where we work with clients from preliminary concept right through to execution. While we always prefer to work with our clients from the beginning with a STAMPS Strategy, sometimes the project or timeline does not allow for STAMPS’ in-depth planning process. 

The Activist Ladder is made up of six different steps:

Unaware - This audience, simply put, has no idea that either you or your issue exist. They are living their life completely unaware of the current challenges you are facing, or that you need their help to solve your dilemma. Very often, MPH Agency is asked to help raise awareness for our clients or their issues. This is the process of moving select audiences from unaware to passive. 

Passive - This audience knows about you and probably knows about your issue, but honestly…they just could not be bothered to get involved. Very often your issue may be in the news and gaining publicity but getting traction with your audiences and encouraging them to come help is the challenge. MPH Agency helps our clients persuade those passive audiences to become supportive. 

Supportive - This audience knows about you, and your problems. They even are supportive of your goals and want to see your problems be solved. This is the first place public opinion research starts to identify people as for or against your issue. The reality is our clients need more! MPH Agency helps our clients move supporters to become members or donors. 

Member & Donor - Members and donors not only know about your challenges, but are willing to invest! They want to see you succeed, and are willing to put their money behind it. They may even be willing to identify as a member of your organization (formally or informally) and associate with you on a long term, ongoing basis. But as Gordon Ramsay said on Hell’s Kitchen “Not Good Enough”. Money and membership is good, but having an advocate is always better! This is where MPH Agency uses highly specialized tools to bring your audience to the last step of the Activist Ladder

Advocatory -  The ultimate level of engagement! This audience knows you, likes you, supports you, is invested in you, and is willing to give their name and time to help succeed! There is nothing more valuable to a cause movement than its advocates. Cherish them, appreciate them, and acknowledge their hard work! The work does not stop when you have an advocatory audience. You need to continually provide them with the motivation and appreciation to continue their work! MPH Agency runs on-going appreciation, and message campaigns to keep our clients advocates at the forefront of the cause market. 

Unwilling - This audience knows exactly who you are and what you want. And they have no interest in helping you, seeing you succeed, and would probably be happy if they never heard from you again! That’s ok, you can’t please everyone! MPH Agency works diligently to make sure when unwilling are identified, contact and communication ends. No just to save you the budget space that can be better spent on other audiences or comply with DNC rules, but to ensure the unwilling are not further engaged!

In reality, the individuals that make up the audiences along the Activist Ladder are always moving up and down, from one step to another. This is why a strong cause marketing campaign is designed to work to keep people always moving to the next step and re-engaging those who are moving down. 

If you’d like to see how the Activist Ladder applies to your cause marketing program, reach out to us! Our team at MPH Agency is excited to work with its clients to identify target audiences, place them on the Activist Ladder and devise tactics and plans to move people one step at a time to your cause objective. 

Chris M. Rougier is Managing Partner at MPH Agency

Marketing Tools & Channels: A Cause Based Perspective

MPH Agency is an industry leader within the cause marketing and public affairs advocacy space. Understanding how to evolve commercial marketing tactics and tools to apply to the public affairs space and specifically to your issue or awareness challenge is a specialty of our team at MPH Agency and what our STAMPS Solutions are designed to do.

Effective cause marketing requires more than a social media account. The constant evolution of the algorithms that decide visibility on social media means marketers need to be keenly aware of how their content is prioritized. In relation to cause marketing, social media platforms have started to de-prioritize a lot of cause and issue content. 

A recent article took a look at these tools from the perspective of commercial marketing, Social Media Marketing — Why the world went gaga and never looked back.  While this is interesting, I wanted to share some insights on these tools  from the perspective of cause and issue marketing.

What is social media marketing in a cause/issue marketing context?

 In cause marketing we don’t need you to buy our product, we don’t need our tracking pixels to carry you through to your shopping cart. We need you to make that commitment to invest. Specifically, we need you to invest in our message with the currency of your time. 

If you think getting someone to commit money to your product or cause is hard, try asking for people's time. Every volunteer manager out there would gladly change places with the fundraisers. Understanding that we are competing for users' time and energy means we have to work more at making a value argument right out of the gate. 

How has social media impacted the public affairs and issues business?

If ever there was an example of the double edged sword, it’s social media in public affairs. The ability to build digital connections and communities is unparalleled, the platforms - by design - connect people with similar interests and opinions to each other. If you have any organic popularity it is easy to build your audience. The other side of that sword is that it is extremely difficult to push through into those communities if you are not part of them.  Marketing to these quasi-closed communities takes extensive connection, understanding, perspective, and time. 

Brand Awareness

Issue awareness isn’t just half of our battle, it’s very often the entire battle. This is an area that there is overlap with the commercial marketing world. “However, you cannot build brand awareness overnight. Consistent effort in the long term helps build trust and authority in the marketplace, and it also helps to humanize the brand.” In short, you need to start early. A digital cause movement can not be generated in days or even weeks. It will take months of growth and adhering to a cause marketing plan to build the online presence and following you need for your goals. 


Unlike commercial marketing, cause and issue marketing can cost as much or more than other marketing channels. The rules and processes around issue campaigns on social media  means that social media can not be your own source of lead generation. It needs to be part of a comprehensive strategy. The average CPC (cost per click) on Facebook in September 2022 was $0.92, but in the awareness space the CPC is now over $2.32. Cost for conversion (ie. signed up, engaged, mobilized) is now at an average of $19.68.  Building multi-channel engagement plans is the only way to bring that cost down. 

Customer Service

Businesses are now providing customer service via social media, whether its twitter DMs, Facebook chat, or even WhatsApp as their primary customer service channel. This is an area that cause marketing needs to evolve into, and quickly. The consumer market sets the public's expectations for responsiveness and customer service. The public expects your social platforms to be two-way communication vehicles, with replies and response times measured in minutes not days. 

Word-of-mouth publicity

“TikTok made me buy it” has entered our lexicon. The validation from peers, whether it's your own social network or online reviews drive such a large portion of business that there is definitely a cause marketing equivalent. Public affairs and politics have always used “endorsements” as part of their promotion strategy. Now, celebrity (or niche-celebrity) endorsements have less and less value. Peer endorsements are what drives conversion. 

Boosts sales (aka Boots engagement)

With billions of active users each month, regardless of where you are or what cause you are advocating for, most of your target audience is on social media. Any efforts to promote or develop your cause will need a robust social media presence, it's essentially the stamp of legitimacy. Yet, the nature of public affairs means that real world conversion is needed, not just online slacktivism. While social media is required it can not be the only, or even the dominant channel of activation. 

Next week we will look at how video can be used to simplify your story and message, no matter how technical, to your stakeholders. 

Communication, Determination & More Communication

This week started with Blue Monday, and while this auspicious date may have been a travel industry marketing ploy I believe that none the less it marks the darkest, most emotionally draining part of the winter season, especially for those living in Canada. So if you find yourself moving slower this week, having trouble staying focused, or getting excited about the work that usually excites you, have no fear you are among millions of people with the same problem. 

To add to this seasonal stress and anxiety I find myself obsessed about timelines. In marketing, like almost every industry, timelines are constantly the top point of discussion. This is for a couple reasons, but the most important of which is that no matter what challenge or unexpected issue your project faces, it will affect the timeline. (Yes, even talk about the weather becomes about how it impacts timelines!) 

We do our best at MPH Agency to recognize in our timelines the need for extra time for production, extra time for creative, extra time for approvals (always extra time for approvals), extra time for shipping (see last week’s post about paper supply), but when a project decides to go sideways there is never enough time. 

It’s at this point I’m supposed to share with you a “hack” or “secret” to managing timelines. The reality is in marketing and production there isn’t one. We provide timelines based on our experience, knowledge and expertise, and likelihood that some things will go wrong, and these are usually accurate. That is until lots of things go wrong. 

There are two types of timeline problems. The first is with challenges you can control. This is where our team has to put our noses down and grind out the work, work the extra shift, stay late, start early, and do our best to get back on track. There is no shortcut or easy way, just grind it out. 

What can set you apart from other organizations is not just grinding it out, but how you communicate about it. Nothing will frustrate a client more than lack of communication. They may not like shifting timelines but they understand (Remember: They have problems too). If you do your best to get ahead of the delays by communicating them, and proposing solutions with new timelines then your clients will be appreciative of your dedication to their project. 

The second type of challenges are the ones you can not control. Here all you can do is communicate with your client. Personally, I find it very difficult to communicate when the delay in a project is out of my control. Simply put, if a delay can be solved by more of my time or a particular fix from our team - we will get it done, always. The difficult ones are when we have no control over the challenge, a supplier issue, equipment malfunction, or a global pandemic. For me, these are the hard ones. These are the ones that keep me up at night. 

Running a marketing agency means on any given project there are a very large number of elements outside of our control. So, it becomes all about effective communication. If I am informing you of a delay, be assured that I have already tried everything possible to alleviate it, and I am stuck with the last resort of telling you there is going to be a delay. 

In the end of it all, what makes good people stand out? It's communication, and determination. So answer that call you don’t want to answer, read that email that has been haunting your inbox, and get back to that person you need to update. We can’t stop Blue Monday but we will feel a whole lot better communicating the information we need to.