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

When it comes to good cause marketing, size isn’t everything!

Marketing, particularly cause marketing continues to become more and more complex.The tools, the systems, and tactics used by marketers not only are complex, but are continually changing with market trends, consumer habits, and new technologies. 

This can make it exceedingly difficult for smaller organizations, not-for-profits, associations, and community groups to keep on top of it all. As they hit their productivity and knowledge limits, their effectiveness declines. 

Honestly, I don’t think that’s fair. There needed to be a better approach.  

Early in my career I was training activists by the thousands on how to implement tactics and strategies to grow their movements and generate popular support. When I left politics and joined MPH Agency I continually thought about how to implement this in the private sector. How can smaller budgets, and smaller staffed organizations develop real strategies to move their cause forward? 

Certainly large organizations have no problem building cause marketing specialists in the public affairs departments, contracting teams of mobilizers and strategists, and bringing in some of the best campaign consultants out there. (MPH Agency is proud to partner with a number of these specialists on execution, and delivering effective marketing products) But what about the little guy? 

Well, it took over 6 years of thought, and then a global pandemic to give me the time to formalize the concept. Late in 2020 my days became consumed with true white board sessions, putting all our problems on the board, all the tools and examples we could think of, and then long discussions with the MPH team, colleagues, friends, experts, and anyone else who I could bend the ear of to perfect it, hone it down to exactly what it needs to be.

The end result was STAMPS by MPH Agency, a fully self contained cause marketing strategy playbook - specially designed for your organization. 

STAMPS by MPH Agency includes a number of elements, it is built by our team of experts by exploring your entire market space, your cause goals, your marketing capacity and experience, and adding the best tactics and step-by-step actions necessary to reach your objectives. 

There are any number of scenarios having a STAMPS Strategy will be valuable, here are just some key elements:

These advantages make a STAMPS Strategy by MPH Agency the perfect starting point for an industry association, corporation, or not-for-profit with a public affairs challenge and limited marketing capabilities. 

It has become so much fun to see clients' eyes light up, first with excitement and then with relief as their STAMPS products are delivered. It’s almost always the same - first when the Content & Expert Situational Analysis comes in they see how we have captured their entire environment, capacity, tools, and perspectives and documented it from beginning to end. Then we see the excitement grow when we deliver a Solutions Map that includes step by step tactics on how to achieve their goals, support their mission statement, and make a real difference for their stakeholders. 

Admittedly, these days I usually only get to see their eyes through Zoom calls, but I hope to be back in person soon!

As the need for professionalized and integrated cause marketing continues to grow I’m expecting to continue to see those reactions while building winning STAMPS documents. Putting a STAMPS Strategy in your toolbox is going to be critical… whatever your size!

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.

Excuse me, would you have a ream of paper to spare?

If I show up on your door offering to buy any paper you have in the house I’m about to tell you why.

I’m always thinking about the process, what is the final product going to look like? Whether it’s a STAMPS Strategy, direct mail piece, or an advocacy video, from the moment I start a discussion with a client I am thinking about the end product and the timelines to generate them. 

This has never more so been the case for our print products (print and mail) than recently. 

My friends have heard me complain of almost nothing else for the past six months. 

Supply chain, supply chain, supply chain.  Specifically, paper!

You see, I order paper by the pallet…sometimes the truck load…and other times truck loads.

Even before we were all sent home, read rates of mail were on the rise. Over 80% of people now recall particular mail pieces, people are trusting mail more than online for their information, and having more time to read longer products. This means mail is once again a leading form of communication for causes, persuasion, and marketing. 

The last six months it has been continually difficult to get paper!  Now, I know your saying “But Chris, we live in Canada! There are billions of trees here, and lots of pulp mills - how can there be a shortage!”

Well dear friend, it’s a long line of fallen dominos:

Since 2020,  we’ve been at home more, a large portion of the population decided to strain the paper products industry to its breaking point:

First: the great toilet paper hoard of spring 2020! This resulted in those manufacturers increasing production, putting a major draw on the sources of paper. That’s right, believe it or not toilet paper is made of…you guessed it, paper.

Second: After we realized that the pandemic was not going to lead to a scourge of dirty tushys, an exceedingly large portion of the population decided to renovate the homes they had been trapped in for months. Lumber, like paper, also comes from trees! Resources that had been diverted from printing paper to toilet paper, were now also being demanded of by the world's contractors and carpenters. 

Now, up until this point those who needed printing paper may not have noticed much of a change. The combination of large stockpiles, and a low demand for printing materials in 2020 meant we could weather this storm.

Then came 2021… 

As the world entered year two of the pandemic, our TP stockpiles still holding strong, our new den or deck looking idyllic there was only one thing to do. Sit on that deck, or in that den, or on that throne with your toilet paper and read. 2021 saw a 30% increase in the sale of books. 

The primary producers, which had already made two major production shifts in 12 months, had to make a third…back to printing paper. Overseas publishing could not keep up with the demand (most books are printed overseas) and began sucking up more and more paper supply. 

Before the pandemic paper mills were running at reduced capacity, many shuttered or shut. Not so now. It’s full capacity and looking for more, while transitioning supply chains faster than Heinz-Kraft can produce Kraft Dinner. 

As we rounded into the last quarter of 2021 there was more piling on. 25% of all book sales are made in the last two months of the year. This means production from August through October was in overdrive. 

The flooding in BC further exacerbated the problem as the roads and rails that moved raw timber, pulped paper, and finished paper from most of the mills in the west to most of the printers in the east were cut. 

Our stockpiles are gone, our supplier’s shelves are bare, even the paper mills are bereft - shipping it as fast as it comes off the line. 

So now, when clients call to begin scoping advocacy mail, fundraising mail, or other printing, my first words are “hold on, I have to make some calls to see if it can even be done on your timelines”.

Buyers wait in line for just a few reams, printers have started horse trading and swapping what stocks they have to fulfill orders (Btw, I have some 8pt cardstock willing to trade for 100lb book), all with the goal of keeping our business running. 

So in the end, paper is a lot more expensive these days…that’s IF I can find it. 

Still at MPH Agency, we continue to deliver. With dozens of printer partners, a mitt full of paper suppliers, and a stack of favours and IOUs, we have been able to keep the presses running. 

My tip for you? If you want an effective advocacy campaign talk to me early in your process. We will have our eyes on your end product right from the start. 

Silver Linings: The good news that came out of 2020 for me

Many of you have probably heard me talk about how 2020 was a kick in the teeth for us at MPH Agency. When the pandemic hit, everything shot down and it impacted our business - like so many others - hard. Our partners had to respond quickly, almost all of our revenue streams were put on hold or stopped all together. 

It was a scary time and I didn’t know if we would see the end of the year. I sat at my desk, overlooking the critical situation (with all our projects on hold I had some free time!) I reminded myself of something my parents taught me from a very young age - Nothing generates success better than hard work. 

So, I started to hustle. I got on the phone to paused clients and prospective clients and started talking about how we could help them through the next few weeks of pandemic chaos….cause it was only going to last a few weeks right?


I also remembered the business adage a number of mentors have tried to pound into my head, evolve or die. 

I reached for that metaphorical file of “things I want to do but don’t have time for” and pulled out something that has been in the back of my mind since I started at MPH Agency 6 years ago:

A large number of people understand they need advocacy marketing, but don’t know what or how. So much of my work was educating people on cause marketing BEFORE I could start discussing how we can help them. 

For years I had been working on a concept of a fully contained product that could help organizations build and execute a cause marketing strategy. 

So I pulled out my notes, old scraps of paper, pages torn from notebooks, even something scratched on the back of a Wendy’s receipt!

I started bringing it all together and building a coherent thought. Through the summer and into the winter I played the “but what about…” game with myself, refining, addressing issues, and creating detail. 

Finally this past winter we started road testing this new product with close friends and clients. The feedback was positive. We took their input and further developed the concept.

After a year of steady refining and years of the concept evolving we were so excited last week to launch STAMPS by MPH Agency. A cause marketing strategy product that provides our clients with ….

This has been our silver lining in the difficult year that was 2020. A new product that highlights the campaign and marketing experience our team at MPH Agency has. 

I can almost hear 17-year-old me’s eyes rolling all the way back to the back of his head as I say, remember what your parents teach you - those lessons will ring in your head when you need it most.