If you are here, then you are probably a caring human being. You probably would like to make a difference. You’re probably aware of the inequality on Earth, the environmental destruction, and the millions of people who need help. But you may feel helpless. You may feel un-empowered. You may be scared to do something about your feelings.
I’m here for you. I’m here to help you affect positive change in your community and your country. In April of 2013 I had never been on a news channel, never had a story written about me, and didn’t have a following online. As of today I have appeared on over one hundred news channels, had over one thousand stories written about my work, have a good sized following online, and have a TV show coming out on the Discovery Channel. All of this has come from speaking the truth and finding interesting ways to bring the truth to the people.
I’m not bragging. I’m sharing this with you to let the pressure off you. To let you know that I was in your shoes not that long ago or possibly hadn’t even stepped into your shoes yet. I was scared of being different, of speaking out against evil and corruption. And even if I did want to speak out I didn’t even know how to get more than a few people to listen to me. But all that has changed and what I was once scared to do, I am now elated to do. My life has become my message and I am not afraid to let my life shine bright. I am here to give some of my light to you to help you to blossom into the activist that you don’t even know that you can be yet.
This is my guide on how to create a successful activism campaign.
Figure out what the cause is that is near and dear to your heart. What is the cause that you are passionate about and want to affect positive change within? I advise you to pick something that you truly care about, something you truly want to do, something that you can take pride in and even joy. The more that you enjoy your activism the more success that I think you’ll have. First off, if it feels like work there is a good chance you’ll fail because other things will take priority. But if you’re really into what you’re doing you’ll be excited to wake up and get active. Secondly, people can tell if you are really into what you are doing and people gravitate towards someone who is genuinely and authentically passionate about their work.
Be informed. You’ve got to be really informed on your topic. You probably hate it when you hear a politician, a teacher, a parent, etc. answer your question with a load of crap. Don’t be that person. Really know your stuff so that you can inform the people you are looking to inform as well as go toe-to-toe with your opposition. Know what people are going to ask and have the answers to them. And if you don’t have the answer, don’t make one up, just be honest and say that you don’t know. Before getting into your activism campaign BE SURE that you’re right about it. Use logic, rational, and concrete knowledge rather than emotion before going out and telling the world. Use emotion too, but never just emotion. There’s so much misinformation being spread around and we don’t need any more of that.
Create your platform. You want to have a place where your information is laid out so that when you have a captive audience you don’t miss out. I’m not saying put a ton of time and money into this before you get started. Rather, I think you should get started when you’re motivated. And if that means getting started before creating anything online, then I’d say go for it.
Having an online platform is utterly important as it will work for you 24/7 365 days per year. It is your resource to send people to. And very importantly serves as your resume to anyone that you reach out to whether it is media, sponsors, potential volunteers, or just people in general. I highly encourage you to make a website as well as a Facebook page and any other social media channels that you’d like to use.
For the website start by keeping it simple and putting the most important information on there about your campaign. Make sure to create a blog section on your website, as that will be the most important place for getting your work out there. Make a media page as well. Once you have gotten media this page will serve as a huge tool for you. If you are going to be a visual leader in your campaign, then put a bio about yourself up as well. If you choose to be behind the scenes, then you don’t have to do this however I’ve found that people relate to people and people’s stories so it’s good to be a character in your activism, or have other characters if not you. For Facebook and any other social media channels make a complete profile and put up links to your website as well as any other pertinent information
How to Get People to Pay Attention
Ok, now you’re all fired up and you are knowledgeable as well. It’s time to bring some attention to this important environmental and social issue. But how?
Have great visuals. One of the best ways to get people to pay attention is to have visuals that really catch people’s eyes. My success in raising awareness about food waste comes down to my ability to come up with a way to make it visually appealing. Here is a Food Waste Fiasco:
Pretty eye catching right? That’s all food from grocery store dumpsters and I’ve been able to get media from around the world to report on food waste because of visuals like this. Check out The Food Waste Fiasco for more photos. I’ve personally found doing exceptional things like this to work, but I’m not saying that you have to. It’s one way to get attention but not the only way. Whatever you do though, having a visual story will make it more likely to get shared on social media, and more likely to get picked up by the media. Find a friend with a decent camera to come out to your first activism campaign so that you have pictures or videos for next time.
Do something interesting and be creative. One sure fire way to bring attention to your cause is to do something really interesting and creative. Brain storm with friends and make it fun! Here are some examples of what I’ve done:
Food waste: Lived purely on dumpster food for a week
Water waste: Drip by Drip- cycled through a heat wave living only on leaky sources of water
Water and natural hygiene: Went 1,000 days without a shower
Sustainability: Cycled off the grid across the country on a bamboo bike
Sharing: Landed in Panama with no money and just the clothes on my back on a mission to make it home to San Diego
Simple living: Lived off the grid in a 50 square foot tiny house
Do something new. It’s probably never going to hurt to come up with something new. New seems to be more exciting.
Start with the people around you to gain some momentum. A great tool for this is social media. Get the people around you excited about what you are doing and hopefully they will share what you are doing. Once they’ve shared it there’s no knowing who might see it. Create content on social media that is truly worth viewing and sharing. That’s the best way to get your word out online. Contact pages that share work similar to yours and let them know what you are up to. Many of these pages are searching for content and would love to have your campaign in their inbox. Send me a message on my Facebook page and tell me you came from this guide and maybe I’ll share your activism campaign! It’s a numbers game. That means the more people you reach out to, the more success that you are likely to have. Don’t send spam though; rather, write personalized messages to increase your chances of getting support.
My greatest suggestion for gaining the media’s attention is to start small and build up your resume brick by brick. Start by just getting one little blog to write about what you are doing. Remember I mentioned having a media page? Now you can put that on there and you’ve got yourself a start. Check out my media page to get an idea of what I’m talking about. Build yourself up from little blogs, to a little bit bigger online publications, to local newspapers and news stations, to larger news outlets, and eventually to nationwide major media. It doesn’t have to go in that order, but that was my method for success. With each article that is written about your work you are building up your movement and you will have an easier time getting more press.
Start with outlets that have an interest in what you are doing as well. So if you are creating community gardens, then find publications that write about gardening, food security, environmental friendly living, etc. You’ve already got at least a part of a foot in the door because you know they report on similar things to what you are doing. You also have at least a toe in the door with any local outlets because you live there. So definitely contact any local news stations, newspapers, blogs, etc. Always have a good reason for why that particular outlet would want to share your story. Once you’ve built up your resume of media with more “like minded” sources you’ll be able to branch into other realms with your success.
Contacting them is fairly straightforward and simple. Facebook them, tweet them, and email them. Again come at them from multiple angles to increase your chance of being seen. You want to be organized and concise with your information. It’s best to start off your intro with a bang and catch their attention. Don’t count on them reading the whole thing. And of course include a press release. My suggestion is to give them the quick run down and then say that the press release attached has all of the details (see Activism Press Releases for a sample email and multiple press releases). As you’ll see in the press releases I mentioned sponsors and non-profits that I was working with as well as media coverage that I received. This helped to prove my legitimacy and I believe increases your chance of getting coverage.
Once you have contacted any newspapers or news stations online I also recommend calling the news desk and making sure they got it. They may have an inbox full and doing this will drastically increase the chance of their eyes landing on your email. And you can give them the pitch right there on the phone. Here’s an example call:
“Hello! Good afternoon. How are you? My name is Rob Greenfield and I’m currently cycling across the United States on a bamboo bicycle. I just pulled into Cleveland and I’m hosting a massive demonstration on food waste where I’m collecting huge amounts of food from the local grocery store dumpsters and then putting it on display in Cleveland Public Square. I thought you’d want to know about this and might want to come out and report on it.”
As always, be excited and be positive. Be confident that they’d want to come out to report. If they don’t, well you have nothing to lose, because you won’t be meeting them. It’s easy to be nervous about contacting the media but just remember that everyone is a human being and that none of us are better than others. If you had a chance to sit with any of these people in their house without them knowing you were there you’d quickly see just how human they are. So just treat everyone like a human being. As with social media treat the media as a numbers game as well. Just assume that you are going to need to get a large number of no’s before you ever get a yes. Get excited for a no because that means you reached someone. When I used to sell educational books it took about 20 no’s to get to a sale, so I counted the no’s knowing that if I got about 20 of them then I should have a sale.
Besides contacting the actual media outlet it is equally, or often even more important, to contact the individual reporters, journalists, bloggers, etc. that work there. If you are in Chicago, for example and hosting a bike ride for sustainability, then find reporters who have written about cycling before or just that enjoy cycling. If you are trying to promote a March Against Monsanto then find reporters that have covered marches, gardening, whatever might connect the dots between what they’ve done and what you are doing. If you are doing an environmental activism campaign find out who the environmental reporters are at the press.
Remember, you’re not bothering the news and journalists. It is their job to find stories. By going to them you are doing their job for them. For many reporters, it’s a dream to wake up and have this awesome story in their inbox. Don’t be cocky like we’re giving them a gift but realize that you are not bothering them. You are helping them. And a lot of reporters love feel good stories! Be knowledgeable, backed by facts. Practice makes perfect with dealing with journalists.
Know that it may take time. But with time you will have continued doing what you are doing and you will continue growing your movement. You will work your way up the ladder as you become more knowledgeable, more confident, and more experienced. Prove yourself by sticking to it and the media will come.
I’ve found my greatest success by providing the media with an intriguing and visually captivating story for their viewers. I’m always backed by facts and I have become well spoken because I practiced so much. Today I can roll up in just about any city across the country and have the news cover my events. A lot of the time I’ll have three or four media outlets out just by sending out a couple dozen emails. Journalists have become my teammates. Together we bring attention to issues that matter.
How to Get Sponsors:
First, do your research and find companies and organizations that match up with your mission. Find the companies that inspire you and that you truly believe in. These are the companies that would be likely to believe in what you are doing as well. In this way combining forces is something that you can both be excited about. Also look for companies and organizations that would mutually benefit from a partnership with you. Rather than seeking out just how to meet your needs find out how you can actually be of service to them. Choose to only work with companies that support your cause, rather than that companies that are a part of the problem that you are trying to solve. Also find the companies that have the products or services that you need to complete your mission. For example, if you are looking for solar panels, then find a company that sells solar panels or if you need a bike then contact a bike shop or manufacturer.
Next contact those companies. I recommend contacting them via multiple methods. In the past I have used email, twitter, and Facebook and usually I will use all three of them. In this way I am much more likely to get their attention and possibly catch different people. This increases your chance of getting someone to take an interest in you. By contacting through multiple outlets you may also give a sense of determination, which could prove that you really care about what you are doing. I also recommend doing some research to find out who is in charge of sponsorship or community outreach and contacting them directly. This is often the marketing person. Then you know that your message is at least falling on the right eyes.
When you reach out to them let them know how you can be of service to them and how they can help you on your mission. Rather than just saying what you need, tell them what you can give them. Represent their product or services with pride and you’ll be able to do this because you’re only contacting companies that you believe in right? Some things you can do for them are, blog about them, organically promote them via social media and to the people that you meet in your activism, review their products, refer others to them, and get media attention. Now I only recommend doing this if you would do this whether or not they are sponsoring you. Don’t be a sell out. One of my vows is to only be sponsored by companies that I would already be promoting for the betterment of the earth whether I was involved in them or not.
Be personable. By contacting them through social media they are going to see you. Companies are looking for people to represent them well so make sure that you would represent them well. The best way to do this is by being a genuinely good person!
Products are easier to get than money. Asking a company for $500 means they have to give you $500. But $500 worth of products may only actually cost them $200 and it’s easier to rationalize it in the marketing budget because they know they’ll be putting their products in front of people. I have never had a financial sponsor. I’ve only had product sponsors. These have included Goal Zero for solar panels, Patagonia for clothing, Bamboosero for my bamboo bicycle, Dr Bronner’s for natural body care, and Klean Kanteen for durable reusable containers. For me this has always been beautiful because I’ve gotten to organically promote good companies and show people an alternative to companies that cause destruction
Activism on a Very Low Budget:
The trick for me has been to keep the costs low for my activism. This has allowed me to do everything with relative ease. Dumpster diving and food waste demonstrations, for example cost next to nothing because I’m just getting wasted food out of the dumpsters. Actually, any campaign that deals with waste can be very low cost if you use wasted materials as your activism medium. This could be building tiny houses out of wasted construction materials or making jewelry out of scrap materials as a few examples. My bike rides across the United States have also been very inexpensive because the medium was cycling which doesn’t cost a penny vs. driving, which is very expensive. So my greatest recommendation would be to come up with a campaign that is based around an activity that doesn’t cost money. Marching, protesting, and boycotting also cost no money by nature. By using my suggestions to get media attention you shouldn’t have to spend money on advertising. By using my guide to get sponsors you should be able to get your gear or services (such as banners or flyers) for free. It may take some creativity and resourcefulness, but it is possible to keep the costs very low to non-existent. This is important because this makes activism accessible to all. There’s also some incredible activism that costs a ton of money and makes hugely positive change, but my specialty is in doing things that are accessible to the majority and can be started right relatively easy.
Gandhi is one of my greatest inspirations and one of the greatest activists ever to live. He said many times, “My life is my message.” I encourage you to let your life be your message. In this way your activism doesn’t have to cost a penny. Lead by example and live it out loud.
Know Your Rights:
To get you started, I’ll just tell you that most of the activism you might be thinking of is protected by the First Amendment. Before doing any activism campaign know your rights so that if anyone tells you that you can’t be doing it you have the knowledge to back yourself up. I’m not saying to strictly follow the law if times call to break the law but I am saying to know your rights so you can stick up for yourself and your fellow activists with conviction. I recommend to always practice peaceful activism.
The US American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a great resource for you to know your rights.
Read: Know Your Rights: Free Speech, Protests & Demonstrations and Rights of Protestors to learn more.
If you are doing an activism campaign that you want people to see then choose a set location, date, and time so there is no confusion of where to go.
When it comes to the location, you want to find a place that naturally gets a lot of foot traffic. This way you don’t have to be successful at getting people to come out because your audience is already there. This could be a busy street or park and typically they are busier after 5:00 Pm on weekdays or on the weekends. Another option is outside of a festival, concert, or event. Make sure that you are not in the way of any traffic whether it be foot, bike, or car (unless you’re doing some sort of blockade activism which I have no experience with). Public places are the way to go because the First Amendment gives you the right to demonstrate in public places. If you are doing activism against a corporation and you need to be on their property then you’re going to have to do other research, as I’m not experienced with this.
More resources to help you with your activism:
How to be a Positive Environmental Influence
How to Overcome the Fear to Live an Earth-Friendly Lifestyle
My Activism and Adventures
Read my book, Dude Making a Difference which is one big inspiring activism campaign.