The role of “third-party validators”

Posted by – January 27, 2010


Independent research organizations can play an important role in campaigns. In a contest between two sides arguing for public support, an impartial well-informed observer can provide a useful contribution to “the conversation.”

The Rideau Institute frequently plays this role in public policy debates. Most recently it was on the matter of prorogation, and whether the Facebook group, “Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament,” and its 200,000 endorsers ought to be taken seriously or not.

Supporters of the Prime Minister’s decision to prorogue Parliament were dismissing the Facebook group as an inconsequential group of serial petition-signers. We were curious about who these people were, and why had they joined the group.

Collaborating with our friend Pierre Killeen, an online public engagement strategist, we did our best to survey the membership of the Facebook group (not an easy task). While the results were not completely scientific, the nearly 400 responses gave us insight into the group. The report was titled, “Facebook and Prorogation: Why did more than 200,000 people join the Facebook group ‘Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament,’ and why should anybody care?

(If 400 of 200,000 people seems too small a sample, consider this: national polls that are considered an accurate reflection of Canada’s population of 33 million typically only comprise telephone interviews with 1000 people).

Pierre’s results were surprising: half of the Facebook group was composed of people over the age of 45, and most of them considered themselves politically engaged and voted in the last election.

When our study hit the media, it put forward a new way of considering the potential political implications of this growing Facebook group. It was covered in the Globe and Mail and on,  on blogs by columnists Jane Taber and Susan Delacourt, in an editorial by the Halifax Chronicle Herald, Canwest news stores, and discussed on, CBC television and CBC radio.

The report contributed to “the conversation” about Facebook and Canadians’ concerns about prorogation.

Canada and UN Peacekeeping factsheet educates Canadians

Posted by – January 12, 2010

New factsheet for Peacebuild on Canadas declining contribution to UN Peacekeeping Operations

New factsheet for Peacebuild on Canada's declining contribution to UN Peacekeeping Operations

We have just finished a project with Peacebuild’s Peace Operations Working Group to produce an illustrative factsheet on Canada’s declining contribution to UN Peacekeeping. Everyone is very happy with the result.

The POWG’s coordinator and communications director (and Rideau Institute alumnus) Dominic Leger came to us with a terrific concept: educate people about the current state of Canada’s peacekeeping through colourful charts and graphs.

Working with our researcher Bill Robinson and senior advisor Prof. Walter Dorn, along with our designer Jenny Walker of JWalkerDesign, we delivered the bilingual factsheet to Peacebuild’s POWG for its upcoming campaign. Congratulations Peacebuild.

Think about the ends before you think about the means

Posted by – December 17, 2009

There are more and more useful resources for people and organizations interested in on-line campaigning. Here is an interesting blog from the U.S. called e.politics, written by Colin Delaney. Colin started out in on-line campaigning about as far back as I did – in 1996! (Actually, I had my first email account in 1989, and we used email and bulletin boards to oppose Gulf War I).

He has a great handbook on his site titled Online Politics 101. Here are five lessons from that handbook:

1. Think about the ends before you think about the means

2. Brilliance almost always takes second place to persistence

3. Integrate, integrate, integrate.

4. Content is key

5. Is selling an idea (or a candidate) like selling soap? Yep.

Email is Alive and Well

Posted by – December 8, 2009

Here is an interesting newsletter from the folks at Constant Contact, a well-known email marketting system vendor.


This year had a lot to teach us

by Martin Lieberman, Constant Contact Managing Editor

It’s safe to say that this past year had its ups and downs. The challenges of the economy required that we take a good, hard look at which marketing methods were the most effective, and new ways of building relationships with customers and members presented attractive options for businesses and organizations with limited time and resources.

Before we close the book on 2009, let’s look back on some of the major trends in email marketing from the year gone by. Use these lessons to guide the planning of your 2010 campaigns.

Email is alive and well

There was much discussion this year about the value of email in a world where social media is quickly gaining relevance. Driving the short-lived “Is email dead?” debate was the idea that social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook are supplanting email as the marketing platforms of choice. Well, I think it’s safe to say the world has now come to realize that email is still very much viable as a marketing medium.

Anyone who has used social networks for business or personal use knows there’s a lot of noise in social media. The sites are great for making and keeping loose connections with scores of people you may or may not know, but they do not allow for that one-to-one, more personal communication that you as a small business or organization are looking for with your customers and prospects. Email marketing helps take those relationships to the next level.

The inbox is as personal a place as there is on the Internet. When a customer or member gives you permission to send communications to him, she is saying she wants you to provide content and information that is worthy of an open and click through. Social media may increase its presence, but it will never replace the more individual communication that email allows.

Social media does hold value

That being said, social media does indeed have a place in the digital marketing world. In reality, it shouldn’t be thought of as a separate entity. Rather, it should be used as part of an overall marketing strategy to reach people where they want to be reached. Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are simply more touch points through which businesses and organizations can connect with customers and members.

Email marketing, social media networks, and other marketing strategies each make the others more valuable, particularly for businesses and organizations working with limited resources. For instance, a blog post can act as content for a newsletter, while links from Twitter and Facebook can drive newsletter signups and provide website traffic. Content can and should be shared across all your marketing efforts to reach as many customers, members, and prospects as possible. Give people as many ways to connect with you as they would like.

More competition in the inbox

According to one recent study, by 2014, consumers will receive about 25 email marketing messages per day, double the average that they receive today. That means there’s going to be even more competition for readers’ attention than ever before.

This summer, Gmail implemented a new Unsubscribe option that gives users greater control over which of those messages they receive and which get filtered out. Similarly, AOL has recently been discussing an enhanced way of filtering out unwanted emails from users’ inboxes that’s based on “user engagement.” Essentially, this means that if a sender’s emails are requested but unopened, or clicked-through infrequently, they could be declared spam.

Moving forward, it’s going to be even more important that email content remains engaging and relevant, and that subject lines are as compelling as possible, so that open rates and click-through rates stay consistent or grow.

Down economy means more attention to relationships

This year’s economic challenges served up some hard lessons that will hopefully make your business or organization stronger as things improve. Chief among what we learned: Communication is essential, particularly when the chips are down.

The tough times forced people — your customers or members — to cut back on expenses, and that meant they had to cut back on their relationships with the places they do business with that no longer fit their strained budgets. However, even businesses that deal with so-called “luxuries” saw continued success because they were smart enough to see that spending time building stronger customer relationships would keep them relevant in customers’ eyes.

One key for marketers was to broaden the dialogue with customers and members by offering more personality and empathy in their email campaigns, and to constantly seek feedback. Adding polls or short surveys helped engage audiences while simultaneously giving businesses and organizations the chance to respond to changing economic pressures.

While we can’t be certain about what 2010 holds (hopefully it’s something good), learning from the lessons of 2009 will set you up for greater success in your email marketing efforts.

Urgent action petition fights for funding

Posted by – December 8, 2009

Campaign logog from KAIROS

Campaign logo from KAIROS

The terrible news came just days after church leaders visited Ottawa and met with political leaders, including the staff in the Prime Minister’s Office: KAIROS’ CIDA anticipated CIDA funding had been cut by 100%.

The organization is working with its member church organizations and thousands of supporters across Canada to launch a campaign to reverse the cuts (KAIROS is an ecumenical coalition which does human rights, development, and social justice work in the developing world, and in Canada).

KAIROS leaders asked for the Rideau Institute’s help in setting up an online petition tool to flood CIDA Minister Bev Oda’s office, and the Prime Minister’s office, with emails of protest. We designed the tool over the weekend and the petition was launched Monday afternoon. Hundreds of emails are now being delivered to Ottawa in support of KAIROS’ lobbying, media, and organizing campaign.

How to use the Charles Lynch Room to reach the Parliamentary Press Gallery

Posted by – December 6, 2009

Michael Byers and Steven Staples address the national media at the Charles Lynch Room in Parliament, Dec 3, 2009

Michael Byers and Steven Staples address the national media at the Charles Lynch Room in Parliament, Dec 3, 2009

On national issues, reaching the Parliamentary Press Gallery is essential.  As part of your broader communications strategy, every organization needs to reach Ottawa journalists by holding a press conference in Parliament.

Last week, the Rideau Institute did just that with Prof. Michael Byers, raising the issue of the treatment of Afghan prisoners before the International Criminal Court (ICC). Check out’s Kady O’Malley’s live blog of the event, and all of the comments it generated.

To press our point, we organized a media conference in the Charles Lynch Room, 130S, right in Centre Block of Parliament. Take a look at the picture above, and you’ll immediately recognize the room from countless television clips of press conferences by leading officials and organizations.

Notices of press conferences are sent to practically every journalist in Ottawa (see this great list of Parliamentary Press Gallery members). While the press conference is underway, a video feed is delivered to newsrooms and offices throughout the Parliamentary precinct. From time to time, the news networks will carry your press conference live, direct from the Charles Lynch Room, with a flip of the switch

Our press conference this week was a great success with’s Kady O’Malley “live blogging” from the press conference, and Canadian Press including it in its coverage. You can see more photos on our Flickr site, and download a copy of the letter we released calling for an inquiry by the ICC of the matter.

New series can put your views forward in Ottawa

Posted by – December 1, 2009

Ed Broadbent (L) with guest speaker Hugh Mackenzie

Ed Broadbent (L) with guest speaker Hugh Mackenzie

The national capital’s newest speakers series had a terrific launch today at the Sheraton Hotel. As it grows, it will be an effective way for organizations to put their views forward in Ottawa.

Speaker Hugh Mackenzie delivered a thought-provoking speech titled “Can we have an adult conversation about taxes?” He made a strong case for linking taxes to public services, and had words of caution for politicians – especially progressive politicians – against opposing taxes, and urged instead a vigourous defence of the public services they pay for.  The Out Front speakers series, organized by the Rideau Institute and the CCPA, will return in January. 




Twitter and union campaigns

Posted by – November 29, 2009

I received this note through the LabourStart list. It echoes a discussion I was having the other day about petition campaigns, and how they can interact with Facebook and Twitter.  


Our Twitter campaign “catches fire”


Our innovative Twitter campaign <> in support of 3,500 striking Canadian workers at Vale Inco is the most popular petition on the site today.  Just under 500 of you have taken the time to sign up.  In a press release today, the United Steelworkers said that the union “and its allies continue to break new ground with our response to Vale Inco’s attack on Canadian communities and working families,” noting the success of the new campaign.  Please take a moment to lend your support. <>   


Church leaders meet with Ottawa decision-makers about the tar sands

Posted by – November 28, 2009

A delegation from KAIROS, Canada’s ecumenical coalition, brought church leaders to Ottawa this week. Earlier this year, the delegation visited Alberta communities to talk about the impact of the tar sands on their lives. They brought that message to Ottawa, and the Rideau Institute set-up one-on-one meetings with the Prime Minister’s Office, Jack Layton, and MPs from all the parties.

KAIROS Ecumenical Delegation visits Parliament to discuss the tar sands

KAIROS ecumenical delegation visits Parliament to discuss the tar sands

KAIROS delegation members hold a reception and meet with MPs in Parliament

KAIROS delegation members hold a reception and meet with MPs in Parliament

KAIROS delegates meet at the Rideau Institute before their meeting with the Prime Minister's Office

KAIROS delegates meet in the Rideau Institute's board room before their meeting with the Prime Minister's Office

New logo does a new twist on peace symbols

Posted by – November 26, 2009

Our designer, Jenny Walker, does very nice work with logos.

We recently took a small project to help a fledgling organization get off the ground, and our first task was to design a new logo. The group is based upon a novel idea: get as many recipients of the Order of Canada as possible to endorse a call for a ban on nuclear weapons (through a convention, or treaty). They have nearly 400 members now.

We decided to go with a simple logo that avoided using the typical dove or peace symbol, and instead echoed the Order of Canada itself. The result is absolutely elegant, where Jenny captures of the shape of the medallion, but uses the ribbon to suggest a bird in flight – maybe even a dove.

Logo design for a Rideau Institute client by Jenny Walker.

Logo design for a Rideau Institute client by Jenny Walker.