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What's Inside
Improving Climate for Health Messaging
Make Your Voice Heard: Tips for Op-Ed Success
Spitfire Spotlight: Michael Khoo
Easy Messaging When the Message Isn't Easy
Spitfire Adds New Talent

Introducing the 2014 Webinar Series                                                                                   

Improving Climate for Health Messaging

by Elizabeth Curwen - Vice President

Health reform advocates spent much of 2013 preparing to enroll people in new insurance options made available by the Affordable Care Act. They anticipated bumps in the road, but the rollout of healthcare.gov denied advocates the success narrative they hoped for and instead put many groups – and President Obama himself – on defense. Despite the setback, the communication climate is improving and advocates are beginning to get traction pushing a positive narrative.

Now that the initial open enrollment deadline has passed, audiences are much more receptive to learning about their coverage options. There’s a new sense of urgency around getting enrolled in coverage that is helping engage the uninsured. And the fact that there are now more states expanding Medicaid than not is driving momentum with policymakers. The ACA has turned a corner but that doesn’t mean it will coast to success. Here are some tips for communicating a positive narrative about the new era of coverage:

  • Don’t get stuck in explaining mode. Health reform is complicated and implementation is far from seamless. But advocates should be careful not to get stuck in explaining mode, which keeps them in a defensive posture and reinforces skepticism about the law. You don’t need to communicate everything you know about health reform, just what your audience needs to know.
  • Keep it local. Public trust in government is as low as ever. Make sure audiences understand the importance of the law to people they care about, namely friends and neighbors. Stories continue to be critical for explaining the importance of the law and should be part of your communication strategy.
  • Deploy credible messengers. Many advocates are smartly expanding their coalitions to bring in unusual and nontraditional allies to help reach audiences. In Maryland, advocates are working with professional football players to encourage residents to explore their coverage options.

Although open enrollment is coming to a close soon, the national dialogue around the Affordable Care Act will continue, particularly as we get closer to the November elections. Playing offense and pushing a positive narrative will help ensure that health reform is seen as something worth fighting for and too important to lose.

Make Your Voice Heard: Tips for Op-Ed Success

By Maura Zehr - Sr. Account Manager and Cady Susswein - Sr. Account Executive

With the potential to influence policy, move supporters to action and raise an organization’s visibility all in fewer than 800 words, op-eds are an ideal vehicle to bring attention to your issue. Follow these best practices to help increase your chances of getting it placed.

Consider your target audience when choosing your outlet. Think about who you need to influence and where you are going to reach them. If you want to reach rural conservative voters in Oregon, state policymakers in Pennsylvania or tribal communities in New Mexico, regional or local outlets are your best bet. Choose a publication that your audience, or those that will influence them, reads. Remember, these outlets look for local authors and pieces that directly affect their readers. After you choose the outlet, make sure to look up the submission guidelines to stay within the word limit.

Spend time on the structure. Disorganization is one of the leading causes of op-eds meeting their untimely death in editors’ virtual trash cans. When Spitfire works with advocates and foundations on their op-ed strategy, we often use the following structure to help guide the process.

  • Start with a compelling introduction to immediately grab your reader’s attention. You can achieve this with a personal anecdote to humanize the issue and establish credibility or an interesting fact that leaves the reader wanting to learn more. In a recent piece in the Oregonian, the Human Services Coalition of Oregon opened by sharing that 170,000 hard-working Oregonians – enough to fill the Ducks’ stadium three times over – would now have access to affordable health care this year
  • If it’s not in the opening paragraph, you need to quickly answer the “why now?” question and connect to a news hook that makes your issue timely. The Walton Family Foundation recently partnered with an agricultural business partner to place an op-ed in the Arizona Republic about the need to put the Colorado River on a path to recovery. The piece coincided with the annual Colorado River Water Users Association convening, where decision makers gathered to discuss issues affecting the river.
  • Support your argument with no more than three main points, weaving in supporting evidence and using clear, concise language throughout.
  • Include a specific ask or call to action. What do you need your audience to do?
  • Tie the piece together with a strong conclusion that links back to a point in your opening paragraph or illustrates the way the world will look if the audience follows through on your ask. This is your chance to reinforce why your issue matters.

Make your case and submit. Once you’ve polished and copy edited the piece, draft a short email that explains why your op-ed is timely and why it matters to the outlet’s readers. Remember to include the op-ed in the body of the email – no attachments. Also, you can only submit an op-ed to one publication at a time, so if your piece is very time-sensitive, follow up with the editor before moving on to another outlet.

Finally, keep in mind that even though print space is limited, many outlets will post op-eds online. If your op-ed is published, don’t forget to share it far and wide with your networks.

Spitfire Spotlight: Michael Khoo, Vice President and Director of Digital Strategies

by Liz Clark - Senior Account Executive

What is your role at Spitfire?
As the director of digital strategies, I make sure all of our clients optimize digital outreach opportunities. In addition, I help Spitfire and our clients adapt to new, emerging technologies.

What is most rewarding about your job?
I enjoy working on pressing issues that matter to our world. Washington, D.C. is home to many great issue-oriented groups, which means I get to help clients working on issues from government spying to environmental policy to criminal justice reforms.

What is one of your proudest client achievements at Spitfire?
One of my favorite wins recently was when we worked with the ACLU, Center for Democracy and Technology and the Mozilla Foundation to build support for a White House petition to reform the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), an outdated law that allows the government and law enforcement to read U.S. citizens’ emails without a warrant. We helped develop a campaign around the holidays using Santa to educate Internet users about the law and get them to sign the petition. The campaign helped hit the threshold required (100,000 signatures) to put the petition on the President’s desk.

What do you see as the future of digital communication?
In a few years, we won’t think of digital separately from any other kind of communication effort. Right now, it is about building digital strategy, analytics and listening into more of our clients’ campaigns.

What is one thing about yourself that most people don't know?
My first job in high school was a shoe cobbler, and I secretly want to return to saving people’s soles.

How do you spend your time when you’re not helping our fabulous clients?
Building train sets with my two-year-old son, and trying out new restaurants with my much more successful wife. My favorite latest discoveries are Kangaroo Boxing Club and Smoke and Barrel in Washington’s Columbia Heights neighborhood.

Easy Messaging When the Message Isn't Easy
By Sharon Goldtzvik - Senior Account Manager

The new film 1971, premiering this spring, tells the story of the group of activists who took down the FBI’s massive program of domestic spying known then as COINTELPRO. Eight activists picked the lock on the door to a small FBI field office in Media, Pennsylvania. They took every file in the office, loaded them into suitcases, and walked out the front door. When five of the activists came forward for the first time – 43 years after the fact – some were ready to dismiss them as thieves. Their story is a great example of framing a story in a contentious environment.

Set the terms of the discussion. When Richard Nixon famously declared, “I am not a crook,” what did his audience immediately think of him? He’d done his critics’ job by introducing the idea that he was a crook into the debate, and that statement became the defining sound bite of his presidency. Keep your story from falling into this trap by proactively offering your own definitions. The protagonists of 1971 define themselves as activists and American citizens – it’s that identity that kept the discussion about their actions focused on their reasons for taking bold action, not on the issue of legality.

Connect to your values – and ours. The members of the Citizens’ Commission were standing up for their own values when they took action. And while few of us can easily imagine ourselves pulling a heist on a government agency, we can relate to feeling impelled to act by values like patriotism, free speech and privacy. Values-driven civil disobedience is much easier to relate to than theft. Strip your campaign down to its core: what’s the value that inspired you to take action?

Tell us what we can do to help. It’s been 43 years since the Citizens’ Commission disbanded. Now that they’ve come forward, what comes next? The filmmakers and Citizens’ Commission hope their story will inspire others to take action to protect our civil liberties and right to privacy. COINTELPRO ended long ago, but recent revelations about domestic surveillance highlight the continuing relevance of the Citizens’ Commission’s actions. The team behind 1971 is partnering with organizations working to protect privacy rights to use the film as an organizing and educational tool.

These simple techniques can help keep your message pushing all of the right buttons for your audience.

Spitfire Adds New Talent

Spitfire Strategies is pleased to announce the addition of three staff members: Director Ellie Klerlein, Senior Account Manager Sharon Rose Goldtzvik and Account Coordinator Kerry Leslie. Klerlein and Goldtzvik join Spitfire’s Washington, D.C. office while Leslie becomes part of the growing ranks of Spitfire’s San Francisco-based team.

Ellie Klerlein comes to Spitfire with strong expertise in digital communication. At Spitfire, she recently worked with the Zero to Three Policy Center to segment its growing email network by engagement types and user preferences. She is also working with BMe, a network of black men creating change in their local communities, to develop the digital portion of a campaign strategy aimed at recruiting 100,000 members. Prior to joining Spitfire, she worked for nine years at the National Council of La Raza, most recently as deputy digital director, where she managed the organization’s digital communication strategy including email, mobile/SMS and social media. She has worked with immigrant and Latino communities throughout the country on a variety of issues including immigration, health care and housing. Ellie spent time working in Costa Rica training the tourism industry to recognize and report the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Sharon Rose Goldtzvik brings her activist drive and experience as a communication strategist for progressive nonprofits to Spitfire. She uses media relations, messaging and communication strategy for Spitfire clients including the Ford Foundation, B’Tselem human rights organization, and the new activist film 1971. Before joining the Spitfire team, she helped clients on a wide range of issues at Fenton Communications, from Nobel prize-winning economists working to change the narrative on income inequality to Ecuadoreans victimized by U.S. oil drilling in the Amazon. Previously, Sharon directed advocacy and communication at HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual, an Israeli human rights organization providing legal aid to Palestinian victims of human rights abuses.

Kerry Leslie joins Spitfire after completing a successful three-month internship at Spitfire. Among other assignments, she is helping the West Coast team with research, media and landscape analyses, writing, editing and strategy support. She recently earned an M.A. in Environment and Community from Humboldt State University, where her research explored Latino relationships with mainstream environmental organizations and the mainstream environmental movement in the U.S. Kerry's passion for behavioral psychology, social justice and interdisciplinary research has guided her work in the areas of environmental conservation, environmental justice, environmental toxins and human health, childhood development and autism.

Introducing the 2014 Webinar Series

Spitfire Strategies is excited to announce the lineup for our 2014 Webinar Series. Our expert trainers will guide participants through 17 different webinar offerings on topics such as our signature Smart Chart™ for communication planning; the Just Enough Planning Guide™, featuring the latest in campaign strategy and planning; Extreme PowerPoint Makeover; Integrated Digital Strategy; policymaker outreach; media engagement and more. Each interactive, online session will include a mix of presentation, Q&A and tips for accessing additional resources.

The series kicks off March 4 with a Smart Chart primer. This webinar guides participants through the strategic choices needed to put a strong communication strategy in place. Whether you are just starting the planning process or checking in on a campaign already in place, this session will help you assess the strategic communication decisions that are critical to success. Join Spitfire’s Maura Zehr to learn how to build a strong foundation for achieving your goals. Participants receive access to the live session, a recording of the training, and supplemental materials. Spitfire offers discounted packages for organizations who want to send multiple staffers to a webinar or for participants who wish to attend multiple webinars.

Click here for more information or contact Adam Rankin at (202) 448-0222 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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