In parallel with strengthening the vertical of power on an unprecedented scale, the Russian state is getting more tuned to what the general electorate (vs. Moscow / St. Petersburg based ‘elite’ and middle class) thinks of what it does. Here is why:
The opposition is disintegrated; it has been successfully made marginal and unable to mobilize the Russian electorate.
The Kremlin is getting less likely to listen to NGOs and formalised public movements (unless functioning within the state vertical of power) even with nonpolitical agenda demonstrating “the winner’s” attitude.
However, at the same time, if a specific social issue is pointed to by Russian citizens on a scale (but not through existing NGOs), the Russian authorities are likely to react increasingly more quickly and adequately than ever before.
Regulatory authorities in Russia will be more receptive to what consumers / patients / general public think and say when initiating any policy or regulatory changes.
Governors of Russian regions are becoming more receptive to what the public says, especially to the voice of different public organizations associated with the federal vertical of power (e.g. All-Russian War Veterans Association, the World Russian People’s Council (VRNS), Bokeria’s League of the Nation’s Health and other NGOs perceived to be “blessed” by the federal centre)
Today, with the social interest towards the state’s policy-making growing exponentially and politicians being more tuned to what people say, integrated ‘grassroot’ campaigns, capitalizing on the five trends mentioned above, are bound to be more effective. Russian policy makers will get increasingly more inclined to listen to groups that represent the great mass of citizens provided that issues raised are specific and nonpolitical. In some instances grassroots campaigns will be capable of overriding voices from business associations let alone foreign investors.
This opens up opportunities for ethical, evidence-based and structured grassroots campaigns by Russian and international companies in case their interests genuinely coincide with those of the public and NGOs.
Communications strategies of Russian and international companies should change to seize opportunities grassroots campaigns may offer.
Today the phrase “grassroots support” is used in more or less the same sense for which it was coined in the US in the beginning of the 19th century. As early as in 1903 a Kansas political organizer was quoted as saying: "Roosevelt… clubs will be organized in every locality. We will begin at the grass roots." A few years later the phrase was used more widely: for example, in 1907 Ed Perry, vice-chairman of the Oklahoma state committee, said: "I am for a square deal, grass root representation, for keeping close to the people, against ring rule and for fair treatment.”] More known is Senator [of Indiana] Albert Beveridge’s saying in 1912: "This party [Progressive Party] has come from the grass roots. It has grown from the soil of people's hard necessities."
Today, even beyond politics, self-organised interest groups with leaders who have no positions of power, are commonly described as “grassroots”. Grassroots lobbying or advocacy is effective when many individual members of such groups organize protests or/and write letters and place phone calls to government officials to express their strong view over a particular issue. These government officials may be elected legislators or appointed members of regulatory bodies.
At the same time “grassroots ideas”, “grassroots values” and “grassroots movements” have been applied too often over the recent years in the US, sometimes in connection to prestigious organizations run by the wealthy and powerful. As if to stress that not all grassroots movements truly represent people’s interests, some foundations and think tanks have recently taken on a new term: “organic”. The word “organic” is obviously meant to contrast with more privileged movements and organizations serving interests of some corporations. In our view though, “organic” is a questionable term being used mostly by anti-corporate movements.
In any case though, we strongly believe faking grassroots movements by corporations is unethical and non-compliant with FCPA, the UK Bribery Act and the Russian Competition Law. For us ethical and effective involvement of private companies in grassroots lobbying happens only when interests of common people genuinely coincide with those of the business over a particular issue.
The most evident example is when pharmaceutical companies generate a great number of letters to the Ministry of Health Care and Social Development in Russia and MPs via patient groups to lobby for inclusion of a specific drug into the state reimbursement list. Although companies’ goal is always commercial, in some instances the campaign can indeed bring a positive change to many patients. For example, there have been quite a number of successful grassroots campaigns run by pharmaceutical companies in Russia to effect positive changes to the National Vaccination Calendar. This is a good example of corporations and ordinary people equally benefiting from the results of the grassroots campaign.
A successful grassroots lobbying campaign starts with outreaching to and assembling people who share common goals and concerns.
When the business is seeking government approval on a contentious issue, or if a proposed piece of regulation can affect both the business and a large group of people, a coalition comprised of respected community, business, and political leaders or grasstops, grassroots activists, trade associations and other relevant third-party organizations can be mobilized. Collecting and disseminating “grasstops” opinions on the issue, calls for a concerted action and a focused social media campaign are key to an integrated grassroots campaign.
Different mobilizing methods can be used depending on the nature of the issue: from initiating grasstops calls, meetings with key decision makers, parliamentary hearings or public discussions to generating thousands of letters from grassroots activists to policy and decision makers. Selected grassroot lobbying instruments include:
education materials development and dissemination;
setting up parliamentary / public hearings;
generating calls and letters to officials;
grasstops engagement (see see the next section);
local and federal media campaigns;
social media viral campaigns; and
local elected officials outreach and “recruitment”.
There are four pillars of a successful grassroots campaign:
Make it a fun exercise. The campaign should be memorable and motivate people.
Let the buzz go on for months. It is therefore vital to have multiple layers of regular communication to keep the messages fresh and strong.
Personal involvement and grasstops personal stories create desired word-of-mouth. You cannot have the public on your side unless your passion is demonstrated and personal motivation gets a genuine buy-in. A personal economic or social interest of the public group should also be made stressed throughout the campaign.
Make the participation simple. Provide sample of letters people need to fill in and send by clicking one button for example.
Last but not the least: by initiating ethical grassroots campaign you will be contributing to Russia becoming a country with a developed civil society. This will mean less corruption and more transparent and stable rules of the game.
A successful grassroots campaign is impossible wtihout effective and structured engagement of ‘grasstops’ – opinion formers widely respected by targeted public groups.
Many companies already have strong and relations with the so-called “key opinion leaders” or KOLs who can influence decision and policy makers. However, a different type of opinion formers should be engaged if the company wants to raise interest and credibility around the issue among the public at large.
Identifying the right ‘grass top’ is not easy but possible – it is important to check who represents the key followers, what biography and history the personality has, whether he or she has been associated with some scandals and what brands the person has been affiliated with. The next step is to check on the person’s ‘true character’ meaning where does his or her personal beliefs and principles marry with the public image and previous campaigns delivered. It is important to find out whether the KOL has the issues or particular attitude to the problem observed within grass tops campaign and whether he or she stands by it and supports it.
Understandably, when it comes to grass tops campaign and the need for the grass roots to push a particular issue forward, the KOLs participating in the ‘movement’ must not be affiliated or endorsed by a particular company or brand, otherwise the trust vanishes in seconds. They must genuinely support the issue, the idea and stand by it and be ready to be on the front-line of addressing the issue.
Integrated Grassroots Campaigning
To effectively influence public policy issues and compel people to take action via grassroots engagement face-to-face communications must be combined with social & traditional media relations, and public affairs into one powerful punch.
Tips for a successful integrated grassroots campaign:
Select you targets carefully (decision makers). You may want to do a separate decision makers’ mapping for the campaign.
Define public interest which is in line with yours
Look for the “convincible” grassroot groups (broaden your audience by also engaging those who hesitate with the help of grasstops)
Build coalitions (with your competitors / partners / associations). A voice of the industry is always better heard, especially if supported by the public
Think political (think of what political dividends the targets may get by agreeing with your / grassroots proposal or what political risks they may avoid)
Maintain relations with video production companies, try to build a nationwide network of political and media operatives and close relationships with telephone advocacy and direct mail vendors to be able to use these tools once a grassroots campaign kick off.
Letter generation is a great tool if done on a scale with some of them published in traditional media or on-line / picked up in the social media.
Smart youtube clips can get you instant awareness.
Structure and simplify the procedure (upload samples of the letters with instructions who and how to send).
Go and meet people face-to-face.
Do regular opinion audits of your stakeholders: what is being right, what is not, how to improve effectiveness of the campaign.
Avoid keeping any important relevant information away from the public. Any unethical use of the public opinion will fire back severely and may destroy your business completely
 Boom for Gen. Torrance," Salt Lake herald, September 25, 1903, 6.
 "Brooklyn Boy Leader," New York Tribune, September 09, 1907, Page 4
 Eigen's Political & Historical Quotations "Beveridge, Albert J.". 2006-05-20.
 The single, unhyphenated word “grassroot” has become standard after the Great Depression in the US