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How to Run a Successful Grassroots Advocacy Campaign with PR Communications Strategy
Grassroots advocates are involved with raising the level of awareness about certain causes and issues at various societal levels, including at the public, local, provincial/state, or federal levels. The purpose of grassroots advocacy is to enable the grassroots advocate to influence public perception, regulations, public policy, or legislation. Grassroots advocacy differs from ‘direct lobbying’ as it relies almost entirely on the public and not on the professional lobbyist to contact relevant officials regarding specific issues. Developing an effective communications strategy for a grassroots advocacy campaign is one of the most important elements in a PR media plan designed to reach target individuals and groups, build alliances, and raise public awareness.
Since a successful advocacy requires campaigning and mobilizing support, good communication methods are critical to success. Communication for advocacy involves familiarity with the issue, knowing how to convey a message without overwhelming people, and having knowledge of the process. Developing specific media and social communication strategies is a key factor to implementing a successful grassroots advocacy campaign.
Alliance building is central to building and sustaining advocacy of an issue or cause. Introducing people and groups to a particular issue using complex explanations and wording is more likely to overwhelm and deter people away from the issue. An effective grassroots advocacy campaign results in increased awareness of the issue with the news media, prominent citizens, governments, specialists, and organizations, and of course, the public. However, a successful grassroots advocacy campaign results in some of the people in a few or all of the groups targeted becoming advocates for the particular issue. In turn, these new advocates become a credible voice for the issue.
Advertising is deemed successful when the message is heard, remembered, thought about, and then acted upon. Advocacy always includes some form of influencing, particularly when the target audience is decision-makers. When developing a PR advocacy campaign, background information on the issue with relevant data to back up facts cited, education, and communication material for dissemination of the issue, is at the heart of a strategic communications plan. Such a communication plan involves familiarity with the issue and knowledge of the process.
Effective communication involves more than just using words to convey a message. Campaigns that include creative print, video, images and interactive content are highly effective. Campaigns with creative messaging that connects and resonates with audiences, and then disseminated through online, print, television, and mobile media channels, are more likely to be remembered as it will generate more stories, conversations, shares, retweets, etc., which ultimately drives mass support. In addition, today’s issue advocates are utilizing online platforms such as social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc.) blogs, and microsites which emphasize creating clear, concise messages. Therefore, communication strategies must entail knowing how to create smart social media campaigns.
The first step in successful grassroots advocacy involves having a plan to catch the interest of the target audience and provide them with an educational foundation. Once people have a general understanding of the issue and express a desire to learn more, they must be guided to discovering and exploring more-in depth sources of information. The key is to avoid distorting the truth by oversimplifying the message. The best communication method is sharing the facts in as objective way as possible.
Extensive planning for a grassroots advocacy campaign is essential because not only must advocates plan how to effectively reach and engage target audiences, but they also have to deal with opposition and overcome obstacles as they arise. In advocacy environments, there are likely to be well informed and prepared opponents waiting to counter the advocates’ messages. This means opponents will have to be out-planned and counter-informed. This will involve gathering information about the opposition.
Grassroots advocacy has become a popular way for groups, companies and associations to leverage the thoughts and ideas of people and various organizations to create change within the public policy sphere of influence. It is very effective and it is common for groups of hundreds to thousands to even millions to mobilize when issues arise. A successful grassroots campaign is a step-by-step-process. Advocates must have a vision and mission, an objective, a strategic plan, which includes an effective communications strategy, and an action plan. Simplifying content, but not oversimplifying, and appealing to a broader audience plays an important role in attracting interest and engaging people, rather than overwhelming and deterring them. This step-by-step-process all comes together as one effective grassroots advocacy and PR communications campaign.
To get noticed or have action taken on the Hill or in statehouses these days takes a determined, coordinated all-out grassroots advocacy campaign.
But, building a grassroots organization is not easy, especially when you don’t know how to start a grassroots organization. That’s something Josh Habursky, founder of the Grassroots Professional Network (GPN) a best practices and networking group for grassroots advocacy pros, is well aware of and has been working to perfect.
Habursky launched GPN just one year ago to fill a “gaping need” for encouragement and training for advocacy specialists – something he became keenly aware was lacking when he began his own advocacy career.
There are no dues, fees, or requirements, Habursky explains. Partnerships with organizations such as CQ Roll Call foot the bill on the events. “There’s no overhead, no staff, and an all-volunteer advisory board “that just wants to get the content out there,” he says.
And despite its limited budget (and the fact that Habursky’s full-time job is elsewhere as director of advocacy at the Independent Community Bankers of America), GPN has grown like wildfire.
1. Be bold enough to start something. Habursky says he took a lot of inspiration from entrepreneur and 2010 TED Speaker Derek Sivers’ two-minute YouTube video. Titled “First Follower: Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy” the video shows a man at a concert dancing alone until the next dancer joins in – then finally a swarm of others join.
Sivers uses this short scenario to demonstrate the vital lessons for building a successful grassroots organization. Habursky shows the video at some of his events, and it further inspires up-and-coming, and old advocacy professionals, alike.
The states are 17 times more productive than Congress
That’s a lot of legislation. Make sure you don’t miss a thing.
2. Look for that all-important first follower. Sivers maintains the first follower plays a crucial role because they show everyone else how to follow. The first follower is actually an “underestimated form of leadership in itself,” Sivers says. “Remember the importance of nurturing your first few followers as equals, so it’s clearly about the movement, not you.”
Tim Teehan, director of sales, PACs and associations at L2, a Washington, D.C.-based voter data mapping firm, was one of GPN’s first followers. Teehan attended the first event and was impressed. He offered to help and became a member of the board. Habursky now refers to Teehan as “the brains of the operation.”
3. Remember, leadership is over-glorified. “We’re told we should all be leaders. [But] That would be really ineffective,” according to Sivers. “If you really care about starting a movement, have the courage to follow, and show others how to follow.” Teehan and Habursky both say they plan on building up GPN, then letting it fly on its own. “This is not an ego project,” Teehan says. Habursky says he wants to try and give lesser-involved board members more attention and urge them to come forward with their ideas.
4. Make your grassroots advocacy movement public. Build the group to three and Sivers says it’s a crowd – “and a crowd is news.” In your public message, it’s important to show not just the leader but the followers, because “you find that new followers emulate the followers, not the leader,” Sivers says. From these first initial followers, others will join in and create a tipping point.
5. Plan for and build for a diverse group. GPN focuses on people not content. “It’s a people business,” Mike Fulton, president of The Asher Agency’s Washington office, and another of GPN’s first followers, says.
6. Give board members specific tasks and deliverables. GPN set up an advisory board of about 30 members located in D.C. and nationwide. The group is comprised of leading academics and advocacy pros that generate the ideas behind upcoming events.
The Advocacy Planning, Strategy and Skills Guide
45+ tips to help you navigate the worlds of government relations and advocacy.
8. Get sponsors and treat them right. Vendors and sponsors don’t want to be “stiffed” or relegated to the back at an event and ignored. Give them a place at the table, and introduce them. Not long after the first event GPN held, Habursky gained CQ Roll Call as a sponsor for luncheons, and the events quickly jumped from 10 attendees to 150. Now he has a wait list of 30-40 people for each event. The sponsors have grown from a couple to 14, including Beyond K Street, Change.org, George Washington University, Whistle Stop Digital and others.
9. Offer valuable resources. Harbusky says GPN offers a comprehensive portfolio of in-person and online “informationals,” industry assets, and networking events – all offered free to those interested.
10. Use clever marketing to promote the group. “Government relations tends to run years behind other industries in direct marketing techniques,” Habursky says. “Advocacy organizations need to look to other industries to see what works.” GPN often looks for an event or national recognition week to pull in the sponsorship of an organization. “We’re edgy compared to other groups. We use very disruptive [marketing] tactics.” During National Candy Month in June, Habursky secured the endorsement of the National Confectioners Association. GPN got a graphic design student from West Virginia University to design Candyland board game invitations to which Mike and Ike candies were attached – donated of course.
To help market your grassroots advocacy organization we provide CQ Engage, a cutting-edge advocacy software. See how 3,000 letters in 3 days to local legislators changed an important vote for Trinity Health.
11. Dream big, get sponsors and keep pumping out regular rewarding events. In one short year, GPN has expanded from the luncheons to now adding networking events. Some 300 advocacy professionals attended a recent cocktail party called “Filibuster and Festivities,” an event with a tab of $15,000, all paid for by sponsors, great and small. How did GPN get the money? “If there’s an organization that wants to work with us, we’ll make it scalable to their budget,” he says.
GPN hopes to plan a huge holiday bash in December with a much larger venue and potentially two thousand attending. The American Diabetes Association is already a sponsor, but Habursky is hard at work looking for more who want to jump on board. Like all GPN events, it will be free to members.
You can use these exact 11 tips for how to start a grassroots organization and expand it. If you need help with putting a strategy in place for it, check out our Advocacy Planning, Strategy and Skills Guide.
October 20, 2020
The central idea behind grassroots campaigns is to invoke change and achieve a common goal. Large groups of people from across the state, region or country unite to build membership bases and mobilize other citizens through shared collective action.
How do grassroots campaigns get off the ground? What are some of the keys to successful grassroots campaigns? Who benefits from grassroots political activities?
These questions and more are answered during the online political management master’s program at the Graduate School of Political Management at the George Washington University. Through engrossing three-credit courses like Grassroots Engagement, Issues Management and State and Intergovernmental Politics — all part of the Advocacy Politics cluster — students develop the real-world practical skills they can leverage to become grassroots advocates and advance causes that matter to them.
What is a grassroots advocate?
Grassroots campaigns begin with grassroots advocates. They’re essentially the planted seeds of grassroots politics and produce change by reaching out to elected officials regarding why they should champion a certain cause, movement or objective. They may contact legislators through face-to-face campaigns, mass emails, phone calls or by leveraging social media.
When lawmakers understand that their constituents are fervently behind a given cause, they may become that much more inclined to take up these causes and encourage their colleagues in Congress — at the local, state or federal level — to do the same.
What are some examples of grassroots organizing?
From the American Civil Liberties Union to the Democratic National Committee, nonprofit organizations, political affiliations and many more rely on grassroots organizing to build stronger, more well-informed support bases and mobilized citizens. Whether it’s ending childhood hunger, implementing prison reform, mitigating the effects of climate change or advancing data privacy protections, these groups specialize in coalition building and creating the systems that allow for face-to-face, ongoing conversations that ultimately produce change.
Sometimes, these activities aim to create legislation; for others, they aim to block it or explain why passing a bill is not in the public’s best interest. For example, in 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union launched an online platform called ACLU Action. The progressive organization that specializes in privacy protections created it to make it easier for its membership to contact their representatives in Washington to urge them to oppose the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). Originally introduced by Representative Michael Rogers of Michigan, CISPA’s stated aim was to make it easier for the government to thwart cyberattacks.
However, organizations like the ACLU, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future and the Competitive Enterprise Institute all opposed the CISPA, contending that it infringed upon users’ data privacy.
“ACLU Action is about putting ACLU’s hundreds of thousands of supporters across the country at the center of our work,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero. “After nearly a century working to safeguard the rights of individuals, we are thrilled to usher in a new era where we can work directly with our broad base to build an even stronger, more united community, and effect change on a larger scale than ever before.”
The ACLU’s grassroots campaign ultimately proved successful, as despite the CISPA being reintroduced numerous times, stiff opposition on both sides of the political spectrum prevented the legislation from succeeding.
How do you run a successful grassroots campaign?
Grassroots campaigns are won when a collective goal is reached, whether that’s stopping pending legislation, advancing it or helping an underdog challenger achieve victory at the ballot box. Generally speaking, grassroots politics requires a little bit of everything to be successful. This includes recruiting volunteers. The nerve center of grassroots campaigns, volunteers devote their time and dedication to a cause or candidate because it’s important and directly affects them. They may ultimately be the ones who can best galvanize others to support the cause because of their positioning and familiarity with the issues.
Leadership is another critical component to effective grassroots campaigns. Leaders are those who others turn to when the going gets tough or volunteers need guidance on the next steps. Leaders must be adept at organizing and tapping into their reserves to propel a cause forward when obstacles get in the way.
Successful grassroots campaigns often require money as well. In 2014, during the congressional midterm elections, the candidates who had more campaign money to draw from won in approximately 91% of contests, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
Money isn’t the be-all-end-all to grassroots politics, but it gives small campaigns the capital they need to persist and remain viable.
When you mobilize citizens for groups, causes or candidates that you fervently support, big things are possible. Learn more about grassroots engagement and how you can leverage it in your career through the online Master’s in Political Management program at GW. Contact us today to learn more.
Whether you love cats or dogs, an animal in your local shelter can use your help. A great way to get involved is by forming a grassroots campaign in your hometown. We’ve gathered some information to help you do that.
Attend Town Meetings
Attend the meetings in your town and get to know your elected officials. This is particularly important if there is an issue about your animal shelter or the status of strays in your neighborhood. It’s important, before you go, to find out when the meeting is occurring and, if you can, try to recruit a couple of others to come with you. Have a list of questions if there is something you would like the legislators to put on their agenda. While at the meeting, make sure to keep your comments concise and, if you have a group of people with you, try to wear a sticker or a button to show that you are all together.
Work with the Shelter
Find out from the folks who run the shelter what their most pressing needs are — is it quality dog food or maybe money for medicine? Whatever it may be, start raising awareness in the community by sending letters to the editor of the local paper or even calling a reporter to see if they’ll do a story on the shelter and its needs. Oh, and don’t forget local churches or synagogues — most have written bulletins every week and they can put an announcement in there for you.
If you have a way with words, consider offering to write a direct mail campaign for the shelter. This would be in the form of a plea for funds. Tell some stories about the great animals that are available for adoption and help them raise money for things like medicine, vet visits, and foster care.
Reach Out to the Humane Society
Reach out to your local, regional or even national humane society and see what they suggest for a good grassroots campaign. The ASPCA, HSUS and Best Friends Sanctuary have lots of ideas about running a local campaign to help animal shelters.
One of the best ways to find out what’s needed at the local shelter is to become a volunteer. You could be a shelter attendant, a dog walker or someone who simply spends time comforting the animals there.
No matter what you choose, the animals will thank you for your efforts on their behalf.
What is a grassroots campaign?
Simply put, it’s the time-tested method of talking to voters face to face and asking for their vote. It allows for two-way communication as opposed to more expensive one-way communication of T.V, radio, and newspaper ads.
“The effectiveness of door-to-door mobilization lies in its use of social psychology to motivate participation. Canvassers are better able to connect with the individuals they visit on a personal level than phone or mail GOTV strategies.” (American Journal of Political Science 2009).
Why run a grassroots political campaign?
Engaging voters directly allows a candidate to raise their profile and name recognition, identify supporters, determine voters’ concerns, and engage their volunteers. Going door to door is also the most cost efficient way to campaign.
Is it legal to canvass door to door? Do I need a permit?
Talking to voters is protected speech under the 1 st Amendment. In the case of Watchtower Bible and Track Society v. Village of Stratton, the U.S. Supreme Court, in an 8 to 1 decision wrote, “It is offensive to the very notion of a free society that a citizen must first inform the government of her desire to speak to her neighbors and then obtain a permit to do so.”
What do I need to run a grassroots campaign?
- An accurate voters list:
This can be obtained from either your county election’s office or your state’s Secretary of State. Ask for a detailed list that includes voter history.
- Printed campaign materials:
Door hangers or rack cards for supporters to leave information at a voter’s home. Odds are that on a good day you will only connect with 5% to 10% of the voters on your list, so these will help reach the rest.
- Volunteer script:
Always have a script for volunteers to follow. Think through the questions you want to ask voters. Giving volunteers structure builds their confidence. If a volunteer is a little timid, try role-playing the script with them. The closing to your script should always ask for the individual’s vote. If they say yes, ask if they will take a yard sign as well.
What do I do with the information from the voter canvass?
Going door to door acts as an internal poll. You will know what issues matter to your voters as well as if you can count on their support. Sending follow-up postcards to supporters or people who are undecided helps to reinforce your message. You should also take non-supporters off your list; no need to drive out votes for your opponent. As you get closer to Election Day, use the database that you’ve built to put out yard signs and send Get Out the Vote (GOTV) Direct Mail.
Remember: Success builds upon success. The more interaction your team has with voters the more likely they are to vote.
I have spent over a decade working with political campaigns and national fundraisers. At PrintPlace, I am responsible for all political marketing pieces and work hand in hand with candidates and their consultants.
It’s early January and you’ve made some New Year resolutions. One of these might be doing what you can to change things for the better.
So you decide to run for office or at least help someone else do it.
For most of us, this would not be an easy undertaking, and it would be nice to have a lists of things you can do that would help you win. Well, glad you’re here! Shall we get started.
- Make sure your family is on board. This might be the most important piece needed for a successful campaign. The phrase “happy wife equals happy life” is a good way to look at it (even if you have to get your husband on-board).
- Resign yourself to hard work. The most effective campaign tactics are physically and mentally demanding. Voters trust and support candidates who work hard and earn the job. Stamina is a job requirement.
- Have a written plan. Think back and remember that whenever you were most successful in life – you probably started that effort with a detailed plan. It’s a roadmap that keeps you on track and under budget.
- Find a winnable office for which to run. You’re going to invest a lot of time, money and effort in this endeavor. Don’t choose an office that you have no shot to win. Going from novice to running for US Senate is probably not a smart move.
- Probably best not to start too high on the ballot. Currently, 8 out of 100 US Senators had never held office before running for the Senate. Only 24 people since 1980 have this distinction. Remember that most higher office holders started as city councilperson and moved their way up.
- Pick a side.Much more often than not either a Republican of a Democrat wins any given campaign. It’s just the way it is. See next point.
- Be involved in local party politics. This is how you learn how things work and start to understand why they work that way. These are the people who will be helping you as your start your campaign.
- Raise money then raise some more. Unless you’re independently wealthy, you’re going to have to be an excellent fundraiser. Many times your donor base is strongly correlated to your support base. We didn’t say you had to like it, just that you have to do it. No one ever wins on “I can overcome the money with grassroots support.”
- Use quality voter data. This matters a lot. If you get your data for free or from any government official, you may want to call me. Too many things can be linked with voter data, and much of the extra stuff that comes with it comes from quality vendors.
- Realize that smart targetingisbetter. At 300 yards, a rifle is a million times more accurate than a shotgun. If you target smartly, you will save money, time and resources while amplifying your efforts. Example: never knock on every door.
- Be empirical and not anecdotal. This is not just me being a data geek. Leave the anecdotes for the comedy club. You would be surprised how many times assumptions are just flat wrong. What’s that old saying about what assuming does…?
- Survey research is your friend. In an effort to be strategic and resourceful, polling is the most helpful . Have it done well, and do it often. It’s important to check the temperature of your campaign. The middle is never like the beginning ,and the end is going to way different if everyone’s doing a good job campaigning. Just don’t overpay for this service.
- Don’t sacrifice 1:1 engagement. Phone calls and door knocks are the most important voter engagements you can make. They are also the hardest. Don’t fall prey to thinking you can advertise more to make up for less 1:1 engagements.
- Advertise in ways that make sense. Lots of money is spent on TV, radio, print and now-a-days digitally. For most down-ballot campaigns, you have to think more strategically about advertising to have bang for your buck, but don’t do it at the expense of your grassroots .
- Really think about digital . In today’s crowded political cycles, cutting through the noise is a seemingly impossible task. It takes good research and decisive judgement to act quickly, yet remain flexible in order to optimize your results .
At Cygnal we do more than just recommend tips. We help you institute them. If you have a data or digital need, we have a solution. No project is too big or too small. Reach out to us today to further increase your chance of winning.
by JoBeth Hamon | Mar 12, 2019 | Blog
It’s still hard for me to believe, but just a few weeks ago I was elected to be the city councilor for Ward 6 of Oklahoma City. I still have until April 9 before I am sworn in and am grateful for this time to meet with city staff and prepare to take office. Over the past few weeks people have asked how we were successful, even though we started without much name recognition and were outraised. I believe we were successful not just because the issues I talked about during the campaign – improving public transportation, addressing affordable housing as well as making our city a friendlier place for people walking or biking – resonated with people in Ward 6 and across the city but also because our campaign did a few things that helped our chances from the start:
Often, city council candidates in Oklahoma City have started campaigning in the fall or sometimes, after candidate filing only a few months before the primary election. I still wish I had started even earlier than I did, but having 8 months to fundraise, knock doors, as well as host and attend community events helped the chances that voters would not just recognize my name but be excited about supporting me when they went to the polls.
Connected with Experts
I am, admittedly, a political newcomer. I had never run for office before and while I paid attention to city, state, and federal government, I came into this election knowing very little about campaigning. I am grateful that I had relationships with some elected officials and candidates to ask advice and through that process, connected with a consulting firm I felt comfortable working with – Skyfire Media. They guided me through the particulars of fundraising, hosting volunteer events, and the ever important activity of knocking doors.
Asked For Support
Like many, I have difficulty asking others for help. I’m usually content to put my head down and figure out how to get a job done on my own, even when I feel like I’m floundering. That just isn’t possible in the process of running for elected office – whether it’s donations or volunteer support, I had to learn to step out of my comfort zone of trying to accomplish something all on my own and ask for support from others. In the long run, I learned that doesn’t only activate a network of people who then get others involved, but also gave me an opportunity to meet new people with shared values and make connections in the community I otherwise might not have had.
To be quite honest, this was one aspect of campaigning I was initially dreading. I identify as an introvert, so the idea of going to a stranger’s door, opening myself up to whatever conversation that might bring, and then asking for that person’s support sounded horrible. However, early on, I realized the power of knocking doors. Not only did I learn that I loved it because there was little to no “small talk” involved – many of the people I talked with jumped right to the issues that mattered most to them. I was also amazed at how often people would share with me that they’d never had a candidate for municipal office knock on their door before. I attribute much of our campaign’s success to knocking doors – connecting with people on their porches not only showed those voters that I wanted to hear from them, but it taught me more about the issues that people cared about than I ever could have guessed when I started running.
JoBeth Hamon was recently elected to Oklahoma City Council Ward 6. She graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University, where she received her degree in Family & Community Services. JoBeth believes in the power of community and connection to create positive change.
Launching your own advertising campaign is a process that requires thorough planning. Coming up with a strategic, and ultimately attractive, marketing plan is necessary to finding good ROI for both your time on the project and the ad spend itself. Identifying your goals and acknowledging your competitors should all be a part of the planning process. It is also wise to consider what methods of advertising are best suitable for your business. At Grassroots in Toronto, We love Wildpostering and perform it all over NYC (wild posters), and the rest of North America and Europe!
Remember that strong advertising is what reels the customers in, even more so than the product or services. Good advertising answers any questions that interested persons might have. It makes whatever you are selling interesting to anyone whom might already be showing enthusiasm or have a need for what you are advertising.
The right advertising methods have the potential to expand your business and to pull in more profit than originally expected, but what actually goes into these campaigns that makes them more successful than a competitor’s?
The Step by Step Process
1. Define your advertising budget.
Knowing your budget and then working within it rather than constantly readjusting it is wise whenever you are planning an advertisement campaign. Based off of your allowance, decide what advertising method will get your message the farthest for the lowest price possible.
However, there is something to be said for the “you have to spend money to make money” mentality. Lowering your budget in other areas of your business in order to increase your available ad spend will help get your message in front of more people in your target demographic, and ultimately will bring in more revenue for your company.
2. Consider your target audience.
Once you figure out who makes up a majority of your audience, you can easily decide on an advertising method. For example, if your target audience is mostly made up of stay at home mothers, wildposting campaigns near parks or childrens stores may be your best choice.
3. Evaluate all of your advertising options with your budget in mind.
Internet, mail, print and video are all popular forms of advertisement. Certain methods of advertisement are much cheaper than others, but that doesn’t mean that they will be effective for your business.
4. If you already have advertisement campaigns out there, try to stick to a level of consistency.
This will only give your audience something to remember you by or to associate your brand with. For instance, you could stick with the same background music or the same narrator if you were working with televised advertisements in the past.
5. Decide on the frequency in which you would like the ad to run.
For televised advertisements, you will need to think about an appropriate time for the commercial to run. The objective is to reach your target audience so consider the timeframes in which the advertisement would better reach them.
6. Make sure that your advertisement, regardless of its form- is catchy, to the point, easy to understand, and entertaining.
No matter how unique and useful your business is, you won’t be nearly as successful as you could be unless you utilize proper advertising avenues to execute a great campaign. For more information on creating an awesome ad campaign, talk to the Grassroots team today!