2007 Energy Bill for the National Environmental Trust

Challenge: Industry PR Offensive Derailed Growing Green Support.  

During the fight around the 2007 Energy Bill, The National Environmental Trust (NET), at the head of a large coalition of the nation’s major environmental organizations, was struggling to get a 35mpg CAFE automobile fuel efficiency standard into the bill over the threat of a White House veto if Democrats insisted on keeping that provision.

Though successful in its public awareness campaigns, NET hit a political stumbling block in August of 2007 when the 35mpg CAFE standard they were pushing became a battle point for the Bush Administration. The White House, under pressure from corporate interests, chiefly the automotive industry, chose to draw a line in the sand threatening to veto the bill if Democrats kept the raised CAFE standards in the bill.

To ensure the veto threat could stand against pressure from the Green movement, the corporate opponents of the raised CAFE standards launched public relations campaigns to counter NET’s efforts and very quickly succeeded in derailing the support NET had been building in the general public. The message, “Too strict and too soon” was successfully propagated by industry and the the Greens’ focused message was brilliantly and effectively dissipated by industry-inserted discussions about various global climate change theories and complex conversations about what the extent of the government’s role to regulating national energy consumption should be. The confusing and distracting industry disinformation spread rapidly, and the pro-Green pressure from the public on Congress and the White House dropped to harmless levels.

NET was facing a defeat on the issues it was pushing and it needed a fast and massive surge of public activism to get the Bush Administration to back off its veto threat and give the Democrats the public support they needed to keep the raised CAFE standards in the bill.

NET called in Chris Abraham and the team to go online to rally an extraordinarily broad and diverse base of supporters ranging from left wing environmentalists, through the moderate Democrats and Republicans, all the way over to the national security oriented “America First” right wingers. There were potential supporters to be mobilized all across the spectrum with broadly divergent reasons for supporting higher CAFE standards. 

Strategy: Mobilize Broad Support Online, from Greens to “America-Firsters.” 

We launched an aggressive Online Conversation Marketing Campaign just days after NET made contact. During a high-powered 45-day campaign prior to the final vote on the bill, we reached out to the online communities with both a top-down “influencing the influencers” campaign, and with a bottom-up grassroots messaging campaign. With the top-down approach, the goal was to get the influencers to mobilize their readerships by echoing the NET message and calling their communities to action. The “bottom-up” grassroots messaging aimed to make the messaging ubiquitous in the places where the various potential supporters “lived” online, while keeping the messaging not only appropriate for the community in question but attractive and motivating as well.

Tactics: Influence the Influencers, Mobilize the Grassroots Online. 

The online “habitats” of the Green, Democratic, Republican, and “America First” communities and their influencers were identified, their interests in a higher gas mileage standards assessed, and effective and appropriate message models for each of these groupings crafted.

Email outreaches were done to the universes of influencers, each according to their political motivations, and Social Media News Releases were constructed and posted to make it easy for the online influencers to “steal” the NET message and calls to action and echo them.

To support the top-down campaign, Chris and his team also deployed a massive Online Grassroots Advocacy offensive reaching potential supporters in over one thousand online communities (including online message boards, forums, Usenet, Listservs, social media outlets and the blogosphere). Members of these communities were engaged in conversation and re-informed of the clear facts surrounding the issues, the benefits of the higher CAFE standards for them and their communities, and the actions they as individuals could take to push the Bush Administration and their representatives.

Results: Victory: Higher CAFE Standards Passed into Law.  

In the end, we reached an estimated 250,000 online influencers and mobilized countless formerly passive activists all across the political spectrum. Support for the higher CAFE standards rose online and offline, and the political pressure mounted tremendously. The White House backed away from their veto threat, and the Democrats recognized the higher CAFE standards as non-sacrificable.

On December 19th, 2007, the Energy Bill passed, complete with the higher CAFE standards.