One of the most compelling works we’ve read on the power of influential people – The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell – traces the resurgence of the Hush Puppy brand shoe to a small group of fashionistas in a tony neighborhood in Manhattan who began to wear them. It wasn’t the number of people who sparked a national revival in the brand, it was their personal power and their intrinsic ability to inspire others to follow their lead.
Politics is no different. Getting the right allies behind a public policy initiative early can greatly increase the odds of success. In our experience, there are three qualities that exist in people who are particularly influential on a matter of public policy.
1. They have no (or little) economic self-interest
Non-economic allies, as we like to call them, are folks for whom a particular position on a public policy issue is driven by a deeper, values-based motivation that does not necessarily benefit them economically. Unlike the companies or industries for whom a new law or regulation could mean millions in profits, these people advocate from a selfless perspective and therefore have a much more powerful and compelling story to tell. They support or oppose something not because it will enrich them personally but because it will benefit others – vulnerable segments of society or their communities at large – or they believe it is simply the right thing to do.
2. They are well connected, active and contributing members within their communities
People who are influential on one matter of public policy are oftentimes influential on other important things as well. They serve on non-profit boards, volunteer their time and resources or otherwise give of themselves for the betterment of their communities. They are people others look to for guidance and have a reputation for acting out of principle rather than profit.
3. They have an expertise or a set of personal experiences that connects them to your issue
Being a good person alone does not an effective advocate make. To be truly influential, a person must have a credible connection to your issue. Perhaps they are recognized experts in some field that is relevant to your issue. Maybe they have a personal story – their own or someone close to them – whom your issue could impact.
Finding people who meet some or all of these criteria is never easy but the good news is that you don’t need many of them to make a big difference. Investing time in the early stages of your campaign to identify and recruit these types of allies can help create a momentum that will return great dividends and increase your odds of success.