The Lost Art of Grassroots Engagement

We live in a digital age. Most people are using their mobile phones to receive information and news updates, advertisers are pouring millions of dollars into social and digital media platforms to reach audiences, and couples are finding love through dating apps and websites. Clearly, any successful marketing campaign needs a digital component. But, what about the traditional forms of engagement and outreach – do they still hold any value?

Our recent work with one of our clients helped us to realize that traditional marketing can still be effective. And in some cases vital to the success of a campaign…

The Challenge

When a Fortune 150 Company made plans to do business in the District, many residents, government officials, and community leaders were concerned about the idea. A great deal of misinformation surrounded the proposed plan and created a vocal opposition to our client. The company realized that it was time for a change. They decided to switch up their strategy when the traditional means of reaching DC audiences failed. Up until this point, the focus was given to government relations and some limited digital and broadcast advertising.

Our team was in charge of mobilizing the community to show support and to maintain a positive public perception. To accomplish this, we activated our community engagement team. We worked on educating and informing residents from every corner of the city. Our canvassing team went door to door in neighborhoods, metro stations, bus stops, communities of faith, parking lots, senior centers, grocery stores and other areas where residents visit, work, and play. The goal was to generate letters of support and petition signatures in favor of our client. The results? We received over 12,000 letters of support signed by community members and leaders and collected over 10,000 hand-signed petitions. All of this illustrated the widespread community support for the company, which led to the eventual approval of the multi-million dollar business plan.

Successful Planning

The key to our success was that our team was not pushing an agenda. We had honest conversations with residents about what the merger entailed. And how it would impact the city and the benefits of the proposed merger. Residents were able to ask questions, discuss potential drawbacks, and gain clarity around the information we presented. Other key takeaways from this process – and any grassroots community engagement campaign – include:

  • Personal Touch – residents and community leaders appreciated that the companies cared enough to send out a street team to engage with them. In our fast-paced society, it is rare to have an opportunity to speak one-on-one with someone about an individual campaign or issue. There is a sincerity in this type of outreach that cannot be duplicated through any other channel.
  • Hard-to-Reach Populations – this campaign allowed our team the opportunity to reach many populations and communities. Even those that are often left out of generic mass media campaigns. We communicated with older adults, immigrant communities, and disenfranchised populations that may feel neglected or left without a voice in local government and business issues.
  • Complex Issues/Campaigns – the details of the proposed merger were extensive and multi-layered. Many of the benefits that residents would enjoy were very complex and incredibly difficult to translate into short messages. This made it more difficult to share through any digital, broadcast, print, or out-of-home outlet. Face-to-face engagement with residents was essential for our team. We had the ability to breakdown all the details of the proposed merger in terms that the general population understood.


All the new mediums and outlets are great for reaching target audiences and influencing behavior. However, they cannot replace the unique nature of engaging with consumers on an individual basis through grassroots outreach. It may take more time and additional funds, but the impact on communities is immeasurable.

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