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19 October 2015

The Roadmap to Victory – how communications contributed to the ‘Freedom to Marry’

Written by: Aaron Shardey, Edelman Apprentice 2015 at Edelman

Corporate Reputation, Culture, Government Affairs

A couple of weeks ago I attended an exclusive conference in Berlin held at the Schwules Museum. Hosted by the American Embassy on the ‘Freedom to Marry’, the guest speaker was the one and only Evan Wolfson. For those of you who don’t know this remarkable guy, he had a huge responsibility in shifting the view of Americans on marriage equality with some of his work starting in the late 70s and 80s. His devotion to equality has been recognised by hundreds of millions all over the world. His expertise in law and working with governments has paved the way for the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the States.

The campaign has been around for decades now, however, it only achieved global status in the summer of 2015 when the Freedom to Marry organisation took universal-state marriage equality to the Supreme Court in Washington. Listening to this inspiring man I began to think about the importance of communications on this scale for issues like this in society. It really is something that is a necessity – communications that is. We have been doing it since the beginning of time and it is often something we do not think about.

Their strategy, simple, yet effective is what struck me most.

A simple three-step strategy that attracted the attention of the entire world. Rocked news channels everywhere and sparked an international campaign to change the face of equality forever.

In my profession, communications marketing, we are often told that the ‘general public’ is a term we can no longer use. However, in this instance, I disagree. I believe that starting conversations with the general public in this case was essential to the campaign’s success. Marriage equality has been on the news agenda for some time in the Western World since the early 70s. It dominated the UK agenda back in March 2014 when it was finally legalised with marriages beginning shortly after.

What I got from this fascinating event was that agenda setting and communicative support by the ‘general public’ is essential to achieving success. Yes, as everything, the campaign attracted negative attention from the opposition however, Wolfson told us that this was not an issue when it came to ‘selling-in’. It confirmed that with enough support from the public and with conversations happening on and offline the chances of a campaign to drive change or create awareness achieving success is 100%. Why? People want to hear what other people think, a unity of human beings all together, at one, wanting the same thing is enough to change the minds of the oppositions and drive change! We are a nation of persuaders and often, our opinions are influenced by those closest to us.

I took away three key points from this talk:

1. Creating the right environment for any campaign is enough to drives success
2. Conversations in the public are essential, whether this is good or bad as we have the power to shift this to our advantage
3. Finally, #LoveWins.

I was fortunate enough to chat with Wolfson who told me that their work is now complete. Their objectives have been met and the results are that marriage equality is legal nation-wide however, the fight for sexual equality is not over. However, who is to say this is not possible? I mean, everything is possible if we all work together, right?

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