by Darren Grubb
Senior Vice President, Communications and Marketing

Dallas Regional Chamber
Member of CCPA Advisory Board

In 2005, the Irish rock band U2 embarked on a worldwide concert tour in support of its latest album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. During a reflective section of each show, Bono, the band’s frontman and well-expressed activist, engaged the assembled mass in a call-and-response exercise where the crowd was asked to send a text message to a number on a giant screen above the stage. The recipient and benign beneficiary of that data was a small team of people in Washington, DC, in charge of public outreach for The ONE Campaign, a nonpartisan organization centered on the issue of ending global poverty – the brainchild of Bono.

Over the years I’ve had the chance to be a part of a number of PR “influencer” campaigns – including projects for Anheuser-Busch, Bloomberg LP, and Citigroup. Most recently, I am proud to have played a role on the Amazon HQ2 “deal team” that prepared two RFP response submittals on behalf of the DFW Region.

But The ONE Campaign remains my favorite engagement, which was done pro bono (no pun intended) to help create a framework for ONE’s national launch.

The ONE Campaign

Founded in 2004, The ONE Campaign embodied the vision of Bono and other activists to bring together existing anti-poverty organizations to combine resources and work together to educate the public on its particular issue set. From the spotlight shone on ONE at U2 and LIVE 8 concerts that summer, to positive profiles in Rolling Stone and TIME Magazine, the ONE Campaign achieved strong public and media reaction to its efforts. More importantly, through the aforementioned text messaging exercise and similar info gathering mechanisms, ONE had amassed an extensive database of more than two million names and emails of young adults who were, at a minimum, mildly interested in public activism.

Awareness to Activist

Given the success of its initial effort, the ONE leadership realized that in order to maintain and expand their footprint in the public consciousness, they needed to turn the corner from being a simple “awareness” campaign and become a full-fledged “activist” campaign.

The overarching communications and public relations goal was for ONE to remain visible, active, and relevant in the modern age of multimedia stimuli, as well as to cement ONE in the collective mind of the American public. The greatest obstacle to overcome was the long legacy of other fashionable fads of public activism that receded when failing to build an enduring infrastructure, expand the public imagination, or encourage regular participation to effect change.

A Political Organization

The ONE Campaign quickly pivoted and organized itself as a national political operation, modeling its structure on the best elements of successful Republican and Democratic national campaigns of recent years. They established a strong and influential Board of Directors and built a leadership team of professional politicos, legislative experts, and communications / media relations experts to carry out the daily mission of staying in the public eye.

Taking a multi-tracked approach, while the legislative experts began building relationships and educating Members of Congress on Capitol Hill, the campaign’s newly deployed field staff began contacting and networking and urging volunteers in cities around the country to make their voices heard by contacting their Congressman and advocating for a stronger stance on anti-global poverty issues.

In addition, to commemorate the first Global Day of Action against poverty, more than 6,000 ONE members across all 50 states gathered at 689 “house parties” to “Stand Up” against global poverty.

This grassroots effort was complemented by a strategic communications visibility plan developed through the prism of upcoming midterm elections. ONE was able to secure commitments from key Members of Congress – including nearly the entire contingent of aspiring 2008 presidential candidates – to travel to Africa as part of ONE’s regular education missions. ONE orchestrated a national media strategy by having several network reporters on the trip to broadcast and report live from the field, but also facilitated a local media strategy that allowed the traveling Members of Congress to beam interviews back to their local TV stations, ensuring positive press coverage for the Member during an election and strengthening the ONE brand at a local level.  

Public Policy

ONE’s success continued by moving the needle in the area of public policy. President George W. Bush traveled to Africa late in his term to highlight the newly escalated commitment of the U.S. government to Africa through the PEPFAR program – arguably the crowning achievement of his presidency. Not coincidentally, PEPFAR was strongly supported by the ONE team in DC and personally advocated by Bono in high-profile meetings with President Bush. In 2008, ONE helped to influence the debate among presidential candidates in both parties by mobilizing members to attend and ask policy specific questions at Town Hall meetings and campaign events, and creating national petitions urging the candidates to publicly announce their proposals for combating extreme poverty.

The ONE Campaign understood the critical elements of communication, public affairs and government relations to engage stakeholders and expand the impact of a movement – one that began as a sea of cell phones illuminating darkened sports arenas. The lasting global impact of the campaign’s work will be the reflected light of legislation and public policies in capitals around the world that commit the efforts, resources, and compassion of all nations to the darkest corners of the world.