NARAL: Stop Talking to the Press about Engaging Youth

7 Feb

Guest post by Abortion on Demand.

Is there an advocacy organization more ham-handed about talking about young supporters than NARAL Pro-Choice America? I opened the Washington Post Outlook section on Sunday and found yet another bunch of completely stupid quotes coming from both NARAL’s President Nancy Keenan and Communications Director Ted Miller. To wit:

  • “These are people that we haven’t quite crossed their radar screen,” NARAL President Nancy Keenan explained in a recent interview. “They share our values, they’re pro-choice, but the question is: How do we talk to them?”
  • For many women who have grown up in an era of legal abortion, that mentality has persisted. NARAL’s Keenan often refers to the graying heads of the major women’s groups as the “menopausal militia.”
  • NARAL has begun dividing its e-mail list between its younger and older supporters, testing different messages on about 10 percent of its subscribers. The group saw response rates double when younger people received a message from a NARAL staff member their own age, rather than one from the group’s president.
  • “Much of our list consists of people who are baby boomers,” says NARAL communication director Ted Miller. “With Millennials, we’re trying to be more strategic and communicate in a different way.”

Dear Keenan and Miller, guess what great communications strategy is for either selling widgets or organizing people: NOT TALKING ABOUT YOUR TARGETS IN THE THIRD PERSON. Also maybe not talking about HOW you are going to SELL TO THEM. Cause everyone loves to know how they are marketed to, like they are a piece of meat.

You want to talk amongst organizations about successful campaigns that seemed to resonate amongst college-age kids? Great. Do it privately. You gain NO BENEFIT TALKING TO A WASHINGTON POST REPORTER ABOUT THIS.

And please stop, stop, STOP publicly talking about the “intensity gap.” (That 2010 study you commissioned should have NEVER been a document you shared with the press).

The “intensity gap” absolutely exists amongst non-activists. Let’s get something straight, voter does not equal activist. Voter just means you go out and vote. Activist means you do something (anything) other than voting on Election Day. But what you’re voting on Election Day is often determined by what activists were doing leading up to Election Day.

Of course there are lots of under 30 activists in the pro-choice movement. Some of them write for this blog even. But here’s my message to NARAL. Shut up about the intensity gap. First of all you don’t know about the “intensity diminishment” as all those young supporters you see bused to Washington, DC by their parents on Roe Day grow up. Guess what? A lot of them will end up drifting away from their church and their anti-choice positions. Not all of them, of course, but usually what you feel at 12 you don’t feel quite as intently about in your 20s or 30s or I would still get up early on Saturday mornings to watch the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.


“I just thought, my gosh, they are so young,” Keenan recalled. “There are so many of them, and they are so young.” March for Life estimates it drew 400,000 activists to the Capitol this year. An anti-Stupak rally two months earlier had about 1,300 attendees.

You want to garner more teenagers and 20-somethings Keenan, then why not just do it and stop telling the press HOW you’re going to do it. Stop talking about the fact you don’t have as many “youth supporters” as you’d like (all it’s going to do is piss off everyone who is a young supporter of Choice).

Maybe another piece of advice is Keenan (and Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards who’s a tad better at talking about what they do) need to just stop spilling their guts to reporter Sarah Kliff. Not because Kliff is misquoting them. Because the first rule of communications strategy is that if you don’t have a good message when talking to the press THEN DON’T DO IT.


One Response to “NARAL: Stop Talking to the Press about Engaging Youth”

  1. Gabriel February 8, 2012 at 11:25 am #

    Maybe they had another target for their message? Maybe they were trying to demonstrate their organization’s work to target young people? Maybe they figured, “Hey, most young people don’t read the Washington Post…but our donors, volunteers, elected officials, other reporters, and political colleagues do.”?

    Maybe you don’t know what you are talking about?

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