Advocacy: Championing Ideas and Influencing Others

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When a group of people gather together to generate ideas for solving a problem or achieving a goal, sometimes the best ideas are passed over. Worse, a problematic suggestion with far less likelihood of success may be selected instead. Why would a group dismiss an option that would be more effective? Leadership and communications expert John Daly has a straightforward answer: it wasn't sold to them as well. If the best idea is yours, how can you increase the chances that it gains the support of the group? In Advocacy: Championing Ideas and Influencing Others, Daly explains in full detail how to transform ideas into practice.

To be successful, leaders in every type of organization must find practical and action-oriented ways to market their ideas and achieve buy-in from the members of the group. Daly offers a comprehensive action guide that explains how to shape opinion, inspire action, and achieve results. Drawing on current research in the fields of persuasion, power relations, and behavior change, he discusses the complex factors involved in selling an idea—the context of the communication, the type of message being promoted, the nature and interests of the audience, the emotional tenor of the issues at stake, and much more. For the businessperson, politician, or any other member of a group who seeks the satisfaction of having his or her own idea take shape and become reality, this book is an essential guide.

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Editorial Reviews

Daly, a distinguished communications expert, has produced an exceptional study, which is comprehensive and well documented. . . . This book is certainly a critical piece of scholarship for the business/management curriculum and a great selection for academic libraries.—J.B. Kashner, Choice

— J.B. Kashner

National Communication Association

Winner of the 2012 Diamond Anniversary Book Award, as given by the National Communication Association.

— Diamond Anniversary Book Award

Choice - J.B. Kashner

"Daly, a distinguished communications expert, has produced an exceptional study, which is comprehensive and well documented. . . . This book is certainly a critical piece of scholarship for the business/management curriculum and a great selection for academic libraries."—J.B. Kashner, Choice
George Cheney

"A clearly written, vividly illustrated discussion of 'internal advocacy'—that is, advocacy inside organizations—combining the best of traditional and contemporary research from a variety of disciplines with a host of historical and current examples from business, politics, education, and the world of non-profits and social movements. The book is wonderfully rich in examples and narratives, and leaves the reader with a hefty tool kit for successful advocacy efforts."—George Cheney, coauthor of Organizational Communication in an Age of Globalization
National Communication Association - Diamond Anniversary Book Award

Winner of the 2012 Diamond Anniversary Book Award, as given by the National Communication Association.
Choice - Outstanding Academic Title

Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic 2012 Title for Business Management and Labor within the Social and Behavioral Sciences category.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300188134
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 6/19/2012
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 476,307
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

John A. Daly is the Liddell Professor of Communication, TCB Professor of Management, and University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Read an Excerpt


Championing Ideas & Influencing Others


Copyright © 2011 John A. Daly
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-17507-3

Chapter One

The Politics of Ideas

It is harder to get a good idea accepted than to get a good idea. STEPHEN FRIEDMAN

If we had an Innovators' Hall of Fame, it would include Tim Berners-Lee; William Campbell, Mohammed Aziz, and Roy Vagelos; Patsy Mink and Edith Green; David Warren; Clair Patterson; Joan Ganz Cooney; and Jim Delligatti. Their names may be unknown to you, but each is responsible for at least one extraordinary innovation that affects us every day. They have something else in common, too. Each faced strong resistance from others —bosses, colleagues, and other decision makers—who often blithely dismissed their brainstorm, publicly challenged its value, or, in some cases, tried to sabotage it. Each of these intrepid innovators came to learn what so many other creative researchers, scientists, engineers, and business leaders recognize: It is not enough to come up with a brilliant idea. You also need to galvanize support through effective advocacy.

Not only did Tim Berners-Lee come up with what we know today as the World Wide Web, but he also had to convince his employer, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), to support his work on the Web. After pushing indefatigably for his notion, he finally won management's support. But then he faced a second advocacy challenge: to persuade CERN to make his brainchild freely available to the public. "It took 18 months ... to persuade CERN directors not to charge royalties for use of the Web," Berners-Lee says. "Had we failed, the Web would not be here today."

William Campbell was a drug researcher who discovered a cure for river fever, a malady that every year blinded millions of people living in the tropics. Campbell, along with his colleague Mohammed Aziz, persuaded Roy Vagelos, then head of research and development at Merck, to develop the drug, now called Mectizan. Then Campbell, Aziz, and Vagelos faced a daunting advocacy challenge: convincing Merck executives to spend enormous amounts on a pill that wouldn't make the company a penny, because the people who needed the drug were some of the poorest in the world. They succeeded, and Merck has since donated more than 2.5 billion tablets (worth close to $4 billion). Today more than 25 million people receive the drug annually—and have their sight—because of Campbell, Aziz, and Vagelos's advocacy. In fact, the World Health Organization recently announced that river blindness may soon be eliminated in Africa.

If you have a daughter who plays soccer or volleyball today, you should thank Patsy Mink and Edith Green. In the late 1960s, Mink and Green were two of the few female members of the U.S. Congress. Struck by the absurd limits placed on women's involvement in college activities, they shepherded through Congress, despite blatant sexist opposition, an innovative piece of legislation called Title IX, which today guarantees girls and women opportunities in education and athletics. In 1972, when the law was passed, girls accounted for only 7 percent of all athletes in high school; by 2008 they accounted for almost half.

Every time you board an airplane, you might think kindly of David Warren. Working at the Aeronautical Research Laboratory in Melbourne in the 1950s, he dreamed up what we now know as the cockpit voice recorder. Putting recorders on planes would seem to be an obvious step for an industry that celebrates safety. But when Warren pitched his notion, he was turned down flat. The Royal Australian Air Force claimed that his device would "yield more expletives than explanations." The Federation of Australian Air Pilots declared that "no plane would take off in Australia with Big Brother listening." He finally persuaded British aeronautics experts to test his idea. Today, every commercial airplane contains a recorder in a "black box," and we are all safer because of Warren's advocacy.

Do you use unleaded gasoline? If so, Clair Patterson deserves your thanks. He pioneered the idea of eliminating harmful lead from fuel. Another obvious innovation, right? Yet it took more than ten years for him to get his idea adopted, so great was the political opposition. Energy companies tried to stop his research funding; powerful industry opponents asked his university, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), to fire him. But because of his tenacious advocacy, all of us breathe cleaner air today.

When the Carnegie Foundation raised the idea of funding an educational television show for children, Joan Ganz Cooney's boss at New York City's Channel 13, Lewis Freedman, said he didn't think she would be interested in the project. She interrupted to say that she most definitely would be. As discussion of the project proceeded, Freedman kept turning her down because he wanted her to continue to work on public affairs documentary projects (she had won an Emmy on one). She thought getting involved in the education show for children was hopeless until her husband had lunch (on an unrelated matter) with Lloyd Morrisett, head of the Carnegie Foundation. Ganz Cooney's husband told Morrisett of his wife's interest in doing the research. That prompted Morrisett to call Ganz Cooney's boss and tell him she was the person he wanted to lead the effort. As Ganz Cooney will admit, it was "a little bit tricky" going around her boss. In fact, she said later, the job would not have been hers if she hadn't done so. Her involvement didn't grow any easier. When she finally completed the project and presented it to top executives, one of those attending the meeting asked, "Who are you? ... Why would anyone be interested in your opinion? ... I just think it's crazy." Luckily, Ganz Cooney turned out to be a relentless advocate. Today, thanks to her, we all enjoy Big Bird, Elmo, and the rest of the gang on Sesame Street.

Ever had a Big Mac? You can cheer Jim Delligatti, who owned some McDonald's franchises in the Pittsburgh area in 1967. Disturbed that profits were not increasing, he borrowed an idea from the Big Boy restaurant chain and created the double burger on a bun. Did McDonald's executives like his idea? Not at first. Fred Turner, the company's president, didn't want to expand the menu. But Delligatti persevered. His regional manager bought the idea and made the case to senior executives. McDonald's leadership finally told Delligatti that he could test his fancy new sandwich—but only at one of his restaurants, and he had to use McDonald's products. The latter restriction sentenced his idea to failure, because the traditional hamburger bun was too small for two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onion. So Delligatti ignored instructions and ordered large sesame rolls to create the Big Mac. After sales at his Uniontown restaurant shot up, he piloted the idea at other stores in the Pittsburgh area. Soon other McDonald's stores started selling his sandwich. Thanks to Delligatti's advocacy, burger lovers throughout the world can sink their teeth into Big Macs.

Each of these innovators, and many others introduced in the pages ahead, came to recognize that creative genius is seldom sufficient to make great ideas viable. Persistent, well-considered advocacy is just as important. And advocacy is what this book is about.

The products you find on store shelves, the processes that make organizations safer, more efficient, and profitable, the innovations that let you live longer and better—all originally sprang from somebody's mind. But these innovative products and processes didn't magically appear the moment they were imagined. Instead, the idea for each one needed to be sold inside some organization before it became a reality.

Victor Hugo was wrong when he wrote that an idea whose time has come cannot be stopped. Ideas can be stopped. Too often, brilliant ideas flounder because of the inability or unwillingness of their creators to sell them to others. Indeed, how many great ideas for lifesaving drugs, world-changing technologies, and innovative business processes have fallen by the wayside simply because their proponents were unable to successfully advocate for their adoption? As the writer David Bornstein said: "An idea is like a play. It needs a good producer and a good promoter even if it's a masterpiece. Otherwise the play may never open; or it may open but, for lack of an audience, close after a week." Organizations are crowded and noisy marketplaces of ideas. Every one of them has more needs than resources. The notions that get adopted win out not only because of their objective value but also because of their proponents' skill at selling them.

Skill at pitching ideas is well worth acquiring. People who can sell ideas are generally more successful and happier than those who have never developed that skill. Not being able to market their ideas, not reaping the rewards of being creative, can make people feel impotent and ultimately cynical. Consider a few cases. In a California technology firm, a talented engineer is disgruntled because another engineer keeps getting funded and he doesn't, even though he has many more patents. A mid-level executive in a British financial firm recognizes a fellow walking past as a former employee and now his boss. A dedicated scientist in India complains that a colleague gets credit for an idea that was hers long before he talked it up and persuaded the company decision makers of its merits.

These individuals are all bright and energetic. They didn't begin their careers as whiners or cynics. In their own minds, they have done everything right—they have worked diligently, demonstrated creativity, and exhibited loyalty and dependability—yet others in their organizations have more money, status, and influence. They make the mistake, however, of assuming that having good ideas is enough. This point is crucial. What they fail to grasp is how vital advocacy is to success. Chuck Fox, appointed in 2009 to manage the environmental quality of the world's largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay, addresses this point. When advocating, he says, "you need to have the science completely on your side. You need to have a policy well thought out. But if you don't have the politics on your side, you lose."

The Idea-Advocacy Matrix

How do you get politics on your side when you have an idea to pitch? That is what this book is about. Figure 1 lays out the two key dimensions that we will be discussing. One dimension relates to the quality of an idea. Some notions are really dumb; others are brilliant. (Most ideas, of course, fall somewhere in the middle of the quality dimension.) In a perfect world, good ideas win out over bad ones. If someone proposes a brilliant notion, it is adopted (and its inventor is rewarded handsomely). And if someone pitches a stupid idea, it is dismissed out of hand. In the real world, good ideas frequently falter, alas, and bad ideas too often receive accolades. Vital to getting an innovation adopted is a second dimension—advocacy. If new ideas are to win the attention and support of decision makers, they must be touted in memorable and persuasive ways. Combining the dimensions of quality and advocacy yields four quadrants.

Quadrants 1 and 2: Poor Ideas

The first two quadrants relate to poor ideas that are advocated with varying degrees of skill.

Quadrant 1: Lucky Break. People sometimes have really bad ideas, and we are all relieved when they can't find buyers. Poor ideas that can't be sold fall into quadrant 1. It is a lucky break for all when someone can't sell a bad idea.

Quadrant 2: Wasted Investment. When someone succeeds in selling a bad idea, money, time, and energy are expended on what is a wasted investment. We have all seen it happen. Someone with great advocacy skills convinces decision makers to adopt an idea that won't sell, will be too costly, will create unnecessary work, or will cause harm. Think of the successful advocacy for the massive use of DDT in agriculture, which led to deaths of some animal species and increases in certain sorts of cancer, the introduction of nonnative species like kudzu or the Asian carp that wipe out native plants or animal populations, the recommendation in Europe that pregnant women combat morning sickness with Thalidomide, which resulted in the birth of many deformed children, the hype about not vaccinating children against fatal diseases such as whooping cough and measles, which has brought fatalities in its wake, British Petroleum's decision to use apparently cheap methods when constructing a deep ocean oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, which resulted in a disastrous oil spill. The list is endless.

Some flawed ideas revolve around specific products.

In 1972, experts persuaded the state of Florida to dump a million used tires into the waters off the coast. Goodyear even distributed pamphlets that said, "Worn out tires may be the best things that have happened to fishing since Izaak Walton." The author of The Compleat Angler would have been horrified by the results. Today Florida is engaged in a massive cleanup because the tires are ruining natural reefs and destroying fish life.

Remember "New Coke"? If its promoters within Coca-Cola hadn't been successful in pitching the idea inside the company, it never would have hit the shelves—and sat there unbought. Its failure is a legendary instance of a wasted investment.

Consultants and employees alike sold United Airlines on an automatic baggage-handling system at the Denver International Airport. After spending over a quarter of a billion dollars on the system, United decided, in 2005, that going automatic was a lousy idea and switched back to a traditional system.

In October 2007 the drug giant Pfizer took Exubera, an inhaled diabetes medication, off the market, taking an almost $3 billion loss. Why? Not because it didn't work and not because it was unsafe. Inhaling a medication simply didn't appeal to customers. People inside Pfizer had successfully advocated for an idea that turned out to be a flop.

Environmentalists in the Netherlands cheered when they discovered that a palm oil from Southeast Asia might replace petroleum as a biofuel. They successfully advocated for government subsidies for companies that produced generators to burn palm oil. But they soon discovered that their idea to help stop global warming and save the environment was counterproductive. Meeting the demand for palm oil had horrifying environmental consequences in Southeast Asia: millions of acres of rain forest were devastated, rich soil was destroyed through the overuse of chemical fertilizers, and huge amounts of carbon emissions were released from draining and then burning peatlands.

Other flawed ideas concern less tangible items. In one company, a seasoned advocate sold the idea of moving customer support offshore. As it turned out, customers wanted support personnel with an intuitive understanding of their individual issues. They mutinied against the company and migrated to competitors. In another firm, corporate communication managers touted moving their company's internal newsmagazine to the Web. The rationale was simple: it would save lots of money. Six months later, after an expensive switchover, company executives were stunned to discover that no one was reading the Web-based materials. Vital information was not reaching employees. So the company had to go back to the old print format, which people could take home, to lunch, to the restroom.

Most advocates don't know their ideas will backfire. Their notions seem great at first. Wilhelm Normann created what we now know as trans fats (bad for your body); Thomas Midgely invented and campaigned for Freon (bad for the atmosphere) as well as leaded gasoline (bad for the body). And even failed ideas can teach valuable lessons. Some argue that Coke gained a huge marketing advantage from the failure of New Coke (in selling "Classic Coke"). But such lessons are often quite costly, and many of the people involved in a botched project wish the failed idea had never seen the light of day.

Quadrants 3 and 4: Good Ideas

Let's look at the other two quadrants of figure 1, which show what happens with good ideas.

Quadrant 3: Lost Opportunity. If you have a genuinely great idea but can't get decision makers to adopt it, your idea becomes a lost opportunity. It is the ideas in this quadrant that led to the writing of this book. When good ideas languish, companies lose the prospect of making money, and creative employees leave or become cynical.

Business history is dotted with stories of opportunities lost because people within companies were unsuccessful in pitching their ideas. And those neglected opportunities were consequential. Competitors seized market share that could have been kept and increased if the good idea had been adopted. Take the minivan. Who came up with that idea—Chrysler? No. Ford engineers came up with that idea—they called it the van-wagon—but they couldn't convince management that customers would buy it. In fact, one executive who endorsed it, Hal Sperlich, was fired and went on to lead the effort at Chrysler, which then dominated the minivan world for many years. Ford lost out.


Excerpted from Advocacy by JOHN A. DALY Copyright © 2011 by John A. Daly. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


1 The Politics of Ideas....................1
2 Communicate Your Idea with Impact....................22
3 Frame Your Message....................44
4 Build Your Reputation, Create a Brand....................65
5 Form Alliances....................89
6 Your Idea Is Only as Good as Its Story....................119
7 Who's Making the Decision?....................139
8 Network!....................167
9 Timing Is Everything....................188
10 Create Persuasive Messages....................219
11 Make the Idea Matter....................241
12 Make a Memorable Case....................264
13 Demonstrate Confidence....................287
14 Steer Meetings Your Way....................303
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  • Posted April 9, 2013

    Advocacy by John Daly provides actionable methods to effectively

    Advocacy by John Daly provides actionable methods to effectively market ideas such that they are acted upon by the organization. Too often, worthwhile initiatives are pushed aside because they do not receive the critical level of support needed to move forward - merit and positive cost-benefit alone are not typically enough to `sell' an idea. Rather, reputation, relationships, timing, and persuasive messaging is needed to garner the attention and buy-in necessary to gain action on one's proposals.

    In Advocacy, John reveals a step-by-step framework of activities to build the critical mass intangibles needed to drive organizational action. These immediately implementable actions are supported by highly illustrative examples and tools/templates - everything needed to create and execute a plan to get action on one's next proposal.

    I like Advocacy because of its immediately implementable methods for effectively dealing with the organizational politics common to all businesses. While meritorious competition between initiatives tends to best serve the organization, reality dictates that politics, power struggles, and positioning often hinder the progression of top ideas in favor of less deserving ones. Thus, Advocacy provides the crucial real-world tools every leader should practice when putting forward proposals; thereby ensuring more equitable treatment of the body of ideas being considered.

    If I had one criticism of Advocacy it would be that John's examples are a bit too numerous and a bit too long. While I believe the illustrations could be more concise, it is usually better to have too much than too little detail and the extra here is not a significant distraction.

    Effectively dealing with office politics, power struggles, and positioning is a matter of life in today's business world. Advocacy`s positive promotional methods provide a comprehensive, actionable way of dealing with these influencers with the goal of benefiting the organization; making it a StrategyDriven recommended read.

    All the Best,
    Nathan Ives
    StrategyDriven Principal

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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