Politicians, media pundits and economic analysts all like to talk about the importance of small business to the American economy. Yet when it comes to quoting the small business perspective on policy issues or legislative developments, most media inside the beltway depend on the same reliable sources for every story. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) are two of the most commonly cited examples. The problem is that these organizations with their multi-million dollar annual operating budgets actually represent a small fraction of the nation’s economy. The Chamber’s policy is guided by a board of directors that includes CEOs of major employers like Fortune 50 drug, telecom and transportation companies, while members of NFIB may have as many as 500 employees and still be considered “small.”

In fact, companies with more than 20 employees represent just 2.4 percent of the nation’s business entities. Most businesses in the U.S. are small. And more than 77 percent of small businesses are entrepreneurial enterprises owned and operated by an individual who is, by definition, self-employed.

When it comes to crafting policy to help small businesses thrive, the self-employed have long wondered if anyone in Washington has ever actually met a small business owner. Conventional wisdom may have once held that what’s good for General Motors is good for the country, but today’s economic growth is in fact being driven by an incredibly diverse business demographic that includes operations being run from home offices, work trucks and storefronts: the self-employed.

The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) is the nation’s leading resource for the self-employed and micro-businesses (those with fewer than 10 employees). It was founded in 1981 primarily to provide day-to-day support, benefits and consolidated buying power that traditionally had been available only to large corporations. More recently NASE has become an advocate for its members in the policy arena, since a new tax rule or health care mandate can have a huge impact on a very small business.

Statement of Objectives: To capture attention for a smaller organization in a crowded marketplace, we determined that we needed to develop a focused, compelling campaign centered on three key objectives:
• Create a unifying identity for members of NASE that transcends the unique characteristics of individual self-employed businesses;
• Challenge preconceived notions (or complete lack of awareness) about the self-employed business demographic among key audiences; and
• Lay the groundwork for the voice of self-employed businesses to become a meaningful component of the policy debate.

Research/Planning Process: Widmeyer relies on research to inform messaging and campaign strategy, and this campaign was no exception. Working with NASE, we reviewed their annual membership survey and the results of monthly polls to identify the policy issues most important to self-employed business owners. This information was used to guide our messaging for the campaign. In addition, we worked closely with the client to identify members who would be interested in participating in photo shoots and having their personal stories incorporated into campaign messaging.

Strategic Approach: One of the challenges faced by NASE in its role as an advocate is a near-universal lack of understanding about the self-employed business demographic. Tired of being dismissed as representing “hobby” businesses or freelance workers between permanent, “real” jobs, NASE decided to take on one of the most common misperceptions facing the self-employed: that being your own boss amounts to sitting at home in your pajamas and “bunny” slippers. Without the same scale of resources available to larger organizations like the U.S. Chamber and NFIB, NASE had to be really creative. NASE worked with Widmeyer Communications and The Campaign Workshop to develop Not So Bunny, a digital advertising campaign intended to create awareness for the ways in which the self-employed make serious contributions to the economy.

• Reaching the Target Audience
The target audiences of the Not So Bunny campaign included policymakers, lawmakers and their staff, Washington opinion leaders, targeted policy media and NASE members and potential members. To reach these audiences with a modest budget, the Widmeyer team developed a targeted digital media buy that included a mix of inside-the-beltway publications, Facebook and Google Content.

Campaign Execution: The team created digital banner ads using photographs depicting self-employed people at work wearing bunny slippers. The ad rotated through three screens and linked to a campaign landing page (http://www.nase.org/Campaigns/NotSoBunny.aspx) on NASE’s website.

The landing page included additional photos of NASE members and linked to key advocacy statements, earned media results and information about joining the organization.

When the campaign went live on June 4 just after Congress returned from the Memorial Day Recess, Widmeyer promoted the campaign through a press release, a HuffingtonPost blog post with NASE’s byline and an extensive social media script that included tweets, Facebook posts and LinkedIn discussions using NASE’s existing social media platform. NASE members were asked to send in photos of themselves at work in their bunny slippers, which were posted on NASE’s Facebook feed and Flickr page.

Even though the ad buy is complete, NASE continues to leverage the Not So Bunny campaign on its website and through direct engagement with its members. Widmeyer has recommended that NASE compile photos of its members from all 50 states into a book with state-specific statistics about the economic contributions of the self-employed and send it to every Member of Congress.

Summary of Results: The most gratifying result of the Not So Bunny campaign to Widmeyer has been a very happy client. And NASE’s satisfaction is backed up by results.

The campaign delivered over 22 million impressions over a four-week period, achieving a higher than usual level of visibility for campaigns of this type on a very cost-effective basis. Facebook was the most successful means of reaching our target audience, with a cost per click of $0.93 and over 3,000 referrals to the NASE website.

Despite our modest budget, we were able to obtain placement on a large number of premium websites through the Google Content network, including TalkingPointsMemo, NYTimes.com and local newspaper sites for a fraction of the cost that we would have spent had we negotiated directly with those sites. This helped us maximize our audience in the expensive DC market, especially considering the substantial cost of this inventory at the time (at the height of the health care reform debate).

Finally, the groundwork laid by the Not So Bunny campaign has helped Widmeyer gain traction in its ongoing effort to help NASE establish a voice for the self-employed business perspective in the policy debate. Since the campaign ran, we have successfully secured appearances for NASE’s spokeswoman on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal and MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan Show, placed op-eds from NASE in Roll Call, The Hill’s CongressBlog and Washington Post’s Capital Business, and connected NASE with reporters who have quoted NASE’s policy positions in CQ Politics, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.