Ask the Advocate – Under the Influence

How do you recruit high-profile local leaders/ influencers to raise the banner for bikes as transportation?

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How do you recruit high-profile local leaders/ influencers to raise the banner for bikes as transportation? – Richard Masoner of Santa Cruz, CA

High-profile leaders and influencers can certainly help raise awareness and attract media coverage for biking. There are several ways to connect them to the cause.

As always, relationships and connections are usually the best route. Building on the relationships you and your friends and family have, you might be amazed how quickly you can make a connection and ask for an introduction.

If you can’t find a relationship connection, find a way to connect through their needs and/ or values. Influencers and leaders love the opportunity to meet with others and learn what is happening in communities. Approach them as a partner who just doesn’t yet know how great it will be to work for better biking. Inviting them to join your organization for an event is a great avenue, or you can tweak or even customize an event for them – often called a “show me” event. Showcase a trail, invite them to a ribbon cutting, or hold a rally to call out support for a policy or proposed legislation.

Can’t get them to come to one of your events? Go to one of theirs! Influencers thrive in the public eye, and you should take every opportunity to let them get to know you. Sit or stand near the front, introduce yourself and congratulate them on their work, and then introduce the opportunity to do more of what they do with you and your cause.

Just as important as connecting with influencers is to figure out how and when they can make the biggest difference. In the Alliance for Biking & Walking’s Winning Campaigns Training, we teach advocates the importance of “power mapping.” Every campaign boils down to influencing the one person who can make the decision on whether or not something happens – they are your primary target. Your secondary targets, also vitally important, are the people who can influence the primary target.

Sometimes you need to take matters into your own hands and fly the banner yourself. The ultimate form of advocacy in some situations is to run for office and become the high-profile local leader who is calling the shots. Many advocates have stepped up and gotten elected for offices from local boards to congress. The ultimate story is the Chicago community organizer who became the US President, Barack Obama.

For examples and stories of inspiration, be sure to check out the People Powered Blog at

Jeffrey Miller is the president/ CEO of the Alliance for Biking & Walking, a coalition of nearly 200 state, provincial and local bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organizations across North America.

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