The Million Signature March

If politics makes strange bedfellows, S.B. 5 proved the point. Democrats, Republicans, independents and Tea Party members signed our petitions and then many hit the streets to help collect more signatures. Supporters were not just asking where to sign, but how to circulate.

The growing group of supporters who wanted to be involved rapidly evolved. Demand exceeded expectations and the new media team began to utilize the We Are Ohio website and social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter to communicate with the more than 10,000 volunteers collecting signatures. Just maintaining the signing locations became a full-time job for our web coordinator. We created Facebook event pages and tweeted signature gathering locations throughout the day. Reporters, meanwhile, were looking for local angles on S.B. 5. The goal now was to squeeze every drop of potential out of our earned media efforts, which were being generated thanks to the momentum of our signature efforts.

We placed regional communications directors in strategic locations throughout the state to help drive earned media coverage. We held at least three pressers a week in every region of the state. “Win Every Monday” was born. We started each week with eight earned media events—either positive pressers or attacks on our opponents to put them back on their heels. You couldn’t pick up a paper in any city or village and not see coverage of our events.

The local pressers focused on links between state budget cuts to local communities and S.B. 5, businesses who supported public and private employees to underscore the negative impact on Mom and Pop shops on Main Street, and petition signing events. At each presser we featured local public employees. The goal was to win Monday and not take our foot off the gas for the rest of the week. 

Our strategy on petition gathering was unique because our feeling was that no campaign in Ohio history had ever enjoyed the luxury of so many motivated and committed volunteer circulators. By law, we were required to collect 231,149 valid signatures. We also had to collect three percent of the vote total of the 2010 gubernatorial race in a minimum of 44 counties. Both requirements had to be met to achieve ballot placement.

We employed some outside-the-box tactics to gather signatures, including drive thru petition signings at county courthouses, parks, and labor halls. We also set up tables on county squares and at grocery stores in the smaller counties. We went to farmers markets and college campuses. Our data team tracked under-performing counties and we dispatched strike teams to those counties to encourage more signature collection.

Every Saturday, regional communications directors held news conferences at local signing events. They were able to generate earned media by publicizing the events with press advisories and media calendar placement. We were able to use the earned media prior to the event to get people to the location to sign and after the event for positive coverage of the campaign.

Demand was contagious. Our earned media communications team, along with the field and outreach teams drove people to the places to sign. We also had an events page on our website that we promoted via Facebook and Twitter, which allowed citizens to see where and when in their county they could sign.

Reporters began calling every day to see how many signatures had been collected. We decided to release the total numbers twice prior to delivery to the Ohio Secretary of State. We teased the release via Facebook and Twitter. We encouraged our followers to also sign up for our text messaging program by promising they would be the first to learn the actual number via text message from the campaign.

Knowing the total number was going to be historic, the “People’s Parade” became the motto and in only 10 days the large-scale event was planned and executed. On June 29th, at 5:30 a.m., volunteers began loading 1,507 boxes of signatures into a 48-foot long semi-truck that was decked out in We Are Ohio branding. Police cars escorted the semi to the launching site for the parade. We marched through the heart of the city, led by a string of volunteers bearing a “Million Signature March” banner. Drivers honked their horns in solidarity as we passed the statehouse on our way to delivering the largest number of signatures in Ohio history. 

We announced that an unprecedented and historic 1, 298,301 signatures had been collected from all 88 Ohio counties. A short time later, as we delivered box after box to the secretary of state’s 15th floor office, a structural engineer was called in to determine whether the building was safe.