The SPN Communications Excellence Awards recognize and encourage outstanding achievements in marketing, communications, and media across the state think tank Network. Winners will receive a grant to pursue future projects, as well as a trophy to honor their effort and results.
SPN is proud to highlight these finalists and to share their success with the Network.
This award recognizes work that increases the positive awareness, reach, and influence of a state think tank’s brand. A powerful brand means an organization has a seat at the policy-making table. Lawmakers and media see the organization as a trusted resource for quality research and information, and citizens look to that organization for information and guidance on important policy issues.
Frontier Institute: Tackling Housing Affordability to Build Bipartisan Trust
Across the nation, Americans’ concerns over rising housing costs are growing, especially as demand for affordable housing outpaces supply. Enter the Frontier Institute and their Montana Zoning Atlas, an interactive tool that shows the financial impact of bad zoning policies and offers state-based solutions to bolster housing supply. Having established housing affordability as a policy priority, Frontier has used the Montana Zoning Atlas to reach across the political spectrum so that Montana can enact better housing policy at the state and local levels. By using messaging that resonates with left-leaning audiences to advance the proven free-market solutions that appeal to conservative policymakers, the Frontier Institute boosted its brand as a solution-oriented organization working on the issues Montanans care about.
Institute for Reforming Government: Leading a Public Relations Campaign to Drive State Tax Reform
The Institute for Reforming Government (IRG) embarked on a multifaceted public relations campaign to encourage Wisconsin to eliminate its state income tax. They supplied policymakers with research on the benefits of eliminating income tax, educated the public with messaging that tied the policy to citizens’ immediate concerns, and defended the proposal against critics by dispelling the many myths about eliminating income tax. Through their work, IRG not only moved Wisconsin toward reforms that are more likely than ever in 2023, but they also positioned their organization as the state’s go-to resource for policymakers looking to take on tax reform.
Pacific Research Institute: Exposing the Impact of Failed California Policies to Drive Solutions
What do research into environmental regulations and homeschooling have in common? They’re just two of the many ways that the Pacific Research Institute (PRI) worked to boost their brand in 2022. As California continues to lead the nation on bad policy, Pacific Research Institute is hard at work to demonstrate just how harmful these policies can be. One such policy is the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). PRI’s research into the CEQA Gauntlet revealed that this policy increases costs while delaying development on everything from housing and infrastructure to environmental restoration and school building projects. Similar research into the harms of bad California-style policies led PRI scholar Lance Izumi to publish a new book, The Homeschool Boom. This book details how the fundamental flaws in school systems became clear to parents whose kids were learning from home. Izumi explores the types of policies states can adopt to support the growing number of parents deciding to opt out of those systems all together. Both their CEQA research and The Homeschool Boom have earned PRI major media attention as a solution-oriented resource.
Palmetto Promise Institute: Building Rapport with Lawmakers Through a Creative Legislative Agenda
In past years, the Palmetto Promise Institute has unveiled an annual Freedom Agenda of 10-12 policy priorities for South Carolina’s legislative session. The product was good, and it led to several wins across the years. In 2022, Palmetto decided they wanted to shake things up. They opted for a “flood the zone” strategy where they released several smaller policy items in a more visually appealing format themed as the “Palmetto Playbook.” They coupled this series with a Legislative Halftime at the midpoint of the legislative session, where they engaged in a communications blitz to highlight which policies had and had not been adopted thus far. Palmetto then worked with the appropriate policymakers to get remaining policy reforms across the finish line. And the strategy paid off: An impressive number of policies passed, and legislators now view Palmetto as a resource on a broader range of policy issues.
This award recognizes organizations whose communications and marketing efforts have led to expanded audiences and increased capacity for educating diverse audiences in their states and giving them a voice in the state and local policy decisions that affect their lives.
Commonwealth Foundation: Bringing New Communities into the Education Choice Movement
Last year, the Commonwealth Foundation (CF) launched the Educational Opportunity Project to advance school choice in Pennsylvania. An important part of this project is communicating with new audiences about the growing need to given families and students better education options, especially in poorly performing school districts. Last year, CF hired David Hardy, cofounder of Boys’ Latin School of Philadelphia, as a Distinguished Fellow to rally support in the Philadelphia area for educational opportunity and involve the African-American community on school choice. Hardy’s work focuses on parents, educators, advocates, local community leaders, and city and state elected officials who care deeply about education quality but have not historically engaged in school choice issues. Because of CF’s targeted outreach, CF was able to activate their expanded audience of advocates to encourage lawmakers to pass the state’s Lifeline Scholarship Program along bipartisan lines. Even more importantly, CF ensured that more communities and families knew how to benefit from the state’s growing number of education choice programs.
Georgia Public Policy Foundation: Going on Tour to Talk with Communities about Housing Costs
In conjunction with a study demonstrating the effects of government regulations on housing prices, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation (GPPF) launched a speaking tour aimed at home builders and community members across the state. They hosted events in several towns where they spoke directly to the people being affected by the specific regulations in their area. Through the tour, GPPF built relationships with people in these communities and grew their reputation with local Chambers of Commerce, the Georgia Association of Realtors, the Home Builders Association and individual community chapters, and the policymakers who decide these regulations. By expanding their audience in this way, GPPF positioned themselves to help improve Georgia’s housing regulations in the coming years.
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii: Building a New Generation of Liberty Advocates
Grassroot Institute has a support base and audience that is predominantly older than 35. In a blue state filled with young people attracted to solutions that expand government, Grassroot realized a need to connect with younger audiences. Their solution? Meet those people where they are. Grassroot decided to create two different TikTok accounts: The first was an organization account, and the second was “Oahu Joe,” featuring the organization’s Executive Vice President Joe Kent. Grassroot used these accounts to talk about complicated policy issues and problems in easily digestible soundbites, building a following of thousands in the process. They’ve become so prominent that Joe now gets stopped in the street by young people looking to learn more. This tactic has helped Grassroot to expand their audience to reach younger generations who are now realizing the true costs of government regulations.
Mississippi Center for Public Policy: Connecting with Mississippi Through Personalized Messaging
One of the biggest challenges in public policy is connecting policy solutions to the everyday concerns of our fellow Americans. To win hearts and minds, Mississippi Center for Public Policy (MCPP) knew they would have to get personal. MCPP tested messages and different types of content to understand the best ways to connect with residents of their state. The findings enabled MCPP to tailor their work so that their policy work related more clearly to Mississippians’ concerns. Through this approach, MCPP’s audience grew, and this very audience later worked alongside MCPP to show support for a historic tax cut, convincing lawmakers to adopt the reform and making it possible for all Mississippians to keep more of what they earn.
This award recognizes storytelling work that improved an organization’s brand and contribute to positive policy change.
The Buckeye Institute: Defending Eric Flannery to Defeat Government Overreach
Working in partnership with Free the People, The Buckeye Institute told the story of Eric Flannery, a proud Navy veteran and owner of The Big Board. The District of Columbia shut down his neighborhood bar and grill after Mr. Flannery publicly refused to enforce the city’s specious COVID-19 mandates that demanded business owners become agents of the state and enforce a mask mandate and check the vaccination status of anyone entering a business establishment. Buckeye’s legal team understood that the goal of defending Mr. Flannery was not just to win in the courts, which they did several times against several agencies. It was to highlight his story so that similar government overreaches wouldn’t be tolerated in the future. By elevating his story to the media, The Big Board’s “David vs. Goliath” narrative became a rallying cry for many in the conservative and libertarian movement. It served as an example of how powerful storytelling can ensure that victories in a court of law are also victories in the court of public opinion.
Goldwater Institute: Teacher Blows the Whistle on Critical Race Theory in California Schools
The Goldwater Institute told the story of Kali Fontanilla, a high school English language teacher from California who exposed the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in her public school, including concrete evidence of the curriculum. She faced discrimination as a result and moved to Florida to continue practicing her profession. Kali, a black woman, strongly opposes CRT because she knows that it is contrary to America’s founding principles. By telling Kali’s story, Goldwater drew attention to the realities of CRT in schools and earned coverage in media outlets across the nation, which subsequently helped establish Goldwater’s Academic Transparency legislation as a national standard.
James Madison Institute: A Healthcare Hero’s Story Inspires Lawmakers to Empower More Providers
Taylor Ann Drew is a nurse practitioner and co-owner of Aquarian Clinic, a direct primary care clinic offering an alternative to traditional healthcare and insurance. Taylor moved to Florida to pursue her dream of opening up her own clinic. She had previously lived in California where she saw dozens of patients a day for 15 minutes, at best, and spent the rest of her time filing claims. Filing paperwork wasn’t what she got into medicine to do, so she moved to Florida, a state with far fewer onerous regulations on direct care providers, thanks in large part to the positive impact of policies The James Madison Institute (JMI) had recommended. JMI elevated Taylor’s story, prompting Florida’s Legislature to adopt even more significant reforms to empower direct care providers to do what they do best—take care of people.
Pelican Institute: Crushed Dreams: The Story of Licensing in Louisiana
Picking your audience and picking your hero are the two most important elements of powerful storytelling. Pelican Institute nailed both elements in their campaign to motivate Louisiana legislators to reduce the states’ restrictions on business owners. The two main heroes of their story were Daltonio Elaire, whose mobile barber business was shut down, and Jennifer Menard, who ran a mobile salon that was heavily restricted by a number of arbitrary rules. Both were business owners with relatable stories of being forced to jump through subjective government hoops. By targeting their powerful storytelling toward legislators and Pelican’s large audience of grassroots activists, Pelican motivated the legislature to pass significant occupational licensing reforms that make it far easier to run a business in the Bayou state.
Voting will be open until Friday, August 5, at 11:59 p.m. ET. Voting is open to the public. Individuals may only vote once. Voting is limited to one vote per category per person.
Winners will be announced at a special communications reception at SPN’s 30th Annual Meeting in Atlanta.
If you would like to suggest any updates to the summaries above, or have additional relevant information to share, please reach out to SPN’s Public Relations Associate, Gabriel Green, at firstname.lastname@example.org