State Policy Network
Announcing the Finalists for the 2024 Communications Excellence Awards   

State Policy Network is pleased to announce the finalists for the 2024 Communications Excellence Awards. SPN’s 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. 

The awards celebrate achievements in three categories: Bold Brand Boost, Powerful Storytelling, and Expanding Your Audience.  

Learn more about the finalists below. Voting is now open, and winners will be celebrated at a special reception at SPN Annual Meeting in Phoenix. 

Bold Brand Boost Award 

This award recognizes the influence of a powerful brand boost. 

Beacon Center of Tennessee: Beacon Poll 

The Beacon Center started a quarterly poll to increase name ID and improve brand recognition in Tennessee and nationally. By putting out a transparent, well-regarded, and accurate poll conducted by a nationally recognized non-partisan pollster (that actually had a slight lean towards Democrats), Beacon was able to get significant credibility from everyone ranging from mainstream media to the most liberal publications. While Beacon asked fun pop culture and political questions to earn media coverage, it also allowed the issues Beacon cares about to get coverage in the same articles.  

In addition to the significant media coverage Beacon received nationwide, which improved their brand and increased their name ID, Beacon was also able to elevate their issues, specifically school choice.

Additionally, their credibility has really gone up with people who would not normally agree with them. Before this project, Beacon would have been described as an effective right-of-center Tennessee think tank with limited national reach. Now, Beacon would be considered an effective state think tank with substantial national reach and credibility from moderate, conservative, and liberal media outlets as well as citizens. 

Center of the American Experiment: “Day at the Fair” 2023 

On August 26, 2023, American Experiment staff headed to the “great Minnesota get-together” for a day at the State Fair. Bringing their brand and an issue-specific message to the Minnesota State Fair allowed them to reach people in a unique way, both in quantity and quality. This project enabled American Experiment to increase their name recognition and raise awareness on their key policy priorities.

They brought a bright blue tent branded with their name, logo, website, and social media links, plus more than 3,000 American Experiment-branded t-shirts, pens, sunglasses, tote bags, bottle openers, phone fans, and (the fan-favorite!) corncob holders. They left the fair eight hours later with zero items of merch left over. American Experiment also raffled off a $250 gift card to be used for new car tabs, highlighting the fact that the Minnesota Legislature just raised this very unpopular tax. 

One of Minnesota’s biggest challenges politically is citizen apathy and disinterest. But car tabs affect nearly everyone — and the legislature’s car tab fee hike was hugely unpopular. By tying their $250 giveaway to such a widely accessible issue, American Experiment cemented in people’s minds the facts that 1) the legislature raised the price of car tabs that year, and 2) American Experiment opposed it. The car tab raffle garnered hundreds of new email signups for their owned audience, and likely resulted in tens of thousands of “impressions” on American Experiment’s name, website, and logo.

Pelican Institute for Public Policy: Our Louisiana Comeback 

Ahead of a 2023 election cycle in Louisiana that would see voters make choices in open races for Governor (and several other statewide elected positions), about a third of the state legislative seats, and a majority of seats on our state board of education, the Pelican Institute aimed to define the terms of the debate.  

The Pelican team executed more than 50 in-person speaking events (in nearly every Louisiana parish), a statewide digital, radio, and streaming campaign, and direct outreach to every candidate for office to ensure big, transformational ideas (like income tax elimination, universal school choice, and constitutional reform) were at the top of Louisianans’ priority issues lists and the Pelican Institute was seen as the go-to resource for those who wanted to see free-market change happen. The digital campaign included several ads and videos, including “A Legacy of Leaving,” which told the stories of Louisiana families separated due to the pursuit of better opportunities in other states. 

The campaign reached 800,000 unique voters in every Louisiana parish, consisted of 52 in-person speaking events in every corner of the state, influenced campaign platforms for a number of statewide and legislative candidates, and moved the needle of the debate. 

Powerful Storytelling Award 

This award recognizes the storytelling that truly impacted an organization’s brand image and policy impact. 

Empower Mississippi: Kensley Martin’s Success Beyond the Arena 

Empower Mississippi told the story of Kensley Martin, a Mississippi girl who struggled in the classroom of her local public school to which she was assigned. School was a terrifying place where she was embarrassed daily because she did not learn the same way as her classmates and, therefore, she fell behind. Once Kensley finally received the ESA, the family was able to enroll her in that school where she began to gain confidence knowing that she was capable of learning. Today, Kensley is thriving in the 10th grade and because of her self-confidence she taught herself to barrel race which is where she discovered her passion. Empower Mississippi highlighted Kensley’s story and demonstrated how the program changes lives and gives kids the confidence to pursue their dreams and interests. In addition, Empower released a highlight reel from Empower Mississippi’s Rodeo Night where they hosted Kensley and her family. 

The story helped to continue the shaping of the Empower Mississippi brand because it demonstrated their ability to meet Mississippians in their everyday lives and discuss the policies that they are working to change and how they impact them. 

Opportunity Arkansas: Faces of Freedom  

As Arkansas’s Education Freedom Program launched this past school year, it became apparent that Arkansans (the general public and policymakers alike) needed a deeper understanding of the life-changing power that education freedom brings to families. And to make this power come to life, Opportunity Arkansas knew they needed to find ‘faces’ of Arkansans who were experiencing this program firsthand and tell their stories. 

Alison Cunningham’s daughter, Eliza, was one of nearly 5,000 kids that participated in the first year of the EFA program. Her education journey had previously been plagued by learning, behavioral, and self-esteem challenges. But Christmas time—just one semester in—Eliza had made a 180-degree turn, which her mom Alison attributes almost entirely to the EFA program. 

Opportunity Arkansas shared Eliza’s life-changing story across the state, and her story has changed much of the perception surrounding EFAs in Arkansas. The Cunningham family, as well as OA’s broader Faces of Freedom campaign helped shape conversation around the issue and cemented Opportunity Arkansas to legislators and the public as an organization dedicated to education freedom in Arkansas. 

Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty: Standing up for Wisconsin Small Businesses 

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) shared the story of Jean Bahn, a Wisconsin farmer and Wedding Barn owner whose livelihood is at risk because of a new law pursued by the entrenched alcohol interest groups in Wisconsin. Jean is a grandma who farms part time and runs the “wedding barn” part time as well. 

In May of 2024, WILL filed a lawsuit against the Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) on behalf of two Wisconsin Wedding Barns, including Jean’s. The lawsuit is seeking to mitigate the harmful impacts of Wisconsin Act 73. 

The rollout changed the narrative and made clear that there are real people who will face real harms because of this special-interest driven legislation. WILL received a lot of earned media coverage all around Wisconsin from traditional talk radio to the state’s largest country music station—everyone was talking about how ridiculous it is for the state to do what they did here. This rollout personalized these issues, and helped put WILL in the best position to litigate these issues going forward. 

Expanding Your Audience Award 

This award recognizes the organizations whose efforts led to expanded audiences and increased capacity and infrastructure for educating and mobilizing their states. 

Commonwealth Foundation: Partnership with Black Pastors United for Education 

To advance educational freedom in Pennsylvania, Commonwealth Foundation partnered with Black Pastors United for Education (BPUE), a network of like-minded pastors and congregations that work to educate under-resourced children in non-traditional learning spaces. 

Working with BPUE enabled Commonwealth to bring the educational freedom message to communities that would benefit the most from school choice. BPUE’s founder and CEO, Pastor Joshua C. Robertson, has been an incredible ally in support of Lifeline Scholarships and other educational freedom policies, like cyber charter schools. Commonwealth Foundation has provided strategic media guidance and support to BPUE, leading to a steady drumbeat of coverage driving a positive narrative on the need for school choice. 

Grassroot Institute of Hawaii: Change Hawaii’s Political Culture by Popularizing Liberty 

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii has a goal of becoming a household name in Hawaii, as gauged by regularly reaching at least half a million of the state’s 1.4 million residents each month. This would normalize the values of individual liberty, economic freedom and limited, accountable government in the state, especially among Hawaii’s younger generations, and make it easier to propose policies that currently are considered to be impractical or outside the Overton Window. 

So far during 2024, Grassroot has been having its greatest social media success on Instagram. The platform is very popular in Hawaii, with about 72% of residents using it, according to a 2021 poll by Anthology Group commissioned by Grassroot. Previously, Grassroot was enjoying great success with short videos on TikTok, which reached viral heights in 2023 with the hiring of a recent college graduate as marketing associate to run its social media and marketing efforts. 

With the new marketing associate on board, Grassroot saw its social media views increase from 3.8 million in 2022 to 13.9 million in 2023. In the first four months of 2024, they reached 14.3 million views. Meanwhile, the Grassroot Institute’s Instagram following has grown from 4,700 in January 2023 to 26,900 as of June 2024. 

Palmetto Promise Institute: Reaching New Audiences to Drive ESA Applications in South Carolina 

After seven years of hard legislative work, Palmetto Promise Institute led South Carolina’s first Education Savings Account program to the finish line. But Palmetto needed to get the word out about this program, which meant reaching South Carolinians outside their normal sphere of influence.

The intended beneficiaries of this program were among the most vulnerable in their state. These families are often those with the least access to information, knowledge and technology necessary to take advantage of this opportunity that they desperately need. So, the Institute undertook an extensive outreach campaign to expand their reach to South Carolina’s low-income families and encourage applications to the Education Scholarship Trust Fund (ESTF) program. They built a one-stop-shop website for information about ESTF——where they answered FAQs and provided resources on ESAs.

Using a curated audience list targeted based on income level, having school-aged children, and proximity to private schools (roughly 100,000 households), Palmetto reached out through a variety of methods: digital ads, Facebook ads, mail pieces, emails, and text messages. Each household in that database received information from Palmetto through several different avenues. Palmetto targeted South Carolina’s African American community, Hispanic community, faith community, and single mothers.  

The final number of ESTF applications far exceeded their expectations. For only 5,000 scholarship spots, 7,907 applications were submitted within just 60 days. These applicants represented every county in the state, and a decisive majority self-identified as racial minorities, showing that Palmetto’s campaigns to racial minority groups in particular were successful. 

Voting Information

Voting will be open until Tuesday, July 9 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.

Please click here to vote.

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 Media Relations Manager, Camille Walsh, at

Organization: State Policy Network