My day at Advocate! 2019



I've been to conferences where I've (a) learned nothing or (b) understood nothing.

Oftentimes, it's a gathering on a subject something I'm in out of my depth with or a set of sessions where the calibre of presenters left... a lot to be desired of.

This wasn't the case with Advocate! 2019. It was a thoroughly well-curated and informative conference, with speakers all across the non-profit and private spheres.


In each session I learned something new.

As a person who has been neck-deep in digital for the last ten years, that's saying something.

And, as a person who has been heavily involved in the politics of Calgary for the last ten years, I got to meet up with dozens of colleagues from campaigns from each part of the political spectrum. And I met new people from all corners of the province and a few folks who flew in from other parts of Canada to participate in the day's activities.

Fundamentally, the conference's themes could be broken down into three large sections.

Firstly, that digital communications has been interwoven with on the ground, person to person communication. There is no place for a marketing strategy or communications effort, be it non-profit or for-profit, to not have a high degree of integration with digital tools.

We heard examples of young organizers who were using texting software and digital tools in combination with door to door and boothing on campus to get their message out. We also heard from one of Obama's digital organizers (Josh Hendler, from purpose.com) and how their team wedded digital with their outreach and the trends heading into the 2020 election south of the border.

I took prodigious notes and will be implementing them on my next adventure.

Secondly, speakers like Mike Morrison (of Mike's Bloggity fame) told stories about how to interweave storytelling in with our businesses and that it is good for your company, business, and community to speak out and be advocates in our communities. Not only can businesses and non-profits thrive with sharing their stories, and twinning their efforts with being in the community advocating for their communities, there is a direct call to action for them to do so.

Over the last couple of years I have been filming shorts with a local politician - sharing that exact same message. You can watch the 60-episode series here. It was great to see such efforts affirmed in the way that Mike went through his journey of advocacy.

One of the highlights of my day at Advocate 2019 was listening to Usman Tahir Jutt, a restaurateur of over a dozen establishments, share his journey of advocacy. People gather around meals and breaking bread together - and that's where his McDonald franchises come in to play.

He told a story about rural crime and how he offered his Strathmore McDonalds for coffee meetups for the community and the local police to come together. Afterwards, I googled him and found this exceptional podcast on his work at McDonalds speaking to his efforts in the community, and it's definitely worth a listen. He spoke on how he viewed his restaurants not only as entrepreneurship, but also community service.

It's worth a listen.



Finally, a consistent thread throughout the day was on how to break through the noise -- of customers no longer looking at print ads, of there being an overwhelming flood of posts on people's digital platforms, and the struggle to break through to connect with people. And the omnipresent negativity one can find, and how it's incentivized on platforms that we are all on.

In each case overcoming these challenges was through telling a binding narrative and a shared journey. It wasn't just what folks saw online or through digital tools, but interweaving a personal, heartfelt connection to the people.

That meant being an advocate.

In summary, I enjoyed the day I spent at Advocate! 2019, and I very much look forward to the 2020 version next year. If you're interested in attending next year, I highly suggest subscribing to updates on their conference website -- www.advocateconf.ca -- to get the latest news on the whens and the whos of the event.