Marketing Atheism

The second set of breakout sessions at the Midwest Freethought Conference included another practical session. (Okay, the session on secular parenting was practical, but not for me.) In this case, it was Adam Brown giving some background on marketing with atheist groups in mind. Here are the results from my live-tweeting of the session.

  • Adam Brown talking about how to advertise atheism in general and your group/events in particular.
  • Not comfortable about “perception is everything” slogan for this session, but it is the point of marketing.
  • Churches market. It reaches people. If we don’t market, we’ll miss reaching some people.
  • Atheists have “dick” reputation. Need to increase visibility of things other than (funny) blasphemy.
  • Lots of atheists in the closet. Getting them out helps.
  • If we don’t market, fellow atheists may not know that support is out there and available to them.
  • Who is our audience?
  • What do we want them to do?
  • How do we motivate them to do it?
  • Where can they see our message?
  • When do we deliver our message?
  • Shotgun (untargeted) marketing can reach a large audience quickly or a few people hidden (closeted) in a group.
  • Special event marketing can attract a broad audience. A creative event can be fun and carry a message.
  • Documenting what you do as a group is part of your marketing. Do a charity event? Put a description and pictures on your site.
  • American Atheist “You know it’s a myth” billboards being used as good examples of marketing.


  • “We have nothing to sell based on fear, except fear of wasting your life.” Humor is a better tactic.
  • Getting attention is good, but how do you want people to engage? What do you want them to do?
  • Atheism is growing. Makes a bandwagon appeal possible if your group is comfortable with it.
  • Don’t be boring. Don’t underestimate the power of good visual design.
  • “Come hang out with us because we’re so much smarter than you” just not a good marketing strategy.
  • Lots of funny in-group appeals not suitable for marketing. Save them for your Facebook friends.
  • Do not shy away from the term “atheist”. We have different emphases, but this is our uniting, umbrella term.
  • If you want your press release paid attention to, cultivate relationships with reporters. Have snappy headlines.

Amanda Knief on How to Lobby

Sometimes you meet someone whose work you’re a fan of, and it turns out they’re a fan too. That was how meeting Amanda Knief went at the Midwest Freethought Conference this weekend. There was squee. It was good.

And then Amanda, who is the former Government Relations Manager and lobbyist at the Secular Coalition of America and current Administrative Director and In-House Counsel for American Atheists, gave her talk and blew me away. I’ve been to informative talks before. I’ve been to dense talks before. This one was neutron star dense. I lost some of it in my live-tweeting, and there are still nearly 700 words of good advice below. Read it all. Use some of it.

  • Now up, @mzdameanor to explain how to be a secular lobbyist.
  • “Politically active” does not mean yelling at TV commercials.
  • Local officials are largely part-time. Need lobbyists to educate them on relevant issues.
  • Read your local paper. Read the letters to the editor. Contribute by responding to the wackos with something more intelligent.
  • Use opposition as an opportunity to raise the profile of your groups, events, and issues.
  • If you used to be religious or have religious family, you speak the language of your representatives.
  • Consider how your issues more broadly affect others in your area.
  • We focus on elected officials, but we should not neglect our appointed, regulatory officials. What are they doing?
  • Local and state officials are accessible. Meet with them. Many national officials come out of this group.
  • If atheists go to school board meetings, they can have more control over keeping curriculum secular.
  • Zoning commissions control where (tax-free) churches can be located. You can have influence there.
  • “I’m not going to ask if you’re conservative. It’s okay. We’re all friends here. Asking about libertarians just starts arguments.”
  • We can’t neglect those who disagree with us. We can still have influence there.
  • Sometimes you want to share a personal story. Sometimes you want a show of numbers. Decide what you’re trying to do.
  • Lobbying groups are used to working together. They’re not used to us asking to work with them. Fix that.
  • Depending on where you are, you may meet directly with an official, or you may meet a staffer.
  • Keep track of whom you talked to when for ease of follow-up and tracking how long you’ve been asking for a meeting.
  • Be precise and honest about the issues you want to talk about so you’re matched up with the person who can help you.
  • Be prepared to identify everyone in your group for the meeting and their location. Prepare to be Googled.
  • Be nice to *everyone* you meet with. They’re all important.
  • Do your research. Be prepared to summarize *both* sides of your issue.
  • Research your public officials. Check their voting records. Get their newsletters. Find out where they’re coming from.
  • Prepare materials to meet behind. Give background on your group and your issue. Give it to them only at the end of the meeting.
  • Role play your meeting. Do both good and hostile meetings.
  • Let everyone who wants to have a speaking role. Do not let one person in a group dominate.
  • Dress professionally. Show the people you’re meeting with that you’re taking them and the meeting seriously.
  • Don’t ever assume that the gatekeeper at your meeting is unimportant.
  • Have a personal lobbying business card (name, contact info, issue). Don’t identify your group on it unless it is a lobbying organization.
  • Find something to thank the person you’re meeting for to leave a positive impression. Make a personal connection.
  • Ask for the official’s position. Ask them for the action you want. Include it in the leave-behind materials.
  • If @jteberhard can maintain his composure while meeting obstructive officials, you can too. Don’t end up in handcuffs.
  • If you end up with someone who is hostile, you can ask for another meeting with someone who can help you better.
  • Do *not* talk over your meeting until you’re out of the building and alone. Be discreet.
  • Always follow up with a thank you.
  • Find a matter of common importance to use to introduce yourself to a local official. Meet with them on that first.
  • Always emphasize why your issue is important to your official.
  • Want to meet and network with people who will be making decisions? Work/volunteer on political campaigns.
  • If you ask a question at a political event, identify yourself as an atheist when you do.
  • Have a barbeque with friends as a fundraiser for a local candidate. You’re an instant major contributor.
  • A defeatist attitude has never accomplished anything.
  • States have changed election laws this year. Volunteer to help people sort it out and get out the vote.
  • RT @abiodork: At @mzdameanor stresses importance of political involvement “Feel jaded about politics? Suck it up – start volunteering.”
  • If you make the anti-church argument to a zoning board, focus on the practical issues: economic, traffic, etc.