The American Bail Coalition (ABC) is a 501(c)(6) trade association made up of national insurance companies with a mission to protect citizens’ right to bail. While the organization has been around in some form since 2001, it wasn’t until recently that it started being more active in the public affairs space. The organization’s deputy director, Christopher Blaylock, was a driving force behind that change.
“For a long time, the industry didn’t feel as though they needed public relations on a formal basis,” says Blaylock. Then, about ten years ago, attacks on the bail industry increased. Blaylock, whose family has been in the bail industry for most of his life, realized that many of those attacks were based on misconceptions and a broad misunderstanding of the industry.
“We were getting attacked legislatively. We were getting attacked in the media,” said Blaylock. “But now, with Quorum, we have an answer for it where we didn’t before.”
Standing Up a Grassroots Program
In 2014, New Jersey passed a sweeping overhaul of its criminal justice system, which effectively eliminated cash bail and collapsed the commercial bail industry in the state. At the time, Blaylock owned and operated a retail bail business in New Jersey. The change essentially put him and hundreds of others out of business overnight when the new laws went into effect in January on 2017.
“I felt helpless in answering the onslaught of misinformation at the time,” said Blaylock. In his view, the laws were changed based largely on misconceptions about the industry and activists’ intent on eliminating the right to bail in favor of a detention system that offers no path to freedom before trial or conviction. “In response, I started my own media campaign by myself, using my own money.”
Blaylock began his campaign by starting several Facebook groups and contracting with Salsa Labs, which allowed supporters to send letters to lawmakers. “It exploded,” said Blaylock. His homemade campaigns resulted in tens of thousands of emails to state legislators as well as national news and media coverage.
His work also attracted the attention of the American Bail Coalition, who asked for Blaylock’s support in running grassroots campaigns in several other states. According to Blaylock, it was the first time anyone in the industry organized a formal campaign to harness advocates to spread messages in state legislatures. After continued success, the executive director of ABC asked Blaylock to join the organization as a full-time employee.
Getting More Advanced
In his early days at ABC, advancing their public outreach strategy was about learning as they grew. According to Blaylock, many people think of the bail industry is this behemoth industry, but it is actually very small and largely made up of multi-generational family bail businesses who live and operate in the communities they serve. That meant that ABC needed to be smart about its resources — and as ABC’s strategies matured, so did its need for more advanced software solutions. A member of ABC’s board of directors pointed them towards Quorum. Blaylock highlighted three main benefits of Quorum that have helped them advance their grassroots efforts.
Quorum allows ABC to be lean and agile. “We can have a campaign up and running in an hour or less,” said Blaylock. Speed is essential to ABC because its campaigns are extremely time-sensitive. While some campaigns might run for a month or two, there is typically a critical 72-hour window when they need to drive emails, tweets, and calls to legislators.
“I think the beauty of Quorum is the flexibility to get a campaign up and running very quickly and start seeing results right away,” said Blaylock.
In addition to speed, ABC also needs efficiency — that means they must reach the right people at the right time. One of the tactics that Blaylock uses is advanced geo-targeting on social media to drive people to micro-campaigns that are highly specific to that area. Blaylock uses geographic data to let people know what is happening in their neighborhood and invites them to make their voices heard.
For example, Blaylock referenced one micro-campaign he launched in Connecticut where precision targeting was key and the campaign targets were uploaded for accuracy of delivery. He’s noticed campaigns are significantly more effective when brought down to this level of precision.
Blaylock also mentioned the importance of measurable results in Quorum that he doesn’t get elsewhere. “There are tangibles in place where you can see results,” said Blaylock. “We’ve hired other marketing firms and partnered with others in the industry,” explained Blaylock. “And one of the things I’ve noticed about their campaigns versus our campaigns is we have deliverables that we can produce showing that it works.”
Blaylock and team can show open rates, impressions, and other measurable feedback, whereas other firms rely on other non-tangible metrics. “That’s been a big deal for us,” said Blaylock. “We can produce that information and relay that to our board of directors and say, ‘these are actions that folks are actually taking on their own.’”
Of course, a campaign is only as good as its results — and Blaylock and his team have seen results in several states. One significant achievement that ABC can point to is a referendum on S.B. 10 in California, which prevented the bill from going into effect. “We used Quorum to get the message out to vote “no” on the referendum and to let local lawmakers know why they were voting no,” said Blaylock.
But in addition to favorable results in state capitols, Blaylock also likes to point to stories he’s heard from lobbyists and officials. For instance, he had one team member who was stopped by a fellow state lobbyist and asked, “Who are you using for your constituent engagement? Because all I keep hearing about are this influx of emails about the bail reform bill.”
Blaylock referenced a similar story in California where lawmakers reached out and asked them to stop their campaign because their vote was secured and they could no longer use their email because of the sheer volume of constituent messages they’d received.
Advice For Others
To close our conversation, we asked Blaylock for specific advice for other organizations trying to set up a new grassroots program. His main advice was to be bold and engage. “Quorum is honestly just a platform for you to give others the tools necessary to voice what they’re feeling,” said Blaylock. “So, if you don’t build the campaign and don’t promote the campaign, you’re never going to give them the opportunity to engage in the campaign.”
From a more tactical perspective, Blaylock suggests that organizations use brief messaging and let the constituents decide if and how they are going to engage with the campaign. He also recommends highly targeted campaigns based on geographics and demographics.
Finally, he recommends reaching out to Quorum when you have questions.” I’ve always had a great experience with Quorum support and feel as though we really have a partner who is interested in our success,” said Blaylock. “They’ll guide you through everything.”