Jon Camp is Vice President, Grassroots of The Humane League (THL). He spoke with ACE Research Associate Kieran Greig on July 31, 2017. This is a summary of their conversation.
Location of Leafleting
Camp believes that, because of the combination of Vegan Outreach’s and The Humane League’s (THL’s) work, approximately 70% of leafleting is done at colleges, 25% at concerts, and 5% at Pride and political rallies. THL has recently been increasingly focused on the Warped Tour and only targeting the bigger colleges, since Vegan Outreach already targets colleges.
Overall, THL’s targeted demographic is predominantly young. Camp sees college students as ideal leafleting recipients for a number of reasons. For instance, they are less likely to be on their way somewhere, they sometimes are on lunch breaks, and they are more likely to be sober than those at concerts or Pride. Furthermore, the time of the day that college students can be reached means, Camp believes, that they are more actively engaging in ideas.
Camp reports that THL and Vegan Outreach both target specific concerts—mostly at Warped Tour. Part of the rationale for targeting these concerts is that attendees are alternative music listeners; he sees this as making them more likely to question the status quo than attendees at concerts for other genres of music. He sees concerts as worth targeting predominantly for the quantity of potential leaflet recipients. He notes the audience at Pride might have lower average engagement with each leaflet handed out due to the celebratory atmosphere, however the individuals there seem more likely than average to be socially progressive and to question the status quo.
Camp believes that Pride festivals and targeted concerts provide equally good audiences for leafleting. He estimated that, while colleges had been targeted by Vegan Outreach for 14 years (and by Jack Norris personally since the mid-nineties), concerts and Pride have been targeted for around ten years.
Vegan Outreach returns to Ivy League schools and state schools every semester. If they are near a college, they try to target it twice a semester: once on a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday and once on a Tuesday or Thursday, since these days may have different students attending class.
Camp sees the start of the semester as the ideal time to leaflet colleges, especially the first day or week of the new year, since students “haven’t found their defence mechanism for saying no yet.” In contrast, the worst time is finals week. Camp thinks the warm months are better than the cold months; in cold weather, students were less likely to reach out their hands to accept leaflets. Nevertheless, Camp notes that Vegan Outreach leaflets all year round. He sees concert and Pride leafleting as being more seasonal and focused on summer, whereas college leafleting is fairly good all year round minus the summer session and winter breaks, as there are far fewer students on campus then.
Camp believes, based on his experience with Vegan Outreach, that the best times for leafleting at colleges is from about 7:45 AM (shortly before 8:00 AM class changes) to about 2:00 or 3:00 PM. His experience with THL has suggested that leafleting has diminishing returns after three hours, since the first three hours reach a larger number of new individuals.
Regardless of location, THL uses the same approach to leafleting: being “assertive but friendly,” which Camp sees as the ideal technique. It involves coming across as confident rather than apologetic in manner. He has found that short statements like “help animals” work better than questions or statements which imply doubt like “info to help animals.” The ideal approach also involves leaning in to the recipient, placing the leaflet directly in their hands, and minimizing the gap between the leafleter and the recipient.
Camp also sees smiling as beneficial, so that other potential recipients see that they will receive gratitude for accepting a leaflet. Even if a leaflet is rejected, Camp thinks it’s helpful to present the interaction as positive to onlookers, for example by saying “have a good day,” rather than allowing an air of rejection. Similarly, if leaflet recipients spend a few minutes chatting with the leafleters, genuinely listening to them, conceding good points that they make, and being open-minded, this helps maintain a positive atmosphere.
Camp believes that more outgoing, extroverted individuals make better leafleters, in general. He does note, however, that introverted leafleters (such as himself) can still do what is needed and that sincerity can sometimes resonate more than extroversion with certain leafleting recipients.
Camp believes that training for basic leafleting skills only takes “a minute or two” and experience makes very little difference, especially compared to personality in terms of handing out a high quantity of leaflets. He does, however, note that “fine-tuning” over years can still improve technique and can build stamina for long leafleting sessions. Experience and knowledge are helpful for answering questions that recipients might have.
Camp sees leafleting as a good entry-level and “foot in the door” effective activism activity for people to take part in. At Vegan Outreach, he estimates about 50% of leafleters “burn out within a year or two,” while others keep going for longer.
How Many Leaflets to Distribute
Camp believes that the number of leaflets that should be given out varies by college size. Vegan Outreach aims to target 10% of a college’s full-time students in a day. At larger campuses, the goal is often to reach as many students as possible. At Ivy League colleges, a smaller number of leaflets might still be worthwhile, since the students might wield great influence later in life. Camp says that Vegan Outreach is also keen to target small campuses which have not been leafleted in a while, to provoke conversation within these smaller communities.
Mercy For Animals doesn’t do college leafleting and to Camp’s knowledge, PETA doesn’t leaflet at colleges. FARM’s Ten Billion Lives tour does occasionally reach campuses, and Camp sees himself as having quite good communication with them about where they will be. Once, Vegan Outreach and FARM leafleted a college simultaneously, which encouraged them to communicate with each other better. Camp does see advocacy groups as open to communicating well with one another, and he can’t recall any instances of an invitation to coordinate being rejected.
Coordination is sometimes required between Vegan Outreach and THL, as well as different departments within THL (such as campus coordinators and grassroots directors). Camp believes that Vegan Outreach and THL have a track record of very good coordination. If THL recently moved to a city, Vegan Outreach would not leaflet in that city. THL would not leaflet, or would at least leaflet less, in areas where they knew Vegan Outreach would be. THL’s grassroots directors might even ask Vegan Outreach for recommendations on areas to target in one- or two-week leafleting tours that otherwise Vegan Outreach wouldn’t target. Camp personally communicates with Vic Sjodin to coordinate leafleting. He believes that both organizations see coordination as essential for avoiding duplicating each other’s efforts.
Camp reports that, for one semester, there could have been better coordination between THL’s campus coordinators and grassroots directors, who were not aware of each other’s activities. However, this problem was quickly recognized and rectified; every campus coordinator is introduced immediately to their local grassroots director and there are now more meetings for interdepartmental communication between the organizing chapters—the grassroots chapter, the campus chapter, and the national volunteer coordinator. This has now been the case for a number of years.
Format of the Leaflets
Most leaflets have remained at 16 pages, although THL created 12-page leaflets for the Warped Tour, based on data from Nick Cooney suggesting that these leaflets were most cost-efficient, since the marginal difference in effectiveness between 12-page and 16-page leaflets is small. Camp’s instinct is that this might reduce the perception of some recipients that leaflets waste paper. THL is therefore moving towards these smaller leaflets.
Vegan Outreach was the first group in the movement to use a combination of graphic imagery and thoughtful text in their pamphlets. After looking at results and data, they then moved towards using more pictures, with simpler language and less text. At first, the pitch was at a relatively high academic level but now it’s much easier understand at, say, a seventh or eighth grade reading level.
Nick Cooney’s research and the research of Humane League Labs has partly made THL consider and use leaflets that make use of pictures of food and humans, rather than graphic imagery. In the past five to six years, they have become more mindful of data which supports these changes, although Vegan Outreach has begun to buck this trend.
THL still uses Vegan Outreach’s leaflets, especially Compassionate Choices (their main leaflet). They did, however, create their own leaflet this year (published for the first time for mass distribution) to distribute at the Warped Tour.
Changes in Recipient Attitudes to Leafleting
Some individuals who’ve taken a break of a few years from leafleting and then returned have reported to Camp that people are noticeably more receptive to leafleting now. In his own experience, leafleting daily for around ten years, Camp has gradually noticed reduced antagonism towards him, as well as a greater number of recipients recognizing the term “vegan” and knowing other individuals who were vegan.
He personally found a more positive and engaged response from recipients towards leaflets suggesting reduced animal product consumption, as opposed to leaflets advocating veganism explicitly, which was met with responses that recipients “could never go vegan.” However, he sees a need for more extensive data on this.
Effectiveness of Leafleting
Camp believes that animal advocates (including himself) frequently undervalue leafleting’s potential to create new animal advocacy leaders and instead think too much in terms of the number of vegetarians created through leafleting.
Joe Espinosa got involved in leafleting by meeting someone who was tabling and leafleting for Vegan Outreach. Camp can think of a few examples of long-term volunteers got involved in animal advocacy through leafleting; he thinks he could come up with more if he spent more time thinking about it.
Camp notes some historical precedent for leafleting being part of successful social movements, such as the abolitionist and feminist movements. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense was a highly influential pamphlet in the American Revolution, which reached (Camp believes) around 0.5 million individuals in the first year. However, Camp also notes that Common Sense was more like a short book, which was sold. William Lloyd Garrison published abolitionist literature and suggests that leafleting or similar tactics have been used in “most social justice movements.”
A Farm Sanctuary/Humane League Labs study suggests that one out of every 50 or so leaflet recipients made a significant change in their diet.1 Since he does not return to each campus for a year, Camp is unable to check personally how successful his leafleting efforts are, except by noting some students ask for follow-up information about going vegan, and individuals approach him from time to time on campuses to let him know the impact of past leafleting efforts there. He estimates that for every leafleting session, there are a few individuals who make significant change. Camp notes his concern that even with successful leafleting efforts, there are still significant recidivism rates.
Comparative Effectiveness of Leafleting and Other Methods of Individual Outreach
Within individual outreach, Camp’s gut reaction is that leafleting is the most effective method. However, in terms of the amount of money spent for the number of vegetarians and vegans created, Camp suggests that online advertising rationally seems more effective, based on the data he has seen and how precisely targeted it can be. It also has reduced or non-existent staffing, traveling, resourcing, and shipping costs.
Camp believes that the U.S. currently has an optimal balance between leafleting and online ads, reaching “a good number” in the U.S. through online ads, but perhaps less so in other countries, which might be worth focusing on. Camp believes that, across THL, MFA, and HSUS, more activists would be in favor of online ads over leafleting. He sees this as a recent shift, and he thinks that while leafleting is useful, some people may defend it due to a bias towards traditional tactics.
He wants to wait for the Faunalytics study of virtual reality, but guesses that per-person, more immersive experiences are more effective, and virtual reality has the benefit of using novel technology, which can draw attention. The reduced number of people who can be targeted for the same time and resources relative to leafleting means that Camp currently still favors leafleting for efficiency, but sees both as useful.
Comparative Effectiveness of Individual Outreach and Corporate Tactics
While Vegan Outreach has continued to use leafleting as its main form of activism, THL has increasingly used its grassroots volunteers for corporate campaigning. THL thinks of the usefulness of its leafleting in terms of recruiting and training activists, as well as in terms of educating individuals about veganism. Therefore, leafleting has to meet the criteria of both large numbers of leaflets being given out and of activists participating in the leafleting itself.
Camp believes that Mercy For Animals moved away from leafleting as part of a wider move away from a local, grassroots activism model and towards a national model, emphasizing undercover investigations and media publicity around six years ago.
He believes that THL sees its niche more in terms of corporate campaigning, and so moved the majority of its grassroots activists towards supporting broiler chicken corporate campaigns (which he sees as a little more abstract and therefore requiring more explanation to the public than the earlier cage-free campaigns) and away from leafleting. This change was permitted by the knowledge that Vegan Outreach would continue to leaflet, since leafleting is their niche. Personally, Camp believes that corporate campaigns lead to more comprehensive victories than leafleting. He also notes, however, that the effectiveness of leafleting may be underestimated as we don’t receive feedback on changes people make well after they were initially given the leaflet.
Camp thinks that the question should not be whether to use leafleting or corporate campaigns, but rather what percentage of efforts to allocate towards each. Camp feels that, at this moment, his time is better spent engaging the grassroots networks in the corporate campaigns, due to his skepticism that change follows from consumer behavior alone. He suggests the rough ballpark estimates that 75% of efforts should focus on corporate campaigns and 25% of efforts should focus on outreach as a target for how to THL might want to divide their efforts.
Favoring institutional approaches over grassroots outreach seems to be becoming the more common view, and Camp shares that view. He sees Vegan Outreach, FARM, and abolitionist individuals as resisting this approach (with the exception of some occasional campaigns aimed at getting companies to add vegan options), but sees favoring the institutional over the personal change as “commonplace” for “pragmatic, utilitarian-leaning activists.” This shift in priorities has happened recently, as corporate campaigns’ victories have begun to come through “in large numbers.” The work of HSUS, as well as THL and others, to create smaller level corporate change (such as university dining halls), paved the way for the approach of THL and others; it is only over the last couple of years that momentum has picked up on corporate campaigns. This recent momentum further supports Camp’s view that corporate campaigning is a high-impact opportunity at the current time, while momentum is strong and “companies are folding.”
Overall, he is more confident that campaigns and investing in new technologies are more likely pathways to a better world for animals, but still sees it as worthwhile investing some resources into leafleting.
Recommendations for Further Conversations
- Vic Sjodin of Vegan Outreach for further information about leafleting
- Nick Cooney of Mercy For Animals about the data on 12- or 16-page leaflets’ cost-effectiveness and marginal impact
- Cat Liguori of The Humane League for further thoughts about the relative effectiveness of leafleting and online ads and how resources should be allocated between the two