AJ Stokes, Author at JVA Campaigns


AJ Stokes, Partner

AJ Stokes, a Partner at JVA Campaigns, is a national public affairs, labor, political, and advocacy consultant.

AJ Stokes's passion for fighting for working families began at a local labor hall in Toledo, Ohio, when he was very young, but in the more than three decades since, he has become a veteran operative in the labor movement, government, politics, and public affairs.

After spending the early part of his career working in Washington, D.C. for the Teamsters Union, he was recruited back to his home state of Ohio by Joyce Beatty, where he served as both Executive Director and Chief of Staff to the Ohio House Democratic Caucus. In this role, he orchestrated winning a pro-worker Democratic majority in the House and helped pass the most consequential pro-worker legislation in over a decade.

After leaving public service, AJ's first major accomplishment as a member of the JVA Campaigns team was serving as Campaign Manager to We Are Ohio, where he successfully orchestrated the campaign to defeat Senate Bill 5, restoring collective bargaining rights for public sector workers, including firefighters. He was awarded "Campaign Manager of the Year" for this effort. In 2018, AJ led the successful effort to repeal Right-to-Work in Missouri, making JVA campaigns the only firm in the country to defeat Right-to-Work twice.

AJ continues to work on critical causes for labor organizations, corporations, organizations, and non-profits.

AJ splits his time between Columbus, OH, and Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of The Ohio State University, where he is a frequent guest lecturer, an avid Harley rider, a lousy golfer, and the proud husband to Raven, and father to Jon (24), Eliot (23), and Samantha (12).

Ballot Issues: Setting Your Campaign Up for Success

Ballot Issues: Setting Your Campaign Up for Success

Across the nation, we are seeing legislative changes being made to ballot initiatives and the ballot access process, creating a higher threshold of support for measures to pass or remain in effect. Already in 2022, three states are adding these kinds of stipulations. The ability for citizens to put ballot issues in front of voters is an important act of direct democracy, and strategists will need to be proactive in their planning and execution of campaigns to successfully gain ballot access.

An already complex process, you must first determine which ballot issue types are allowed in your state and which type will be the best path to accomplishing your goals. Among the most common are referendums, voter-initiated statutes, legislatively referred statutes, and constitutional amendments. Topics can range anywhere from local tax levies, new city development, to statewide issues such as cannabis legalization.

Historically, there have been 736 ballot issues across the U.S. since 2000. Of those 736, only 45% have successfully passed.

As ballot access becomes more restricted, it’s important to understand the options as you consider what type of battle you might be facing. To start, here are a few items to consider:

  • Initial Planning: What is the electoral environment? Who are your advocates, and who are your enemies? How will you develop your win strategy, and then how will you target the right people with your message?
  • Building Your Campaign: How should you communicate with your audience? Who can help you and how? What does your timeline look like?
  • Utilizing Best Practices: Do you have a written campaign plan? Do you have a clear message and defined audience? How are you maintaining accountability?

At JVA, we’ve had experience with all types of ballot-issue battles. Over the coming weeks, we’ll dive into each of these considerations and explore what it takes to be part of the 45% of winning ballot-issue campaigns.

Benefits of a Grassroots-Oriented Labor-Management Program

Benefits of a Grassroots-Oriented Labor-Management Program

It’s a tale as old as time: employers versus their workers.

For generations, labor and management have gone head-to-head, each fighting for their piece. As we continue to advance into the modern age, industry leaders have begun to question: How can we meet our bottom line, advance our legislative goals, and still treat our workers with dignity? Turns out, it’s not as difficult as the history books have made it out to be. 

It’s an out-of-date notion to think that workers don’t support the industry they work for. More often than not, workers’ beliefs and goals are in line with the industry’s, so long as progress isn’t at the expense of their livelihood. Once industry leaders are able to identify what’s important to their workers and where those issues intersect with industry goals, that’s where true progress can take place.

Labor and management are in this battle together, yet individual member companies and trade unions alike must be careful: appear too generous to the other side, and employees or shareholders will be calling for your head. A grassroots-oriented approach can foster a greater relationship and collaboration with workers in the industry—without alienating key stakeholders.

Benefits of a Grassroots-Oriented Labor-Management Program
  1. Policymakers hear from a balanced yet nonpartisan coalition of “real people”—not lobbyists.
  2. Everyday stakeholders (company employees, family members, workers in supply-chain companies, etc.) have a place to join and stay informed on the issues.
  3. Management gains from the development of a national shared activist pool dedicated solely to advancing shared policy objectives.

A renewed Labor-Management program will have its best chance for survival if it is spearheaded by an entity skilled in modern methods and trusted by all sides. JVA Campaigns, a national public affairs firm with deep roots in the American labor movement and broad reach across over a dozen industries, is well-positioned to help.

Turning Supporters into Advocates

Turning Supporters into Advocates

Do you want to create a group of advocates for your cause?

Creating a group of engaged, dedicated advocates can help amplify your message, build a broader base of supporters, and get more people to take action when you need them to the most. This article covers the five most important steps that you can take to grow your number of advocates.

1. Make a Clear Plan

The first step in creating a plan is understanding your audience. Ask yourself the following:

  1. Who supports your cause now? Why do they support it?
  2. Who could support your cause in the future? What would make them show their support?

It could be that you want to pass legislation to enhance STEM education, and your supporters are parents with young children. But you could also get support from people with an interest in STEM, whether they’re parents or not.  If you want to increase support for your cause, adapt your message for different audiences.

2. Choose Your Channels

Once you know your audience, make sure you’re using the right digital channels to reach those people. Understand how the right channel can help create advocates for you.

For example, if your audience is older, you may want to use Facebook. People can easily share your social posts, so make sure the content you post is designed to be shared. If your audience is on Twitter, make the content a conversation and designed to be retweeted. If you need people to contact their representatives, get them to sign up to receive “legislative alerts” so they know when to take action.

When you ask people to help you with your cause,  give them a clear idea of what you want them to do and why they should do it. It may seem obvious, but direct calls to action are much more likely to convert people to advocates than vague messaging.

3. Set Measurable Goals

Now that you know your audience and have selected your channels, make sure you have specific, realistic, achievable goals. If you have a very small number of advocates now, do you want a hundred people who take action? A thousand? If you know a legislator isn’t likely to notice eight or nine emails from constituents, then how many people would they notice? Make sure you’re setting reasonable expectations; not all your supporters will take the next step to advocacy, and you should plan for that. A small group of dedicated advocates is more impactful than a large group of half-engaged supporters.

Set your goals and work toward them.

4. Create Content that Engages

Now you have a clear plan to measure the success of your campaign, make sure that your content is as engaging as possible with each audience.

For example, say your cause is increasing investment in technology, and your audience cares about job creation for rural communities. Ads, emails, and social posts that talk about futuristic technology won’t get much engagement. Instead, frame your message around your audience’s interests. In this instance, you could write about how new technologies keep jobs local and grow the local economy.

It’s also important to ensure that the action you want people to take makes sense for the message you’re using. If you want to raise awareness about your organization, make your actions about your advocates, not yourself. For example, “We are an organization that helps create local jobs” isn’t shareable content, but “Share this post if you support creating local jobs” is. If you need people to take action and contact their representatives, the message should feel urgent and relevant to people’s lives. “Contact your senator to support local jobs” is less engaging than “Local jobs are at risk! Tell your senator to protect our community.” The most important rule is to write copy that your audience will find genuinely interesting and engaging.

5. Reward Your Advocates

Creating advocates should not be a one-way conversation. Communication has to be a two-way street if you want to maintain people’s interests. If people take action on your campaigns, make sure they’re rewarded. For example, if they comment on your tweet, make sure you like it. If they contact their representative, make sure they know what impact they had on the legislation. It’s your mutual victory (or well-fought defeat), not just your organization’s.

Also, make sure that your advocates feel like insiders and understand that you value the work they do for you. This could be getting early access to information or special mentions in social posts for particularly dedicated advocates.

In Conclusion

You now have the basics for creating digital advocates. But don’t forget: building a truly engaged audience doesn’t happen overnight and won’t maintain itself over time. Be patient and make sure you’re always creating relevant content for your advocates to engage with, even when there isn’t much you need them to do. If you don’t, people will lose interest, and you’ll have to start your audience building all over again.

Advocacy at JVA Campaigns

We’ve developed and executed legislative advocacy plans, conducted organization‐to‐member outreach and public‐pressure campaigns, and communicated “small scale” directly with key stakeholders. With our extensive background in communications and media relations, we guide organizations on developing and delivering strategic messaging at the right time and to the right audience. Here’s how we can help.