Tom Mullikin: No Voice Is Too Small

This lawyer-turned grassroots advocate urges everyone to get involved in the fight to save American manufacturing.

Whether he is practicing law or out in the field raising awareness, Tom Mullikin has been an advocate of grassroots efforts that stress the importance of preserving American manufacturing for years. Born in eastern North Carolina, the son of a DuPont manager, Mullikin had an appreciation for America’s manufacturing workforce from an early age.

Mullikin has spent the past 10 years as a senior Moore & Van Allen (Charlotte, NC/Charleston, SC) member and head of the firm’s Government, Policy and Regulatory Affairs team, where he has honed his advocacy skills to near perfection.

 

Raising Awareness

Over the years, Mullikin’s efforts to educate the public and increase activism have been tireless as he faces each issue head-on. “Wedge politics, as it is practiced in D.C., only works if all the electoral variables remain constant,” he explains. “In other words, much of the political strategy coming out of our nation’s capital is focused on statistical electoral analysis that assumes voter interest—and thus turnout—will remain static. These strategies then seek to reinforce this static environment by dividing the electorate and discouraging new participation. What we try to do is change these variables by educating voters and increasing activism. I like to practice the politics of encouragement, not discouragement. D.C. only wins if they drive us apart and discourage us from voting.

“The education of key stakeholders must occur through a strategic outreach initiative that utilizes micro-targeting to build support among elected officials, executive agency officials and industry leaders,” Mullikin adds. “Through our person-to-person outreach, we create and sustain a broad base of support for our clients’ issues.”

His firm also uses microtargeting—recognizing the absolute constituency that a campaign or advocacy group must reach—and delivering a message that will resonate with the target demographic using personal contact. “As opposed to advertising on television or in print, voters are motivated more by peer-to-peer contact than by generic advertising, Mullikin explains. “Our method of targeting specific regions by voter population and identifying key local officials and community leaders in each region enables them to strategically pinpoint where and how to deliver a message that will have the desired impact.

“By using grassroots techniques that microtarget preexisting government and social networks, we increase awareness and gain public support for our clients’ positions,” he continues. “We have found this approach to be much more cost-effective than traditional, broad-based advertising campaigns, since it communicates directly to key decision makers. By identifying our clients’ interests, we can broadly categorize threats into four areas: legislative, regulatory, judicial and community. We then identify the specific threats in each of these four areas and the tactics opponents are employing, and formulate a strategy that would best counter each.”

Mullikin emphasizes that his political experience has taught him that a well-organized group of citizens can effectively sway the opinion of elected officials. “Direct advocacy to elected officials is one method by which opinions can be changed, and it is one we use as well,” he notes. “But nothing will move a legislator more than the thought that a vocal bloc of voters is stirring the waters in their home district.”

 

Getting Involved

Mullikin believes that each citizen needs to have his or her voice heard—and that everyone has the capacity to make a difference. “It has been said that decisions are made by those who show up,” he comments. “That is never truer than at the ballot box, and Americans need to recognize that it is they who have the choice of who represents them in their state capital and in Washington. True, one vote may not have a tremendous impact in a presidential election where 100 million others are voting as well. But the fact remains most decisions that affect the day-to-day lives of Americans are made at their local level and in their various state capitals. And one vote there can make all the difference in the world.”

These sentiments also translate into the business world. “There are—at any given moments—dozens of policy recommendations or pieces of legislation that will affect how a company or an industry can perform,” Mullikin affirms. “From taxation to emissions and climate change, it has never been more important for the members of the business community to be involved in dialogue with elected officials to ensure business interests are considered in every political decision made. The business community has—at its fingertips—a group of individuals with a common interest, and from them a support network of friends and family. Most fail to realize what grassroots advocacy is capable of. We are seeking to rectify that.”

Mullikin relishes field work and the effect it has had on his grassroots efforts. “I like being out in the field, interacting with people in states all across the nation on a weekly basis,” he notes. “I practice politics in the local communities of America, and hold my focus groups in truck stops and town halls.

“I am immensely proud of the business practice I have helped build,” Mullikin concludes. “With luck and hard work, I hope to be doing in 10 years what I’m doing today: fighting with—and for—our clients on behalf of the American worker to ensure the people in elected office remember who they answer to.”

Related Content

Public/Private Partnerships: A Grass Roots Approach

Coordination between private businesses and the public sectors is much more critical now, both pre-disaster as well as post-event. Public entities sometimes don’t fully know or appreciate who the major employers are, what resources they have to help the planning and recovery processes, and many times don’t know the impact of a disaster on the business community.