Remember when you were a kid and an older sibling would pin you down, pinching or hitting you until you said “uncle?”   They would always promise to stop, if only you would just say that magic word.

Sometimes, the older brother or sister would stop when you yelled “uncle.”  Or – if your siblings were like mine – they would usually just keep on doing it until they got tired, no matter how many times you might say “uncle.”

I was thinking about this old “game” the other day while implementing an earned media strategy for a civic campaign I am currently spearheading.  A bit of background: earlier this year, the State of Pennsylvania made some radical changes to regulations and rates for a highly popular and very effective program for older adults.  The program allowed frail elderly who qualified for nursing home care and Medicaid assistance to receive services in their home at a much lower cost than being placed in a nursing home.  The changes were done under the banner of “cutting waste, fraud and abuse.”

The agencies that were responsible for this popular program were given less than a month’s notice to implement the rate and regulation changes, which were developed and implemented with no input or oversight. Now agencies that worked to keep seniors safely in their homes are starting to pull out of the business – and waiting lists for these services are growing at an alarming rate.

Due to the lack of oversight and the immediacy of the changes, most legislators, members of the media, providers, and families were caught unaware by the change.  In response, our civic campaign began reaching out to key decision makers, implementing an aggressive earned media effort to raise public awareness of the issue.

After months of doing nothing to fix the problem – and only after public pressure began to pour in – the State finally responded.  Yet rather than giving in, they wanted us to say “uncle” by easing up on the pressure in order to “give them a chance” to fix the problem they created.

Beware of such overtures to say “uncle” and ease up pressure brought by your civic campaign.  I have found, more often than not, that when elected leaders and policymakers ask you to say “uncle” and simply “give them some time” to fix the problem, it often gives them an excuse to do nothing.  Remember, it was the pressure that brought them to the table in the first place.  It is continued pressure that will get them to act.

So, in short, don’t always be so quick to ease up when you start to make progress.  Don’t say that magic word until the change you are trying to make is actually made.  Don’t say “uncle” until you stop being hit.