Advocacy outreach has changed. Lobbying reforms, social media, and the rise of remote teams have created a culture where “likes” can occasionally replace handshakes, and scrappy digital teams can substitute for high-end lobbyists.
As the outreach landscape has shifted, so has the messaging strategy of advocacy groups.
An organization’s advocacy messaging may be at risk of getting lost in the mix, or completely ignored in favor of other internal teams’ communications goals.
In the past, DC-based government affairs teams may have led the organization’s communications outreach. Today many find themselves competing with marketing teams in New York.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s how to ensure your government relations message is heard by the people who really matter.
Identify The Shared Goal
Everyone in an advocacy organization or an organization with a government relations department has a shared goal: advance the association, corporation or nonprofits mission. This is accomplished by getting the group’s message in front of as many people as possible, and by raising as much money, whether through fundraising or in revenue, as possible.
So it just makes sense that the internal teams in charge of these two missions – including government relations, communications, marketing, and business development – should sit down together to discuss the organization’s overall messaging strategy.
This will help ensure no department’s message gets lost in the shuffle, says
Lance Lemmonds, a 15-year veteran of the nonprofit and government space who is currently the Director of Communications at Faith & Freedom Coalition.
“If those departments are working hand-in-hand, then you should see an uptick in fundraising,” said Lemmonds. “All of the media, and all of the marketing in the world is not worth anything if the organization ceases to exist.”
Use Advocacy Expertise To Add Value To The Conversation
Congress is busier than ever and there aren’t enough hours in the day to deal with the nitty gritty of every issue, said Danielle Hagen, Senior Vice President at the DC-based strategic communications and public relations firm Nahigian Strategies. Creating an advocacy campaign has never been faster.
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By working together, the government affairs, marketing and media teams can package the content in a way that reporters, the public and congress will love, said Hagen.
Take social media for example. Just a few years ago members of Congress weren’t engaged on Facebook and Twitter. But now they see it as a channel they can use to speak directly to constituents.
“If you are a brand or advocacy group you can tap into that channel,” Hagen said, quoting studies that have shown as few as eight to 10 social media posts can move a member to action. You don’t need to be in the change maker’s office to drive change.
Treat Washington, D.C. As Its Own Market
Using the organization’s overall messaging strategy (remember the one everyone agreed upon earlier in the piece?) the government affairs and communications teams can work together to create custom communications for the D.C. segment. This is where the government affairs team’s expertise is invaluable, Hagen said.
They understand how the town functions. How it talks.
“They’re like the translators,” she said. “Anything you’re doing outside the beltway can be applicable inside the beltway, you just need a good translator.”
Organizations based outside D.C. are finally starting to realize this, she said.
They’re moving people here to build rapport with local media, both to get the word out about their organization and to be ready in the event of an emergency.
“(The local media) needs to know who you are and what you stand for before an issue arises,” she said. “A robust communications arm that works tightly with government affairs can create content to introduce you to the influencers. This provides the opportunity for education to begin way before a crisis ever happens.”
D.C.-based experts can also advise remote teams on how local events might impact the organization.
For example, if the FDA puts out a release that impacts your organization, a D.C.-based team can advise the head honchos in say, Wisconsin, on whether this is a blip in the 24-hour news cycle, or a matter that will be talked about for weeks.
Lemmonds and one other colleague make up his organization’s D.C. operations. At first he worked from home, and then from an office in the beltway. Having the physical location – as well as local boots on the ground – helped the Atlanta-based organization advance several of its overall goals, he said.
“I think that’s when advocacy works best” said Hagen. “When everyone is linked together and government affairs isn’t just an offshoot.”