Making a Good Impression With New Members & A New Administration
by Matt House
by Matt House
We are now less than a week from Election Day. It will likely be a few weeks until we know who our next president will be, not to mention several senators, representatives, and countless state and local races. When the dust settles and we definitively know the makeup of the federal government for the next two years, the political conversation will shift. We will no longer be in an election year—we will be in the transition heading toward the first 100 days of an administration. This is the time to finalize preparations for a blitzkrieg of legislation, regulatory reform, and executive action.
This January will be no different: there will be numerous issue areas that demand immediate attention, from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to the economic recession to long-standing policy agendas that the dominant party will push through—which could include health care law, tax reform, environmental legislation and so much more.
Regardless of which party wins the White House or a majority in the Senate, companies and trade associations will need robust public affairs campaigns and strategies to ensure legislation and regulation are favorable to their industries. As public affairs professionals, the question is clear: how do organizations craft effective campaigns that achieve policy results, all during the mad rush toward the first 100 days of a new administration?
Mind your Ps
Every good public affairs campaign addresses the three Ps: policy, politics, and press. Start by outlining clear policy objectives, then develop a plan to build political support for those objectives and map out a communications strategy to accompany those efforts. The quality of a policy proposal won’t matter if you can’t message it effectively; the political support you build for your policy agenda can evaporate with one wave of negative stories.
Your “why” has to resonate
Your policy goals are, more than likely, good for business. Unfortunately, that reasoning won’t cut it with lawmakers. Public affairs campaigns need to develop reasoning that stands up to scrutiny and resonates with policymakers and their constituents. Accordingly, cookie-cutter public affairs campaigns that make identical pitches to vastly different audiences are destined to fall flat. Take broadband internet access—the access challenges are very different in urban and rural communities. Republicans and Democrats might ultimately end up backing the same policy, but different arguments will persuade them.
Make it local
Despite the constant questioning of the old Tip O’Neill axiom that “all politics is local,” the former speaker’s words still ring true when it comes to public affairs. Even national Congressional leaders run for reelection based on what they’ve done for the state that sent them to Congress, not necessarily what they’ve done for the country as a whole. You’ll get a lawmaker’s attention more quickly if you explain clearly how your policy goal will make life better for their constituents. A good public affairs campaign will localize the argument using state-by-state or district-by-district information; e.g., statistics, local news stories and anecdotal evidence, and even constituent voices. Members of Congress are more likely to be moved if they understand how a national policy debate is going to affect their states or districts.
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