Five Tips for Effective Advocacy with Legislators
Advocating for your cause doesn’t need to be complicated. However, there are a few ways you can make your efforts more effective and long-lasting. If your public relations effort is weighing heavy on the public affairs side of things, then you’ll want to jot down these five tips.
Make friends before you need them
If an advocacy day in the General Assembly or on Capitol Hill is the first time you are meeting your elected official, you may already be behind the eight ball. Get to know your legislator (and allow them to get to know you and your organization) by scheduling a meeting in the district office during the off-season. Members have more time, and you are more likely to have a good conversation rather than exchanging a few passing sentences in the hallway.
Lawmakers and government officials have a genuine interest and a vital need to stay informed about the happenings in their districts. Therefore, your initial conversation should not revolve around specific legislation or a specific concern you might have. Instead, your primary objective during the first meeting should be to introduce yourself, your program and your organization.
Do your homework
Politics and policy, like many parts of public relations, are all about relationships. Knowing something about the member (or their staff) can help you develop a rapport that leads to more productive and open conversations. Do your research by reviewing their websites, social media channels and reading their op-eds and other media coverage. Do they post pictures on social media with their beloved cocker spaniels? Does their online profile reminisce about where they grew up or their time at university? Better yet, if you can tie your program or issue to something they care about you are already a step ahead in breaking down walls and facilitating discussions.
Be a resource
Your organization or CEO likely knows more about your program, policy area or issue than anyone else. While you hold two feet of depth of knowledge on a particular topic, elected officials and their staff generally need to have 1-2 inches deep of knowledge on 20 or more, generally unrelated, issue areas. And when it comes to something you care about, who do you want them to call when they have questions? You!
Make yourself available to be a resource should they ever need data or information about a particular topic. Even if you aren’t the one who has it, you can likely find it for them faster than they can. And they will be grateful for it!
Get to the point
As mentioned before, legislators and staff must follow and make decisions about multiple policy areas every day. And this is amplified during the legislative session. If you bring in a 50-page (heck, even a five page) report and place it in front of a member or staff during session, you’ve likely just wasted your time, financial resources in printing the document and, most importantly, the opportunity to bring your point home. Your 50-page report is either going right to the recycle bin or on a stack of “to read” that no one will have time to read until it no longer matters. Much like you would with pitches to reporters, keep your message and your materials simple.
If you are advocating for or against a particular piece of legislation, state that clearly at the top of the document. Keep the “why” to one or two paragraphs and be sure to include what other groups are part of your coalition. And finally, don’t use acronyms. Just because you deal with a particular acronym 30 times a day doesn’t mean the person you are talking to knows what it means and the last thing you want to do is to alienate the person you are talking to.
All politics is local
The more you can demonstrate how your program or issue area impacts a legislative district or other political boundary (city, county, or state) the more relevant it is to the person to whom you are talking. Like versioning a media pitch, make sure you’re connecting the dots as to why this legislator needs to care. How many people in a particular district were helped by your program? How many businesses in a particular county will be impacted by a policy decision and what does that impact look like? A blanket pitch doesn’t typically yield great results, and the same goes when you’re working the halls in the Pocahontas Building.