While there’s no doubt that 2020 will be written into history as a tumultuous and tragic year in America, much of the work for public affairs and government relations pros still lies ahead.
Consider the landscape in 2021. Starting in January, a new administration is coming, and so is a new Congress. There will be a bloody battle in Georgia for two seats that will determine control of the Senate, and the future of divided government. And state legislative sessions will fire up.
All of this will take place as COVID-19 cases continue to rise; as the need for another pandemic relief bill grows; and as decisions await on dozens of vital issues, including education, healthcare, immigration and environmental policy.
To tackle it all, your organization needs a plan.
A Vision for Your Program
Smart organizations will use the remainder of 2020 to set strategy and be ready when the action starts in January. To help that process, we developed a 7-point plan designed to provide a vision of how your program might progress next year.
The details will look different at every organization. But the outline, complete with examples and additional resources, shows how your program can grow and progress in the coming year.
- Identify or acquire your target advocacy list. Whether you are talking to employees and customers or members and supporters, you need a list of valid, verified email addresses to reach your audience. Most organizations have a list and it is a matter of taking steps to ensure the addresses are current.Organizations that need to build a list can use Facebook Lead Ads and other acquisition tools to attract supporters
- Draft your 2021 advocacy goals, too. What pieces of legislation or regulation do you care about? What type of engagement will you need? Believe it or not, most advocacy and public affairs programs don’t have stated goals. According to Public Affairs Council’s State of Corporate Public Affairs 2020-2021 Report, almost 70 percent of organizations do not measure their programs using informal methods. Don’t be one of those programs in 2021. You can use the rest of the year to set your objectives—even get some help—and then go public next year. Read our “Show the Value of your Program” whitepaper to gain more insights.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society set goals for its advocacy program, consulting with Phone2Action experts. It paid off. In the first half of 2020, engagement metrics were strong, with an average email open rate of 37 percent and a click rate of 9 percent, according to the 2020 State of Advocacy report.
- Give your advocates a place to conduct simple actions. Branded action pages, action centers and action widgets—all of them mobile responsive—allow people to easily get involved. Signing a pledge or a petition is a good example. To see how Chevron has carefully built a network of employees, retirees, partners and friends of the company, download the case study.
- Motivate your advocates to take high-value actions. Once they have engaged on easy-to-take actions and you have their contact information, it’s time to do more serious education and make some elevated requests. Send them targeted campaigns with sharp design elements. Ask them to write letters. Collect personal stories. Done right, your supporters will generate unique and proprietary content.
There’s no better example than the National Restaurant Association, which pushed its campaigns surrounding the pandemic far beyond its membership. The association motivated almost 200,000 people to take action, sending more than 500,000 messages to public officials. Read the case study.
- Identify top advocates and key influencers. Whether you call them super advocates, ambassadors or grasstops influencers, every organization has supporters who go beyond the basics to support the mission. By tracking the volume and quality of high-value actions, you’ll find your super advocates. They are the ones who take the most action. Overlay campaign finance data to find out who donate to lawmakers (and may therefore have a relationship), and you have a whole new dimension.
Expedia Group does this well. In one campaign using super advocates, they saw an open rate of 76 percent, a click rate of 48 percent and a conversion rate of 32 percent. That’s right—almost a third took action. Read the case study.
- Communicate consistently to keep advocates engaged. Once you start engaging with your audience, there’s no good reason to stop. Be consistent throughout the year. Let them know how your target issues are doing. Keep them involved with surveys and high-quality information. One important tool here is text messaging. Unlike email, text messages get read and can vastly increase your metrics. Conversion rates often run to double digits—10 times the rate of email, in some cases. To learn more about how organizations interact with their audience, read the 2020 State of Advocacy report.
- Communicate your value internally. Your program is more than a cost center. Most advocacy is mission critical. Yet many programs fail to communicate their worth. Organizations that conduct advocacy often have a good story to tell. The Alzheimer’s Impact Movement, for example, has built a strong advocacy program, and they have increased federal research funding for Alzheimer’s six-fold in the last decade, a fact that they rightly call out often. The point: let people know when your program succeeds. Build a reporting program that shows your leadership the value of your team’s work. To learn how, download our white paper.
To enhance the value of your program, you can also compare and benchmark your results to other similar organizations. How does your level of advocacy engagement compare to other organizations of similar size? What about policy impact? Benchmarking can reveal powerful insights about what is working, and where you should focus to bring your program up to speed. If you are interested in benchmarking your program against similar organizations, contact your Phone2Action customer success manager and we can prepare a customized report for you to use.
Harnessing Your Energy
It’s hard to overstate the amount of work ahead in 2021, especially if Democrats overcome tall odds to win those two seats in Georgia. That would tie the chamber at 50-50, allowing Vice President Kamala Harris to break the tie.
The scenario, though perhaps a longshot, would end divided government in Washington and increase the flow of legislation as Democrats enact their agenda without the obstacle of a Republican Senate.
However, even if the government remains divided, there is plenty of work ahead. Organizations of all stripes will be busy introducing themselves to new regulators and educating new lawmakers. There will also be a torrent of state legislation.
The first half of 2020 set records for engagement and advocacy as the pandemic and the protests over racial injustice drove people to take action. At its height, more than 52,000 people took action every day—roughly 36 people every minute, according to the State of Advocacy report.
That action will continue in 2021, and smart organizations will be ready to capitalize when their supporters are energized. To get there, we can all borrow that old military maxim. Plan your work. Then, work your plan.
Subscribe for Updates
Get the latest civic engagement trends, best practices, and news, right in your inbox.