2019 has already ushered in a new Congress, a divided political landscape, and declarations of presidential campaigns for 2020. Savvy advocacy teams are planning their strategy for the months ahead to ensure they’re employing the right tactics for this year.
To help in that effort, Phone2Action gathered a group of advocacy professionals on a webinar last week to discuss the strategies and tactics that will be most effective in 2019. Brooke Still, director of digital strategy at the League of Conservation Voters, was on hand, as was Samantha Erickson, government relations manager for grassroots at the car-sharing company Turo, and Phone2Action data scientist Kevin Pomorski.
What emerged was a short but potent list of advocacy tactics ranging from sophisticated digital capabilities, like Facebook lead generation ads and text messaging, to simple but powerful techniques like a robust advocacy calendar and the ability to conduct rapid response.
The New Political Landscape
Advocacy professionals will be navigating new terrain in 2019, and not just because the U.S. House is now controlled by Democrats. The makeup of the chamber is changing, and the American electorate, rarely excited by midterm elections, is far more active than in past years.
A whopping 47 percent of eligible voters participated in November’s election, resulting in 41 seats changing hands in the House. Of the 92 new representatives, 20 are millennials and the chamber is now more diverse than ever. Fully 102 seats are now held by women.
The results will likely impact advocacy communications moving forward. For example, many new members of Congress are extremely social media savvy. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an incoming member of Congress from New York, has more than 1.6 million followers on Twitter. That’s almost half of what the outgoing Speaker has—and she’s a freshman.
As Pomorski points out, that will make social media channels more important in the coming year. “That’s where the game is being played right now,” he said.
The Case for a Calendar: Seeing the Road Ahead
Of course, effective communication requires preparation and knowing what’s ahead, from state-level legislation to federal regulations and anyplace else your organization may have to advocate.
“It’s all about preparation,” Erickson said. “We just went through our budgeting process. That really helped us think about what we’ll need and when we’ll need it next year. The main thing we are doing is prepping our grassroots campaigns.”
An advocacy calendar, which marks when Congress is at work, when state legislatures are in session, when regulatory comment periods open and close and other important dates is a vital asset when planning campaigns, said Erik Rosedahl, head of alliances and stakeholder impact at Phone2Action. (To download a sample advocacy calendar, click here.)
“The one important thing about calendars is that it’s not the 10 Commandments,” he said. “You can tweak it. You can go back and adjust.”
Turo is a car-sharing company that is similar to Airbnb, and encounters a great deal of regulatory action at the state level. Erickson said the company will be active in 25 states next year, trying to influence legislation and regulation that would limit its ability to operate. They have a calendar and a plan.
“We are building out a campaign for each state,” Erickson said. “We are going to start loading them into Phone2Action so that when it’s time to go, we can press launch and we are ready for it. We’re trying to do as much proactive work as we can.
Personalizing the Message Increases Impact
Personalization is another concept advocacy professionals rely upon to communicate in an increasingly noisy world.
For the League of Conservation Voters, that means looking to their membership to be the messengers, Still said. “We know that increasingly people are more likely to trust messengers from their own network, versus organizations and companies,” she said. “We want to make sure we are finding ways to lean into that.”
Turo is following a similar path, using personal stories to explain car sharing and counter attempts at stringent state and local regulation. “One of the biggest ways we are able to combat this is by really humanizing our community,” Erickson said. “These are people who are using Turo to pay off their student loans, to offset the cost of car ownership, which is really expensive.”
Digital Acquisition Gets Sophisticated
Of course, digital advocacy continues to grow in sophistication and successful advocacy shops are keeping pace. While email remains a workhorse tool, many organizations are also using new, highly-targeted channels.
Pomorski said that many Phone2Action clients have been successful with Facebook lead generation advertising, which allows an organization to address a targeted audience, get individuals to take action and then retain them as advocates. This generates activity and increases recruitment. “You don’t have to worry about conversion rates,” Pomorski said. “It’s 100 percent.”
Many companies are also experimenting with text messaging, which has extremely high open rates and can create a far more intimate relationship with advocates. “This kind of methodology and approach is the way I see grassroots advocacy going in the future,” Pomorski said. “It’s creating a living connection with an advocate and engaging them not just to take action once but to really live what they believe.”
Want to hear the full discussion among the experts? Catch the full webinar here:
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