As communications professionals, it is our goal to amplify our messaging and policy priorities. In a gridlocked political environment, this is very competitive– and requires a multi-channel and integrated approach. Policymakers are eager to capitalize on the latest social media topics generating headlines. Companies and advocacy associations should take this into consideration early in the process of strategy development and benchmarking to avoid major legislative and oversight setbacks. Making this an intentional localized effort will maximize that success.
As evident by the recent process to elect House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, we can expect more gridlock and legislative stagnation in Washington, creating a policymaking vacuum that will shift focus to state legislatures. Successfully navigating this environment will require frequent, 360-degree engagement with state legislators through every facet of local advocacy.
This begins with face-to-face meetings with lawmakers—and more importantly their legislative staff — during which, your organization’s representatives can explain how the mission or objective is beneficial to the lawmakers’ constituents. This is also an opportunity to directly address any questions or concerns raised by opponents. Contrary to popular belief, these meetings aren’t only for lobbyists; in fact, company leaders or association members can be the most effective and authentic messengers for an organization.
Face-to-face meetings should be conducted as frequently as every quarter and – if possible – arranged before legislators have even been sworn into office. Newly elected members, in particular, find themselves inundated with introductory meetings, making it difficult to keep track of every organization and its specific mission. Additionally, legislative offices experience staff turnover, particularly after an election cycle. Given these dynamics, it is critical to keep legislative staff up to speed on who you are, what your priorities are, and why those priorities matter to their constituents. Pairing well-trained advocates with lawmakers and staff every quarter will pay dividends, particularly with highly active legislatures.
Another way to engage state lawmakers is through partnering with trusted leaders from their communities. Identifying and fostering relationships with local champions—such as religious leaders, chambers of commerce and civic groups—develops messengers who lend legitimacy to your organization’s mission while reinforcing the importance of your mission to a broader audience. The goal is to make your organization’s local ties indistinguishable from the fabric of the community, making it indefensible for a lawmaker to target (or neglect) your organization.
Lastly, you must foster relationships with local media influencers across each of your priority states. Making inroads with local reporters and editors will ensure your company is top-of-mind when they need a source or information for a story related to your organization and/or issues you can speak to. Not only does this ensure your perspective is included in any relevant media coverage and read by priority audiences, but it also establishes important relationships in the event of a crisis requiring an immediate response from your organization.
In addition to cultivating key relationships, your media strategy should incorporate opportunities for securing earned placements such as op-eds and columns. This helps establish your spokespeople as trustworthy, subject matter experts on topics and issues prioritized by your organization.
When it comes to local campaigns, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Each market has unique challenges that must be addressed through a tailored strategy. With a network of more than 1,000 communications and political professionals with deep relationships across every media market and political jurisdiction in the country, Direct Impact has been helping companies and organizations tell their unique stories and achieve their objectives for over 30 years.
We have the experience and longstanding track record to train advocates, cultivate important community partnerships, and navigate local media landscapes to help your organization succeed.
Stephen Fitzmaurice is a Vice President at Direct Impact, the nation’s leading grassroots firm, where he supports stakeholder and coalition engagement to achieve client objectives. Prior to Direct Impact, Stephen served as the Director of Public Affairs for the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) where he helped communicate CUNA’s advocacy agenda to a variety of industry leaders and stakeholders to achieve key federal policy objectives. Before CUNA, he worked in a similar advocacy-focused capacity for the American Society of Hematology.
Direct Impact's 2023 HAROLD Intern recaps her experience with the leading grassroots communications agency.
In prioritizing local engagement as part of our respective media strategies, we amplified our messages, connected with communities on a deeper level, and fostered stronger relationships with the constituents we served. Ultimately, this ensured our respective senators were more effective in serving the diverse communities throughout the states they represented on Capitol Hill.
Last week, Direct Impact, BCW, and Prime Policy Group hosted an hour-long discussion panel on creating public affairs programs that move the needle in an increasingly divided—and stagnated—Washington.
Have a local issue you need to address? Looking to engage the right audience in key communities?Want to reach consumers and policymakers at a hyper-local level? Direct Impact can help.