April 20, 2018
Gone are the days when political rhetoric only appeared in local TV advertisements around election season. In today’s polarized media landscape, this rhetoric infiltrates our social media newsfeeds and even our Sunday Night Football games. Businesses, organizations, and foundations alike are all re-evaluating their press and advocacy efforts, making it even more important to engage strategic public relations professionals that can leverage what’s happening in Washington to carve out a unique voice and position in a complex communications environment. Without a careful approach to an overarching public relations strategy and thoughtful message development, even the most well-intentioned campaigns can go awry.
While the goal of any Finn Partners PR program is to help clients build and maintain a strong reputation and find common ground with their target audience, public affairs and advocacy campaigns require a unique approach to reach that goal. Why? Because when your target audience is united by a cause, like seeking to change legislation or rally support for an issue, there are specific tactics that can help ignite the cause into a movement.
So, if you are looking to change hearts and minds with a cause advocacy campaign, follow this 8-point checklist to get started:
Leverage Research to Legitimize Your Cause
Research is a necessary element for any communications campaign, but specifically for cause advocacy campaigns. Whether the research is primary or secondary, it’s critical to have data to bolster your point or help refute the claims from opposing groups. Ideally, a blend of both primary research and secondary support is ideal. Primary research enables your organization to produce a steady stream of content for thought leadership opportunities, while secondary research adds credibility and can help identify any potential partners or third-party supporters.
Create A Call-to-Action to Engage Supporters
How can you expect people to get involved if you don’t give them an action to take? By clearly defining exactly what you want your target audience to do (i.e. write a letter, call their local representative, sign a pledge) you will increase engagement on the cause. However, keep in mind not all calls-to-action are obvious, and working with the right strategist will help curate an action that is appropriate for the cause and level of engagement you are seeking from your supporters.
Develop a Partner Database, Coalition or 3rd Party Group to Propel the Movement
A cause becomes a movement the moment others join in the effort. The definition of movement is a group of people working together to advance their shared political, social, or artistic ideas. A strong public affairs advisor will not only identify strategic groups with which to partner, but will help broker the relationship. Building a network of like-minded groups will propel and validate the cause, while providing exposure to potential new supporters.
Identify a Compelling Spokesperson to Help Humanize the Issue
Don’t have the budget to retain a celebrity spokesperson? That may not be a problem. Research surrounding our cause advocacy work has shown that celebrities aren’t always the most credible spokespersons for these types of campaigns. While they are nice to have, it’s more important to identify someone the target audience views as an authority on the issue. Don’t know who that is? I recommend starting back up at the top: research.
Robust National and Local Media Coverage to Ignite the Conversation
Everyone wants to be on the cover on the New York Times, but in today’s media landscape, unless you are POTUS, it’s unlikely that press placement will happen overnight. Additionally, impactful and thought-provoking coverage isn’t always the big, splashy hit; sometimes it’s the curated editorials in target markets and the select placements in key trade publications. A strong media relations strategy will identify the top publications and markets critical to the movement.
Develop Consistent Messaging to Align Supporters
While there is strength in numbers, there can also be peril if consistent messaging is not created and implemented. The most effective movements have clear, simple messaging that can be used by all involved parties, spokespeople and supporters alike. Momentum, credibility and supporters can quickly get lost the moment the messaging gets muddled.
Host Media-Worthy Events to Rally Supporters and Expand your Audience
Marches are having a moment. As a D.C. resident, I think we can safely declare 2017 as the year of protests, as it seems like every weekend there is a new one convening in front of the White House. While you don’t need a rally in Washington to get noticed, hosting a media-worthy event to gather supporters and generate excitement goes a long way in building loyalty to your base.
Identify Key Campaign Benchmarks to Stay Salient 365 Days a Year
For true sustainability and lasting impact, PR advocacy efforts can’t be “one and done.” By identifying key campaign benchmarks such as observances, ongoing legislation, conferences, stakeholder meetings, etc., you’ll ensure interest and support doesn’t wane over time. Additionally, adding metrics to key benchmarks will allow you to track growth and successes over time and refine efforts as needed.
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