Federal lobbyists are fond of throwing lavish DC events with invitations extended to elected officials and agency leaders as a way to advance a policy agenda.
But in 2019, this tried-and-true tactic is often futile as the event, no matter how meaningful, is competing with all of the other Beltway activities when Congress is in session – or even during congressional breaks when media organizations and groups host breakfasts and other events to fill the news cycle.
In this environment, Capitol Hill press secretaries have instead encouraged advocates and groups to “act globally, but think locally.”
A plant tour, groundbreaking/dedication or announcement is far more likely to garner press attention in a smaller media market where constituents benefit and are impacted.
While most advocates’ work is conducted with the member, chief of staff or legislative director, remember not to cold shoulder the press or communications staff.
The comms team should be consulted when you’re working with an elected official or agency because they work constantly with the media and know nuances and traps that could go neglected.
In fact, communications directors should be brought into the planning process and be part of the approval process for venues, reporter outreach, and other details.
Be aware that reporters and editors attract readers by telling both sides of an issue and creating conflict to keep readers informed and interested. If you decide to take your advocacy issue to the media, realize that it’s their job to tell all sides of the story and perhaps include some opponents or negative messages about your clients’ cause. Media outlets also provide commentary and analysis that can sometimes be unflattering to a cause or organization.
Having tested and approved messages helps avoid the pitfall of a nervous spokesperson, who by winging it could do more harm than good. Make sure all spokespeople have the key messages and are trained on them as well as proof points for each message.
Three messages are about all the audience (including the media) can grasp and accurately report on. The proof points should include activists’ personal anecdotes and statistics that reinforce your messages.
Everyone must sing from the same sheet of music. If one member of the media speaks with a spokesperson and get one story and then speak to a second spokesperson and get a different story, trouble might be ahead.
Make sure employees and particularly anyone who answers the telephone is clued into the communications strategy and know protocol for handling media inquiries and are trained not to speak about the issue at hand. Employees can potentially reveal information or details that your organization may not wish to see as a headline.
Mike Fulton directs the Washington, D.C., office of the Asher Agency and teaches public affairs in the West Virginia University Reed College of Media’s Integrated Marketing Communications program.
Joshua Habursky is the Head of Federal Affairs at the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR), Contributing Editor to Campaigns & Elections, and Adjunct Professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.