The advocacy community likes to go all in on a specific communications channel.
We saw it with email. We saw it with social media. Now, we are seeing it with mobile.
Putting all your eggs in one basket isn’t the right or most effective approach for the industry. Rather, utilizing a diverse set of communications tools to mobilize and contact elected officials is essential to the sustainability of grassroots momentum.
Anecdotally, we know that Capitol Hill offices simply cannot handle the volume of communication, and don’t value mass form communication as much as authentic constituent messages, no matter the medium. Research from interested think tanks supports the need for a concerted effort towards channel-specific communication that’s targeted and genuine.
Selecting the appropriate communications method is essential, not only to the success of the campaign, but the health and vitality of the organization. The organizations in the industry that blast out messages to their advocates, or blast out messages to the Hill with little-to-no calculation are doing a disservice to their members and clients — and the overall grassroots industry.
If grassroots advocacy is going to continue to be one of the main government relations functional units, best practices on data, segmenting/targeting and selecting the appropriate communications tools need to be adopted universally.
Aside from keeping up with the times and inevitable changes in communications tools, grassroots professionals should not be afraid of the value of face-to-face dialogue, and bringing back tried-and-true methods in the right situations. In-person interaction is still at the top of the ladder of engagement and effectiveness.
The cost of cultivating a key contact to have an in-person meeting can be high in terms of time and money spent on training and development. But in most cases, this return pays off handsomely as it’s an effective way to get an issue in front of a lawmaker.
Personal interactions — whether they’re one-off office visits, or multi-day fly-ins — should be a part of an advocacy professional’s strategy. These personal interactions can be augmented, not supplemented, by a diverse pool of digital communications techniques that includes outreach through email, social and mobile. Mixed medium communication in the right frequency will increase the likelihood of the message being received and acted upon.
Advocates should also not be afraid to bring back the fax message or personal letter. For campaigns that have a long shelf life or are evergreen, coming up with a creative campaign that breaks through the clutter by using an old-fashioned tool can be meaningful and effective. The past history of advocacy isn’t something to be diminished, but instead should be recognized and adapted to the modern era.
Leveraging all available communications tools and showing a degree of restraint can be a tough task considering all factors. But it’s important to consider your organization’s reputation, as well as the reputation of the industry as a whole when considering how to best communicate on a large scale.
Experience and best practices show us that diversity in advocacy communications is a winner and allows for multiple participants in the democratic process.
Joshua Habursky is director of advocacy at the Independent Community Bankers of America, chairman of the Grassroots Professional Network, and adjunct professor at West Virginia University.
Mike Fulton directs the Washington, DC, office of the Asher Agency and teaches public affairs in West Virginia University Reed College of Media’s Integrated Marketing Communications program.