Lobbying + Communications Teams = Heavenly Match or Rocky Marriage?

In theory, an organization’s lobbying activities should be closely aligned with its communications strategies. After all, the success of lobbying and grassroots advocacy efforts hinges on good communication of a well-articulated and targeted message to influence policy decisions at the local, state or federal level.

In practice, however, organizations sometimes find that turf battles and conflicting priorities between these two important functions mean lobbying and communications teams are doing their own thing. Both are in the business of communicating. However, if internal communication and organizational alignment between these two functions isn’t part of your culture, collaboration may not happen naturally.

For example, maybe the communications staff doesn’t get involved in developing policy talking points or letters to government officials. Or maybe the lobbying or policy staff sees the communications team as just writers, designers or press release machines who set unrealistic deadlines without understanding the urgency of issues management.

When an issue heats up, organizations that haven’t successfully integrated their communication planning and their lobbying strategy are often left with unfocused and conflicting messages delivered to grassroots stakeholders who should be your best messengers to policy makers.

Policy-related communications means more than developing fact sheets, writing letters to policy makers, and dashing off the reactive letter to the editor.

If the communications and lobbying teams are working together year-round and before an issue heats up, the communications team will understand the priority policy issues the lobbying team expects to deal with during the year. The lobbying team will be aware of the broader communications landscape and how to tie the organization’s priority policy issues into the ongoing communication strategy of the organization to its stakeholders and policy makers.

Five tips for aligning comms and lobbying messaging

Below are five tips for aligning your organization’s communications efforts with lobbying strategies.

1. Develop overall organizational messages with policy goals in mind. The talking points the communications team uses to pitch a news story should align with the messages the organization is communicating to policy makers. For example, the organization is pushing for changes to a tax policy. Put a face on the issue in a news pitch by incorporating the consequences of the tax law on families it affects.

2. Integrate your proactive issue-related messages into the organization’s publications’ feature stories year-round. If the communications and lobbying teams are working together throughout the year rather than just when a news release is needed to push action on a specific issue, the messages will not appear to be self-serving or politically motivated. The communications team can include the government relations team in editorial planning year-round to ensure this alignment happens.

3. Identify and educate your “third-party endorsers.” It’s not just stakeholders who can be the best grassroots third-party endorsers of an organization’s issues. Often it’s the people or organizations beyond your members/customers/stakeholders who benefit from your service or program that can provide a less self-serving approach to your message. But first, these supporters must be engaged and invested in the value of a service or program long before their voice is needed—either for direct contact with a policy maker or to shore up your message in a news story. Communicate strategically with these potential “third-party endorsers” through targeted emails, newsletters, or direct contact to help them understand the importance of your issues to their interests.

4. Engage your grassroots members and third-party endorsers as voices for opinion columns, letters to the editor, and reporter sources for local stories related to your issues. Regardless of the proliferation of online news sources, policy makers at all levels still count on the local newspaper as a primary source of local information. You can start building up good will around your issues through good news stories pitched in advance of an issue becoming controversial. Not only do you create the buzz when the story comes out but you also can use the clips in social media posts.

5. Don’t focus on just getting your organization’s name “out.” Rather, look for opportunities to leave your organization’s “fingerprints” on a news story that will reinforce your policy message. This can be called your fingerprint index. A “10-finger hit” results from a positive news story where a third party endorses your organization’s issue, program, or service, shoring up your position on an issue. A “five-finger hit” is when member, customer, stakeholder or board leader is featured in a news story telling a story or integrating an issue related to your program or service. Stories that are solely focused on the organization’s leaders or staff get only “two fingers’” credit.

Regardless of whether your organization has dozens of issues before Congress or one issue before your city council, your first goal should be to coordinate between your communications and lobbying teams the message that’s going out. If your communications department and lobbying staff aren’t in lock step at the beginning of the process, you’re already behind the competition.

Image by pch.vector on Freepik

Published by Reba Campbell

Reba Hull Campbell established the Medway Group in 2020, bringing more than 35 years of professional success in politics, government relations, organizational leadership, fundraising and communications to her clients and her teaching.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: