Want to Create an Effective Public Affairs Campaign? Do Your Research.

In the world of public affairs, a cookie cutter approach to tackling complex regulatory or legislative issues will never work. It’s easy to rattle off a shiny tactic such as a grassroots petition or paid advertising campaign as a way to reach influencers, and in some cases those tactics may be effective, but it’s crucial to first take a step back and analyze the issue, target audience, and political environment before taking action.

For example, a grassroots social media campaign may be the best way to influence President Trump’s opinion on some issues. However, if the most credible voices on the issue are rural farmers who don’t use Twitter, then that campaign likely wouldn’t be very successful.

In order to really move the needle, you must develop a tailored and strategic plan that considers all facets of an issue. The first step in that process is research. When I approach a new client or issue, I follow these steps before diving into battle:

  1. Create a SWOT analysis: a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis is a good way to get a preliminary understanding of the situation and environment, as well as help kick off the brainstorming process. What strengths can we utilize and build upon? What weaknesses should we be aware of, and how can we improve them? What opportunities can we take advantage of or build a campaign around? What or who are the biggest threats and how can we prepare?
  2. Determine target audiences and how to reach them: some clients may already know who they are ultimately trying to reach, but it’s our job to figure out how to influence them. Who does your target audience(s) listen or respond to? Their chief of staff, business owners, constituents, etc.? What are the most effective ways and channels to reach them? Earned media, private meetings, grassroots campaigns, etc.?
  3. Communicate and utilize successes and failures from previous campaigns: Research similar issue campaigns’ successes and failures, draw on your own knowledge, and utilize your colleagues’ experiences. Once again, no issue is the same! However, we are communicators and it is critical to work together to build on previous strategies that have worked for similar issues and to avoid failing into the same pitfalls from less effective campaigns.
  4. Listen and ask the right questions: before speaking, I always listen to my clients. We may be the public affairs experts, but they know the complexities of the issue, their members, etc. Ask the right questions before pitching an idea. Do they have polling or messaging on the issue? Who or what is most impacted by the issue? Who are their best advocates? How do their members like to be engaged?

Once you’ve put in the time to research and fully understand the issue and all of its complexities, you can get creative and start developing an effective public affairs campaign that’s sure to move the needle on your client’s issue.