We have all witnessed political chaos in our country the past several years – a divisive election, Black Lives Matter, Congress stalled, and the Alt-Right just to name several. In my home state of Alabama, it’s been a roller coaster of chaos, including a Speaker convicted, a Chief Justice suspended, and a Governor resigned.
As if communicating an advocacy message to a state legislature, Congress, or the White House wasn’t difficult enough already, the noise created by chaos makes the task that much harder.
Here are a few tips to help you cut through the noise, reach your intended audience, and persuade them to the proper action.
Understand the Emotions Causing the Chaos
We all would like to believe our decisions are based on logic, but the truth is (and research shows), emotion drives our judgment. Poll questions related to how someone feels about a topic do not always give you the insight into why a person feels that way. You can start by providing emotional-intensity response options instead of the traditional “support” intensity.
If a survey is not in the budget – however, you’d be surprised to know there are less expensive, yet accurate poll options available, but that’s a topic for another article – put some serious thought into possible motivations behind the chaos. Write down the message points being used. Jot out three potential emotional drivers for each point.
For example, let’s dive into why Rust Belt voters went for Trump, without looking at a poll. They traditionally vote Democratic, but Donald Trump’s message obviously resonated more. Why? Because they felt left out. Their communities were in decline. They thought Obama ignored them. Anger was front and center because their pocketbooks were bare. The nostalgia of “Make America Great Again” resonated because many Americans wanted to go back to when things were better for them individually.
Embrace the Language of the Chaos
Once you understand the emotions, refocus on the language used by the audience causing chaos. What words are repeated? How do they frame the issue? What is their core grievance?
Now look for common themes. This will be the basis of how you frame your advocacy messaging. When you speak in that language to an audience of elected officials who associate with a given ideological or disaffected group, you break down barriers and create genuine connections.
Let’s get back to our Trump Rust Belt voters example. They talked about “being forgotten,” Clinton not being “trustworthy,” Trump “understanding” them, and being “tired of unfair deals.” If you run a utility in Pennsylvania, these key words and phrases should be incorporated into your messaging for grassroots, advocacy, and government affairs applications.
Here’s an example if that utility was seeking protection of its state tax status in front of the Republican legislature: “American companies, like PA Power, that invest here in the States, like Pennsylvania, are at an unfair disadvantage to foreign corporations that don’t have to pay taxes like we do. Pennsylvania jobs and affordable energy should not be forgotten. Your support of Senate Bill 371 will level the playing field and protect Pennsylvania jobs and power bills.”
Activate those Engaged in the Chaos
The most authentic and moving form of contact to an elected official is from “back home.” Talking about “unfair deals” or “being forgotten” is important, but it will be amplified with calls, emails, in-person visits, and social media posts from the actual voters in the district.
Activating those groups who align ideologically or emotionally with your target audience is challenging. It starts with knowing what they look like from a somewhat broad demographic standpoint. This can be ascertained through polling but also from observation. Next, you must know what calls to action (CTAs) will motivate individuals in the group to take action to contact your target audience.
Digital channels – like Facebook, mobile ads, and online advocacy platforms – offer an effective medium to find, educate, and activate activists on behalf of your issue. Just make sure to have a smartphone-friendly website that includes a friction-free way for constituents to contact their legislators.
Keep in mind it’s much easier to hop on a train that’s already moving than to put a new one on the tracks. The same principle goes for messaging to a target legislative audience.
You cannot help if that train is running down the line full speed and rocking back and forth. Hitch a ride, get to know the others on board, and get to your final destination.