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Building A Message That Resonates Across Party Lines

The Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard came out last week with an interesting look at FTP client North America’s Building Trades Union, who hosted President Donald Trump on Tuesday at their annual legislative conference despite endorsing and advocating forcefully for Secretary Hillary Clinton during the ’16 presidential race.

But as Bedard noted, NABTU president Sean McGarvey said in his remarks:

“To be sure, there will be those among the left and in the broader labor movement who will continue to criticize us for meeting with a Republican president and engaging with this administration,” said Sean McGarvey, president of the North America’s Building Trades Union at his annual convention in Washington. But, he said, “Our job is to speak for and advance the economic interest of the men and women we are so privileged to represent.”

McGarvey’s comments reflect an implicit challenge for any organization with advocacy goals: maintaining relevance when power changes hands in Washington. To be impactful, an organization must ensure its issues resonate across party lines so that these issues can, and will, remain politically salient during both a Democratic or Republican Administration.

The response to this challenge is twofold. You need both the right message and the right messenger. In these partisan and divided times it is hard to beat a messenger who says, and means, “we cannot, ever, take for granted any politician’s views or attitudes when it comes to building trades issues simply because they have a ‘D’ next to their name, just as we cannot dismiss out of hand a politician simply because they have an ‘R’ next to their name.”

The messaging challenge doesn’t stop there.

Even if you’re saying the right things, and you’re the right person to say them, if you don’t have a track record to stand on then your message won’t be accepted by an increasingly skeptical public. It is important to demonstrate that you don’t simply talk the talk, but you walk the walk. Show us, don’t just tell us.

McGarvey does exactly that in his annual speech to his membership. He highlights the more than 2,000 successful transitions into the building trades by retired military through NABTU’s Helmets to Hard Hats program. McGarvey also notes their efforts to meet in the middle “in close partnerships with construction end-users like Shell Oil Company, and with [their] signatory contractor partners and community-based groups like YouthBuild and the National Urban League, to launch ‘apprenticeship-readiness programs’ in metropolitan and rural areas across the United States.”

So, it can be done. You can create and execute a campaign that is poised to win regardless of who is in office, but it requires the right message and the right messenger whose actions and track records – not just words – prove that they are deserving of credibility.

Jeff Sadosky is a Partner at FTP where he works with Senate Republicans and leads the firm’s Strategic Communications practice