During COVID-19, Americans have changed their news habits and members of Congress and other elected officials have changed how they communicate with constituents. As a result, the execution of grassroots and advocacy efforts has also shifted. The public and policymakers are as engaged as ever in problem-solving, so it is no surprise that the most effective way to advance a policy objective revolves around local news, digital momentum, and constituent correspondence.
The Shift Towards Local News
Since the public health crisis began, Americans are increasingly interested in news from their local communities (blogs, news stations, local elected officials, etc.) The shift in preference towards local has been a trend for some time, as national news is seen as more pontification than fact–based. Given Americans’ increasing confidence in local news, it is important campaigns focus on being a resource to local reporters.
However, reaching local reporters is not always easy. Newsrooms were shrinking even before COVID-19 and now they are operating with even fewer staff as they cut costs. Reporters’ inboxes are overflowing with pitches due to the high frequency of critical or breaking news every day. Close relationships and local, relevant content are key. You must stay in touch with local reporters and editors and pay attention to local news trends to get your content to the right audiences. A blanket, national pitch will not work.
In the era of COVID-19, newsrooms have also gone virtual – which means our traditional media tactics must also go virtual. Today, successful media outreach comes from virtual editorial board visits, press conferences, and media roundtables.
Creating Momentum Through A Coordinated Digital Strategy
Once news and content are online, you must share it through all means of communication. After a letter to the editor, op-ed, or media hit is placed, that piece should be amplified via social media, shared with third party stakeholders, and sent to supporters. In this way, you can build momentum for your campaign.
At this step, however, it is important to keep in mind the scale of influence of other stakeholders. Identifying those voices with large followings, public pages, and significant influence in their local communities is important. If a third party stakeholder does choose to share your news or content, they offer the chance to loop in larger networks and followers.
The ultimate goal of this amplification is to reach the eyes and ears of elected officials. Recognition by stakeholders may have this effect, but you can also increase your chances of connecting with policymakers. In addition to tagging elected officials on social media when you post your content, the local earned media coverage can also be shared with them directly over email.
Shaping Policy Through Constituent Correspondence
Even though elected officials generally are not holding public town hall events, attending in-person fundraisers, or conducting site visits, their work has not stopped. During COVID-19, officials are receiving a huge amount of daily correspondence (phone calls, letters, postcards, tweets, Facebook messages, etc.), and it is essential to leverage the right individuals to garner officials’ attention.
These individuals, often referred to as grasstop influencers, are politically active in their local communities and well known to elected officials. Educating and engaging these individuals can help elevate your issue with leaders in a community. Grasstop influencers are most likely already participating in political events, such as tele-townhalls, and by educating these influencers on your issue, you are potentially recruiting a local, trusted voice and thought leader who can break through the political noise and speak directly to the elected official and staff at these events.
Further, personal communication from a critical majority of constituents is still one of the most effective ways to shape policy in an elected official’s office. In addition to unique letters and e-mails, patch-through phone calls can make an impression on policymakers. This can be done by calling constituents, educating them on an issue, and transferring them to an elected official’s office. However, having limited resources during the pandemic has lowered some offices’ abilities to receive high call volumes, but additional phone-based resources can help ensure the message reaches the right ears. Continuing these traditional forms of grassroots outreach can enhance in-state campaigns and lobbying efforts during COVID-19.
“The Personal is Political”
Today, it seems that if you want anything to be political, it should be personal. Having effective strategies and tactics for grassroots campaigns means properly leveraging local news, amplifying that news, and pairing it with constituent correspondence. This personal touch has always enhanced campaigns and lobbying, but COVID-19 and this year’s news cycle have not left airtime for anything less than attention-grabbing. To reach the American public and policymakers, local relationships and voices are key.
If you would like to learn more about how FTP can best tailor an effective campaign for your issue, please contact Lauren Crawford Shaver.