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We enter 2017 with more unknowns than knowns. Here is what we know: health care, trade, cyber security, and financial regulation and reform are top federal priorities. However, what we don’t know is how these policies may or may not take shape – whether through legislation, rule-making, executive orders, or even, in today’s digital age, Twitter.

Advocacy groups, Fortune 500s, non-profits, and trade associations are all working nonstop to ensure their issues are promoted – or, at the very least, protected. In order to accomplish this, it’s time to move past 2016 and get down to hand-to-hand combat, local storytelling, thought leadership, and issue advocacy work.

So, let’s start with what works as guiding principles in laying the groundwork for a successful public affairs strategy:

Messengers are just as important as the facts

Often, Washington is fixated on who knows who, but we all really should be asking who knows what and who advocates for that what. The 2016 election proved a valuable point: people don’t believe actual facts if they don’t trust the messenger. This is certainly the case as elected officials want to hear what their constituents want and need. With the rise of “data-driven journalism” – such as UpShot and FiveThirtyEight – it is evident that thought leaders inside the Beltway expect to see the macro impact on a policy, while constituents are focused on the micro.

Every successful public affairs campaign must answer: “How does this impact the constituent outside of Washington?” And, only once that message is refined, must also answer: “Who is the ideal messenger to deliver that message?” These two must be answered together with an eye in to engage constituents. We cannot take a Beltway message or infographic and assume it will work within the states – but, instead, we must localize each issue.

Always think from the outside in

Advocates, companies, and associates often overlook their most valuable asset in story telling – their people. Employees, suppliers, alumni, and other networks have a valuable bond to the brand or cause. These stories and views reflect how voters feel and interpret an issue locally and carry weight with elected officials. Grassroots voices are critical to moving or stopping any legislation or regulation.

Voices from outside the Beltway carry interesting and new promise in defining your issues and  policy priorities. In the new year, it’s important to proactively be defined through the right messengers, targeting the right audience.

Define yourself before anyone (or social media) defines you

As we witnessed during this past election, fake news and social media spread information to both constituents and media outlets faster than antiquated traditional methods. This causes both accurate data and misinformation to frame a scandal, issue, or discussion faster than ever before.

To combat this, it is imperative to proactively define the value you bring to the economy, employees and general public well before this happens. Playing defense is never fun.

 

Ms. Crawford Shaver is a Partner at Forbes Tate Partners

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