“What does this mean for me?”
That is the lens constituents use to ask questions about new policy, legislation, or regulations coming out of city and county governments, state capitols, and Washington, D.C. Now more than ever it is imperative laws, rules, and regulations are shared with constituents via a localized, personal connection. And if you don’t answer that question, someone on the other side of the issue will.
So how does an organization position itself for success in making the local connection, particularly as we approach the upcoming elections this fall? While influencers, inside-the-Beltway pundits, and Twitter activists may be the loudest voices, local constituent/voter voices are often the most influential and trusted connection between a policy and its real-world implications. An announcement of additional funds for public health or infrastructure may result in local job growth just as a new tax may impact a company’s investment in a facility or factory. These are stories to tell – through the people who experience them daily.
If anyone is looking to connect with a voter on a particular issue, some key rules of the road are as follows:
Look for existing opportunities
Townhall meetings, in-district office meetings, and campaign events offer unique opportunities for face-to-face discussions with members and candidates in a setting that reinforces the state or district perspective on their issue. You can visit an event with other constituents and collectively ask questions.
It’s easier to share the personal impact of an issue when a member of Congress is in-district and face-to-face. “Research shows face-to-face requests are 34 times more effective than those sent by email, and that a physical handshake promotes cooperation and influences negotiation outcomes for the better.”
Personalize the interaction and keep it short
Members of Congress are just as active, if not more, when they are home and want to meet with their constituents – just as candidates want too as well. When meeting, personalize the story and impact. This is not only important in connecting with a policy or regulation but also with the person you may be meeting with. And, with that, keep it short: “94% of the House Chiefs of Staff felt a ‘1-2 page issue summary’ left behind after a meeting is somewhat or very helpful, while only 18% said the same of a ‘5 page or greater length’ document.”
Issue advocacy campaigns should follow suit by shifting more of their communications away from D.C. and capitalizing on in-state or in-district activities allowing for more face-to-face engagement. Being away from D.C. means members of Congress will be spending more time meeting with constituents and local organizations, focusing on local priorities.
Engage local media
When answering the question on how/what a policy means to a voter, connect with local media to help tell the story. Storytelling is critical to bringing a story to life and whether back in their home district or in D.C., members of Congress and their staffs pay close attention to media outlets from their district or state.
Too often local media outlets are overlooked or overshadowed by national outlets like cable news or national publications like the Wall Street Journal or New York Times. Unlike national publications, which tend to be dominated by national figures, local publications look to publish pieces from community leaders, local business leaders, and local elected officials. Local earned media frames an issue or policy from the state and/or district level, giving them greater insights on the impact back home and a sense of the mood and level of support back home.
According to a Knight Foundation report, “public opinion research has shown that local news sources have typically earned more trust than their national counterparts.” In many ways, an op-ed, letter to the editor, or quote or interview given can carry more influence with members and their staffs than a piece by a national pundit. That said, given the consolidation within local and regional media, this job is getting tougher every day, so doing it well, and ensuring you have the team in place with the ability and reach into these outlets, is vital.
The local connection and activation of voters is critical for all levels of elected office. Whether reaching out and meeting in D.C., state capitols, district offices, at a townhall, making a phone call, sending an email or letter, or capturing a video, the personalized story will always be impactful. When you couple in other channels like social and paid digital advertising, email engagement and activation, along with local television through satellite media tours, you can communicate with an ever-growing percentage of key constituencies who will in turn communicate this message to members and their staffs. Now is the time to double down on this strategy, as candidates and elected officials spend time meeting their voters going into the fall.
About Forbes Tate Partners:
Forbes Tate Partners is a bipartisan, full-service public affairs consultancy specializing in government relations, grassroots advocacy, strategic communications, fundraising, and business development. The firm’s primary areas of specialty are the development and implementation of bipartisan lobbying and advocacy strategies related to tax, health care, natural resource management, trade, energy, telecommunications, outdoor recreation, appropriations, and agriculture. Jeff Forbes and Dan Tate, Jr. founded the firm in 2012.