Issue Advocacy & Projecting Your Message
Despite all the TV commercials and yard signs you see in election years, public relations and earned media play a vital role in issue advocacy, and it’s a role that never stops. Sometimes the role is swaying opinion or motivating action around an issue with which everyone is already familiar. Other times, the first step is educating people that the issue exists and explaining why they should care about it.
When we develop and execute strategic issue advocacy campaigns, our goal is to create attention around an issue through events, stakeholder identification, mobilization of supporters and utilizing media outlets and other communications tools, effectively breaking down barriers and promoting change. Issue advocacy can take a little more time and patience, but the impact is worth the effort.
When we talk issue advocacy with a potential client, they’re often looking for the same kind of immediate results they see from their marketing and paid advertising efforts. A well-thought-out public relations strategy, however, with a story presented over longer periods of time by the media or through social influencers can distribute their message in a more sincere way making it more impactful because it comes from non-paid sources that have more credibility than paid marketing efforts.
CRAFT YOUR MESSAGE
Issue advocacy starts with crafting the right message—one that will speak to the audience, help them understand the issue and why it’s important to them and then motivate them to act. It takes more than just a couple conversations with journalists or legislators to identify the right message; it must be crafted to fit and engage the largest audience.
Just like selling a product, issue advocacy is about informing and shaping opinions. When you’re advocating for an issue, you’re selling ideas. When done well, issue advocacy goes beyond paid advertising’s reach and connects your message with your audience by changing the way the story is told.
PROJECT YOUR VOICE
Finding the message that fits the largest audience is not something that can be done with shortcuts, and you’ll need patience as you build a foundation of public knowledge and support. Your issue advocacy PR strategy might include news releases, editorials and issue statements, which typically have a slower timeline for gaining traction.
In this time, it’s still important to take advantage of paid advertising. Paid advertising will be much more effective when your message has been determined and your paid advertising and PR efforts are supporting each other. A well-integrated strategy using both PR and paid tactics will work much better than pouring all efforts into one or the other.
For one of our clients advocating for a legislative change regarding health care in Oklahoma, it took a year of sending press releases and targeted pitches and a number of one-on-one conversations with journalists before those reporters really took an interest in the issue and started writing stories about it. Prior to our efforts, it wasn’t that people had opposed the idea. They didn’t know the issue existed. Once they knew it existed, they didn’t know why they should care. We had to connect those dots. It took the right messaging. This issue could’ve been seen as an unimportant and obscure regulatory issue only affecting a small group of people. Our messaging was centered around access to health care services and consumer choice, something that affects everyone in the state.
Results don’t come overnight. It takes laying a lot of groundwork, message development and having conversations with influencers—journalists, legislators, community leaders—before an issue might start to gain traction. Then, pressing onward to gain support and raise awareness. Issue advocacy can be a years-long process requiring endurance and keen public relations expertise.