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Polling Washington Elites on Why Some Public Affairs Campaigns Succeed and Others Fail


Each year a very large number of trade associations, consumer groups, unions, and citizen associations run campaigns in Washington either advocating or opposing legislation or regulation.

Each group has a different set of resources at their disposal. Some have a wealth of activist membes, but little money in the bank. Others have a relatively small membership, but ample financial resources. Some have a regional coalition with strong relations with Congress in a few key states, and others are nationally dispersed and lacking strong relations. The permutations are almost endless.

But, each year groups like this petition their government and run a public affairs campaign inside Washington in order to have their voices heard.

With this in mind, StrategyOne's Washington office conducted a groundbreaking survey of 1200 Washington elites using its Beltway Barometer. Interviews were conducted by phone in only the most affluent Washington zipcodes among people who work or have worked in "official Washington" (working or having worked in the White House, Congress, the judiciary, the Pentagon, a federal agency, a think tank, trade association, PAC, the national parties, state or local government, etc.)

The full results can be found here.

But, for a quick overview, here is what we found:

There is no substitute for people power.
"Building strong grassroots outside the beltway" was chosen as the most important of the nine (9) public affairs ingredients tested. Having a strong lobbying team is surely important, but elites clearly feel that it is subordinate to having strong grassroots. In fact, our research found that even those in the lobbying community felt that grassroots was #1.

Beltway coalitions are a must. The second most important ingredient for success was having a large coalition of groups inside the beltway. These coalitions are a force multiplier and help a group expand it Congressional reach by multiplying its contact points.

Have a clear, cutting, message. The third ingredient chosen was "developing messaging, framing the issue to their advantage, and owning the vocabulary used to discuss the issue." There is no substitute for a message.

Why do these inside the beltway public affairs campaigns fail?

Again, we asked Washington elites and they identified two main failure points:

1. Poor message development
2. Limited grassroots support outside the beltway

What does this mean?

First, it means that groups contemplating a public affairs campaign in Washington need to have the processes and policy positions in place to activate their members in a way that allows them to clearly advocate for a specific policy. Grassroots strength is clearly critical (far more critical than having a great spokesperson or a wonderful media relations team).

Secondly, it means that groups running these campaigns need a message strategy and a message czar that keeps the group on track and on message. Having a well developed message with supporting proof points and logical rebuttals is essential. But, having the discipline to stay on message and not go down rabbit holes is critical.

 

MAP - US, AL, AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, HI, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, VA, WA, WV, WI, WY, PR