How Advocacy Groups Can Shape a Message in Congress

February 21, 2018

At the beginning of the 115th Congress, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tapped freshman Rep. Donald McEachin to join the Democratic Environmental Messaging Team. In this position, McEachin is tasked with taking in the requests and calls to action from environmental advocacy groups and crafting a message for the Democrats in Congress around climate change and other environmental issues.

Based on these experiences, McEachin gave three tips on how advocacy groups can make an impact on legislators’ policy messaging:

Localize the Issue

One of the most important things to McEachin when hearing from advocacy groups is that he hears from one of his constituents.

“While you may have an umbrella organization that is based here in DC that coordinates things, make sure you bring constituents to the offices,” McEachin told Quorum.

While the first option would be someone from the district, an even better option is to bring in an advocate who may have a personal relationship with the member.

“When you hear a familiar city or even a familiar name from a particularly active constituent, that helps resonate with the congressman or congresswoman,” McEachin said.

Make Your Representative Your First Contact

For McEachin, it is more challenging to act swiftly on an issue when he first hears about it from the media, rather than from his constituents. When they hear from the media first, McEachin’s staff must be reactive rather than proactive in its steps to address the policy issue.

“Oftentimes we’ll get the message secondhand,” McEachin said. “The media will come to us and say ‘Did you know that…’ and of course we handle it appropriately and we try to jump on it, but we want our constituents to know they don’t have to call the TV station first, that we ought to be their first stop.”

Speak to Both Sides of the Aisle

In his first year in Congress, McEachin was one of the most successful freshmen in the chamber at garnering cosponsors for his legislation, with an average of 34 cosponsors per bill introduced. One of the keys to his success? Looking for issues that aren’t necessarily just Democratic or Republican.

“There’s some things that don’t have a D or an R behind it,” McEachin said. “That’s something that doesn’t know partisan boundaries, so trying to find issues like that to promote, then identifying those members who may be like minded is I think how we’ve been so successful.”

If your organization has several issues it is looking to move the needle, identify bipartisan sticking points and use those as a kickstarter to getting things done.

Bottom Line:

For McEachin, effective advocacy comes down to being personal. While national advocacy groups amplify their supporters voices through social media or press mentions, to get the ear of your member of Congress, it’s important to bring the stories into their office. Coordinate fly-ins to bring constituents into a meetings, reach out to members early in the process to build champions, and bring ideas that they can help mold into a bipartisan piece of legislation.

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