If the pandemic taught us anything, it is that companies need a strong voice in government at every level. Thousands of companies across industries weathered existential threats to their business. In many cases, the difference between survival and failure was the ability to communicate effectively with federal, state and local officials.
There are lessons to be learned from the companies that made their case successfully. While effective lobbying is important, an increasing number of companies find that a values-aligned advocacy program is a powerful addition.
Increasingly, we see companies looking inward to employees and consumers to build their programs. The reason is simple. It is far easier to engage those with an existing relationship to the company than it is to court strangers. Employees, retired employees, happy customers, vendors, stockholders and others who share a company’s values can be the foundation of a truly active program.
Of course, consumers are usually the largest of these groups, representing many thousands of people, and that is where many companies find the path to scale. When it comes to engaging your customers, here are some of the strategies that successful companies use to gain traction.
1. Start With a Clear Plan
The mission and expectations that surround an advocacy program should be clear. Too many companies launch their efforts without a solid plan that outlines what they hope to achieve and how they will go about reaching those goals. Don’t make that mistake. Establish your expectations and the key performance indicators you will track up front.
2. Align Your Stakeholders
A values-aligned advocacy program is not something that can be dictated. Successful organizations get companywide buy-in. Of course, the C-suite needs to be supportive, but so too do the communications, government relations, legal and IT departments. At some companies, that list may be even bigger. For example, at a technology company, the people in product should also be onboard.
3. Plan Some Tests, First
If you can identify submarkets to test, you can explore different messaging and styles. This type of controlled experimentation is important to find the best way to engage consumers. When you have an approach that works, you can try it on new submarkets and steadily grow the program.
4. Keep Consumers Engaged
Once you have people engaged around policy issues, you have the opportunity to continue to provide them regular updates. The cadence will be different at every organization, based on the appetite your audience has for policy talk. Follow the data provided by your analytics and be careful not to overwhelm them. Varying the method of communication between text messaging, email, in-app notifications and other channels can help keep your audience engaged.
5. Give Your Advocates Choices
Think about moving your advocates up a ladder of engagement, from simple requests to those that are more involved. This means giving folks the opportunity to participate in different ways. For example, you can start by giving advocates a chance to join an action network. Next, you can give them a chance to call, email or tweet lawmakers and share positions with them. Later, you can ask your audience to tell their personal stories, either in writing or on video. Those stories can be used in content, on social media and in many other ways to support your program.
6. Identify and Reward ‘Super Advocates’
Not all members of your audience will respond equally. Every company has serious fans who are aligned to your values and willing to take action on almost every request. These “super advocates” can be strong allies in any policy battle and they should be cultivated. Consider special programs—such as a briefing with executives—aimed at rewarding those who are active.
7. Keep Your Team Informed
A healthy program monitors progress and reports program growth to all the primary players on your team. Key performance indicators may include the total number of people that engage, the number of advocates in specific districts, or the types of actions taken. Be sure to include a personalized letter with a compelling story to share with your internal team. An ideal monthly report should have both data and anecdotes to help underscore the breadth of your engagement.
Remember that Americans trust companies when it comes to policy. The Edelman Trust Barometer, which has monitored trust worldwide for more than two decades, says that companies are more likely than the government to provide leadership on societal problems (55% to 44%) and far more likely to execute solutions that get results (65% to 42%). Fully 74% of Americans trust their employer and 81% want CEOs to speak out on public policy.
Consumers also have expectations surrounding values communicated by the brands they use. A Harris Poll earlier this year found that 82% of shoppers want brand values to match their own and that 75% have stopped using a brand that no longer reflects their values.
All the data points to a single conclusion: a values-aligned advocacy program aimed at employees and consumers is a strong addition to the government relations team at almost every company.