The 2023 Minnesota Legislative Session is in full swing. Many bills are moving quickly through the process, while others seem to be falling by the wayside. With thousands of competing issues at the Capitol each year, many organizations and advocacy groups are wondering how to set their issue apart and break through the noise.
Having spent nearly a decade inside the Legislature, and many additional years since building and executing public affairs campaigns that influence policy, it’s important to always remember the strength of a solid grassroots campaign, the critical role that media can play in building public sentiment, and how the simple one-on-one contact between lawmakers and constituents can help make all the difference.
Know Your Audience
One thing that is often forgotten in public affairs planning is that while you may have one goal, you need to talk to different audiences in different ways. Having a homogenous message may not work when you’re talking to Republicans vs Democrats, Suburban vs Urban vs Greater Minnesota members, or lawmakers focused on different committees and issues areas. Diverse voices within a coalition may bring different perspectives and various strengths to engage key lawmakers as well. You want a consistent message, but it also needs to be flexible so you’re talking to a variety of audiences in a way that is meaningful to them.
Personalizing messages, understanding the values and priorities of strategic lawmakers who can swing votes, and making sure you have the right message for the right audience is important.
Don’t Underestimate the Power of Coalitions and Constituents
Building diverse coalitions with influential voices can help push your issue to the finish line. At K2, we regularly bring together diverse groups that on paper may not seem to politically fit or align with one another, but they share goals to get certain bills passed or policies changed. The broader the coalition you can build, the better.
It’s also important to not underestimate the power of constituent voices in public affairs campaigns. I see many firms pushing big digital campaigns and targeted texting, calling and mass blast emails to lawmakers. That can be a key part of your strategy, but let me tell you, I cannot count the number of times legislators would share in caucus that their whole district was up in arms about an issue or demanding change when they had maybe received just a few phone calls and a personalized email or two on an issue. The personal touch and pressure from local voters can be a huge factor in influencing legislators. Sometimes, there is more power in personable messengers than in sheer numbers.
Don’t Forget About the Press
Creating media buzz can also play a significant role in getting legislation passed. At the Capitol, there are numerous political reporters whose full-time job is to cover the legislative session and politics. Reaching out to reporters – whether or background or to pitch stories can help put something on the press’ radar that may have otherwise gone overlooked. Tactics like rallies, testimony in committees, press conferences, and more are also events that the press should be alerted to. If you have a handful of coalition members who can interview with and talk to the press about your issue, it can also help give the press what they need to write a positive, impactful story.
What’s more, in addition to building buzz with Capitol press, don’t forget the power of the hometown press in swaying legislators. Local letters to the editor, opinion editorials, radio interviews, and more can make lawmakers see pressure to act coming from their own backyard.
The Power of Social Media
As our world becomes more digital, I see many more public affairs campaigns going the way of digital ad buys and pushing click-throughs to contact legislators. This is a decent tactic, but just like in emails, letters to the editor, and other legislator communications – the more personal you can make communication, the better.
Facebook is still a platform lawmakers use regularly to communicate with constituents, and having third-party organizations and constituents write and tag elected officials in social media posts can help elevate your issue. Twitter is a great place to engage with policymakers and the press as well to push your narrative on an issue.
Think about building social media calendars so you are regularly engaging with lawmakers and providing coalition members with the tools they need to get the message out there.
It’s Not Too Late to Start
Although we are already a month into session, it’s not too late to start building and executing a meaningful public affairs plan that can influence lawmakers and get your issue to the finish line. K2 is here to help, and we can build and execute a public affairs plan that works best for your client or your issue.