Advocacy Strategies and Tactics Evolved

by Joe Fuld (He/Him)

advocacy Tactics Smiling woman and man carrying pink block on grid

Advocacy Tactics and Strategies Have Shifted Over Time

Advocacy tactics and advocacy campaign strategies will continuously change with the times and so must we. When I was a Chief of Staff in the New York State Legislature, I don't remember ever seeing a coordinated public affairs campaign highlighting public support of an issue that focused on legislators. The main way groups moved legislation was to hire a lobbyist, and that was it. There were occasional print ads and lobby days, but day-to-day mass contact from constituents driven by member groups was few and far between. Today, we spend a lot of time running advocacy campaigns at the state level. Issue advocacy tactics were once only used on large federal issues. Public affairs campaigns are now common on smaller federal issues as well as state and municipal issues. 

Advocacy tactics are now targeted at the district level and focus on key state lawmakers — elected, appointed, or corporate. These campaigns use a combination of advocacy tactics and strategies including digital ads, patch-through calls, direct mail, virtual lobby visits, and much more. This is a major change from ten or even just five years ago.

Groups and organizations have used these advocacy campaigns to build long-term power and achieve both their primary and secondary goals. Primary goals may be moving or stopping legislation and policies. Secondary goals may be building or empowering advocates in specific districts or areas.  

The advocacy tactics we use today are much more sophisticated. We are able to use targeting and analytics to find folks who could be engaged on an issue. Targeting will continue to get even more sophisticated as models and technology improve. 

Here is a list of advocacy tactics that we think have grown over the past years out of innovation and necessity.

Advocacy spending: State and local advocacy spending will continue to grow

We have seen advocacy spending grow exponentially, year after year. We will continue to see growth as long as groups continue to see benefits in achieving their goals through advocacy and public affairs campaigns.

Advocacy at the state level is where real, significant growth has happened over the years. This growth is often due to the lack of movement on the federal level and more power and funding coming from state budgets. Advocacy funding will likely continue to grow on the municipal and county levels as well. Remember, many municipalities and counties have larger budgets than many states and, due to lack of funding, there will be more fights over resources and advocacy campaigns around priorities.

How your advocacy organization threads the needle of partisan politics on the state and local level is different than at the federal level, but not that different. Advocacy groups need to have friends on both sides of the aisle, and this goes beyond a paid lobbyist or operative.

Model legislation: Not just for conservatives

A lot has been said about ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), but they are not the only group pushing model legislation. There are dozens of groups pushing model legislation to move issues on the state level across multiple states. Look for more of this on the municipal and county level moving forward.

When it comes to winning advocacy tactics, relationships still matter. Whatever the tactics are, relationships are the core of good advocacy strategies. You can have 1,000 calls from constituents, but the right call from someone influential to the legislator can have an even stronger effect. This is nothing new, but what has changed is the length of these fights. There are battles that can go on for years, and you need to have organizational relationships that hold up over time. It is long-range and multi-year. It is hard to keep members and families focused on a legislative fight that lasts six years or longer, but that is what is happening on both the federal and state level. Make sure your advocacy tactics and strategies are sustainable.

Traditional lobbying: Merging old and new advocacy tactics 

Traditional lobbying has been the same for a long time, but we are beginning to see changes in strategies by traditional lobbying firms. More sophisticated advocacy tactics from lobbying firms include integrated campaigns that use the best of old-school lobbying fused with new-school targeting tactics and advocacy technology. Look for this to continue to evolve and continue to change, although this movement has been slow in many places.

Grassroots advocacy: Bridging the engagement gap

Grassroots advocacy strategies are an effective and efficient way of expanding and engaging the universe of constituents who care about an issue. If you can get enough constituents to contact their lawmakers and stay active on an issue, the chances of success for your advocacy program will be increased greatly. Engagement, however, continues to be a major problem for advocacy campaigns. Look for many folks in the advocacy realm, including us, to continue to work on new ways to engage folks on issues in the future. Think of how you would want to be engaged if you didn’t know your organization, and then build out your engagement funnel accordingly. 

Virtual fly-ins: Take advantage of virtual opportunities  

Legislators are more accessible now than in the past but reaching legislators is still hard. Getting a virtual meeting with constituents still takes planning, organization, clear messaging, and defined goals. It is more important than ever to plan lobbying efforts and have them fit with the legislative calendar and a public affairs campaign.

Digital advocacy: Mobile matters

Digital advocacy has come a long way since I first started running digital advocacy campaigns in 2003. Email still plays an important role in advocacy and awareness. Although email is not going away, it is no longer the only show in town. Mobile has become a great advocacy tool, whether it is old-school texting or mobile geo-fencing. The flexibility and scalability of mobile technology make it a great advocacy tool for the future. Look for more advocacy tools that continue to engage users through smartphones and tablets moving forward.

List building and CPA campaigns: Bringing people in

Many groups are now using a petition publisher, organic petition tools, or gathering sign-ups through digital advertising. Digital petitions can increase your capacity and connect you with new advocates in specific districts. List building takes time so make sure you are planning ahead.

Content marketing: Rethink the way you are creating content

Proactively answering questions is a great way to drive engagement. Search engines are not going away, yet there are fewer and fewer blogs and publications. Organizations that properly organize and approach their content can drive real traffic and make real connections with potential members and donors. Look for content marketing to expand in the non-profit and advocacy world as it has with for-profit companies. Mobile-friendly forms and ongoing sign-ups have made content marketing a good acquisition tactic. 

OTT and pre-roll for advocacy: Using video to engage

If you have video assets, pre-roll is a great way to engage with constituents for awareness. When we look at the future, it will likely include a smaller cable audience, and a viewership that is more reliant on pre-roll or ads within streaming services like Apple TV or Chromecast, and smart TVs. For those who are attached to cable television, it is still a viable option, but we can undoubtedly see an incremental change. The change away from cable in advocacy strategies is similar to the way folks have moved away from landline phones.

For your advocacy strategies, the real question is: Will video content be a means to drive users into action? Video is great for moving folks emotionally, but it does not always close the deal or get folks to take action. We are now seeing user-generated content that is beginning to make inroads and engage people in a significant way. As we saw in 2020, user-generated content has really come of age with multiple platforms that make it easier for groups and organizations to identify storytellers and create long-term engagement.

Native advertising: Finding supporters where they are

Across the web, content is still best, and that will remain the case for quite a while. However, with fewer publications making a real impact, the ones that do are getting a lot of engagement and readers. Some of these good publications are allowing organizations to buy long-form ads that really connect with constituents, known as native advertising. Just be careful, as in any up-and-coming medium, there are good and bad ways to do this. Make sure that native advertising works as part of an overall strategy. We will likely see native advertising become more and more common-place and, someday, may even compete with display advertising. Native advertising may also yield greater connections that will become conversions for action.

Phones: Making a connection 

Patch-through calls, whether done with phone consultants or platforms like Phone2Action, can connect constituents to their lawmakers quickly and with solid results. Patch-through programs can be expensive but worth the expense to connect with a lawmaker. Be sure to make this part of an overall advocacy strategy since patch-through calls are less sustainable than other tactics.      

Texting is an effective way to reach supporters in a more immediate way. Peer-to-peer texting platforms have moved into the advocacy space, and they are here to stay. Broadcast texting is also built into many platforms. Make sure you follow the law and use the texting tool that is right for your audience. Building a real texting program takes time. Make sure you build extra time to ramp up your program.

The advocacy tactics we use today have grown and changed over the years and will continue to do so. As you build out your advocacy strategy, make sure you think through how tactics change so you create a public affairs effort that will last.

Have questions about advocacy tactics and planning for public affairs campaigns? Drop us a note.