The Evolution of Corporate Advocacy in the Public Policy Arena
A corporate executive recently asked me to point him in the direction of the definitive research paper or article on the major trends on corporate public policy advocacy. What I found was, a definitive paper does not exist. So I sat down and set about to write it.
The following outlines the major trends impacting corporate public policy advocacy and the implications for businesses who want to be more effective in achieving favorable policies and regulations. It’s just a rough outline at this point. I welcome any thoughts and feedback.
Eight Important Long-Term Trends
Policymakers and their staff are increasingly millennial.
Millennials, those between 18 and 34, have surpassed the Baby Boomers as the new backbone in the American workforce. With their rise, technology has become paramount, the new generation relying on social media and online communication to catch their attention. According to the data, 25% of congressional Chiefs of Staff and roughly 74% of both House and Senate staffers are millennials.
Social Media (primarily Twitter) has fueled shorter news cycles.
Media elites shape their news’ stories in real-time on social media. If used properly, one can watch the story unfold before it is ever printed online or in a paper. Now, when news breaks, ‘conventional wisdom’ on a policy issue or topic is often shaped in a matter of minutes.
- More than half (51 percent) of journalists report they would be unable to do their job without social media
- More than half (53.8 percent) of all U.S. journalists regularly use microblogs such as Twitter for gathering information and reporting their stories.
Technologies have increased the transparency of the legislative and regulatory processes.
Citizens and companies now have access to an unparalleled amount of information concerning lawmakers’ goals, thought-process and decisions. This allows one to see the reasoning and impact of legislation and regulations in real-time.
- Sites such as govtrack.us, 4us.com and thedatacoalition.org keep up to date voting records, key statements and statistics on members of Congress.
The media environment is increasingly fragmented and ideologically polarized.
People no longer obtain their content from only television and newspapers. The internet caused media consumption to splinter across channels and platforms. This makes targeting specific demographics easier, but general messaging more difficult, because individuals no longer obtain their news from a small set of sources.
According to the Pew Research Survey, “Political Polarization & Media Habits,” 47% of consistently conservative individuals and 50% of consistently liberal individuals obtain their news from a partisan media source.
99 % of Americans say that on a typical day, they checked the news from at least one of the following: on television, radio, in print or on the web.
- TV is dominant, with 78 % of Americans saying they watch local TV news
- 73 % get their news from networks or cable news channels.
- The internet is growing; 61 % said they checked the news online.
- Radio (54 %) barely beat local newspapers (50 %).
- National newspapers came in at 17 %.
As the federal legislative branch has become less effective, the federal executive branch and state governments have stepped up their policymaking to fill the void.
The legislative branch has increasingly ceded governing to the executive branch and state governments. This shift in power is decades in the making and fundamentally changes how policymaking, regulating and lobbying occurs.
According to Politico, “Presidents have managed to accumulate such a prominent place at the top of what is now increasingly a pyramid rather than a horizontal structure of three connected blocks because for more than a generation, Congress has willingly abandoned both its constitutional responsibilities and its ability to effectively serve as a check on the executive even when it wishes to do so.”
Technology has enabled a surge in citizen lobbying.
Since the advent of the Internet, the number of communications from citizens has exploded and it continues to rise. Congress received four times more communications in 2004 than 1995—all of the increase from Internet-based communications. Phone lines are so gridlocked that lawmakers are nervously taking to social media to apologize that constituents can't get through and reassure them that we hear them on Capitol Hill.
The ideological makeup of Congress is increasingly polarized.
Over the decades, the number of moderates in Congress has decreased while the number of liberal and conservative members have grown. This is due to the increased polarization of the voting public and the effects of gerrymandering, which has created more homogeneous voting districts and thus more partisan lawmakers.
Policymakers and their staff are overworked and overloaded with information.
With the rise of social media and advanced technology, constituent communication and policy information bombard lawmakers. Sometimes it is difficult to break through the haze of media to make an impact.
Seven Implications for Corporate Advocacy
Corporations must become excellent at the art of persuasion.
Words matter. Organizations need to excel at marshalling the right words at the right time to speak to key thought leaders and policymakers across the ideological spectrum. This type of persuasion must appeal to both logic and emotion. It requires thoughtful research and agility that only comes by putting an increased focus on strategic communications across all company functions.
Corporations must develop the capability to speak to policymakers and media outlets across a wide ideological spectrum.
The days of a single unified campaign across online, print, and television channels that appeals to all is gone. Now, to address an issue, companies must shape their message with targeted language based on the platform and audience that will receive it. This way, it will speak to audiences across the ideological spectrum.
Communication to policymakers must break through the clutter and be memorable.
It is not enough to execute a standard public affairs playbook anymore. Policymakers experience information overload, so interactions with them need to be innovative. Providing the opportunity for a lawmaker to touch and feel the product or company space coupled with creative visual or written content could be the difference between becoming white noise and making an impact.
Corporations must improve their ability to mobilize employees, customers and other unexpected voices to speak on behalf of their organization.
The government relations professional is no longer a lone-wolf or someone who just manages relationships with people on the hill. They are a conductor, orchestrating the entire company workforce and the fast-moving company communication strategies to more effectively deliver messages to capitol hill.
The public affairs communications function and the government relations function must be seamlessly integrated.
With the rise of both a millennial workforce and the consumption of online media, the importance of strategic communications has risen. It is no longer an auxiliary role that retroactively responds. Instead, communications and government relations teams must work closely to respond to and advocate for company issues.
Corporations must become excellent at social listening, intelligence gathering and analysis.
In an age of lightning quick communication, a public affairs team needs the capability to digest conversations from all corners of the country and the world. These teams need to employ tools to quickly understand, analyze and assess the possible impact of an issue to determine the signal through the noise.
Corporations should invest in building capacity to mobilize and execute quickly when unexpected issues arise.
Building out the capability to respond to an issue quickly means streamlining information dissemination and decision-making processes and protocol. Detailed game plans or mock crisis simulations are important to identify and improve communications strategies company-wide.