The Advocacy Conference Gave You Great Ideas. Now What?

February 12, 2018
Shannon Manning, Senior Vice President, Strategic Communications & Engagement

If there was a single theme at this year’s Advocacy Conference, it was relationships. Specifically, the importance of good relationships to the success of your advocacy efforts. Relationships with legislators, advocates, internal stakeholders, reporters, even—yes—vendors. Relationships, and how you manage them, are the core of effective advocacy.

Here’s the challenge: building good relationships may be the most important strategy, but it’s also often the most challenging. Everything from the technology and data you use to the complexities of your target audience, quality of your creative assets, and your messaging—not to mention the size of your team and your budget—affects your ability to build the relationships you need. It can quickly become overwhelming, especially when you leave the conference and have to focus on your day job once again.

Everyone who’s ever been to a conference knows the feeling. You go to an inspiring session and you come away with the wheels turning with a plethora of ideas of how you can transform your advocacy program. Then two weeks go by and your conference notes are still hiding in the corner of your desk.

Here are a few things you can do to help ensure you continue to capitalize on the reasons you went to the conference in the first place.

Resist the urge to try to do everything at once.

The conference is packed with good ideas and lots of smart people. The more sessions you attend and the more of your colleagues you talk to, the more you can start thinking, “How do I even start?” or “This is great, but I don’t have the budget or resources to do all this.” Go through your notes and circle the things you’d really like to try, and then pick one or two that seem feasible and most appropriate for your program’s specific goals and challenges. Then remember the word “try.” Try one or two things and see if they work. If they do, keep building on them. If they don’t, try something else. The best advocacy programs do a few things really well rather than a lot of things just so-so. Try using the SMART approach if you need help with selecting the tools or tactics that will best fit your program.

Don’t leave the home team in the dark.

You may walk into the office on Monday morning ready to change the world. The team members who didn’t attend the conference may not have the same enthusiasm for all your conference-inspired ideas. You can help create buy-in for the things you want to do by first sharing with them what you learned and asking them to weigh in on which ideas will be most valuable for your organization to pursue. If possible, set up a meeting for the week after the conference to debrief the team on what you learned and provide a platform for team members to discuss their thoughts on how to move forward as a team.

Stay in contact with the people you met at the conference.

One of the big challenges for advocacy professionals is often that they feel alone in trying to move their programs forward. The CEO doesn’t understand your job. Other departments have different priorities. The people you are trying to engage are skeptical about what you’re asking them to do. But you don’t have to face those challenges alone. Hopefully you have a good team around you in the office, but you also now have relationships you can leverage with a bunch of smart people who know what it feels like to stand in your shoes. Be sure to reach out and keep talking, sharing ideas, and building a support network beyond your organization to shore you up when you hit bumps in the road.

Build out a process and expect growing pains.

No change happens instantly. Work with your team to create a plan and schedule that will move your ideas forward in an organized and manageable way. By creating a plan that introduces change in phases, your goals instantly become more achievable. Don’t forget to allow time for new strategies and tactics to take hold within the organization, and don’t be surprised by growing pains along the way. Everyone needs the opportunity to adjust, and it’s important to allow the team to acclimate to shifts in business strategies.

Fail fast, but don’t give up too soon.

Too many advocacy professionals are afraid to press for change because something they try might fail. But advocacy is both art and science, and what works for one program may not work for another. Test new ideas, and don’t get discouraged if some of them don’t work. Embrace testing—and occasionally failing—as part of building a program that will sustain for the long term. At the same time, if something doesn’t yield results as quickly as you hoped, don’t throw it out too soon. If you see it gaining traction, give it some time. Advocacy programs have to mature a day at a time just like relationships do.

Do your conference takeaways and goals need more support? DDC can help. For more than 20 years, we have helped our clients navigate complex issues and reshape conversations to help clients move the needle. Come say hello at our next conference together or contact us below to see how we can help you achieve your 2018 goals.

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