Part 1: Understanding Your Objective

June 1, 2016
Jim Gianiny, President

As DDC turns 20 this year, we’re reflecting back on the insights, best practices, and strategies that have allowed us to achieve success for so many of our clients. As part of our anniversary, we want to share some of these insights with you—namely, the most common elements of today’s most successful public affairs campaigns.

To kick off this blog series, we begin where any good campaign begins—understanding your objective and the principles to keep in mind when defining goals. You can’t measure the success of your efforts without first defining what counts as a win. The strongest, most effective advocacy campaigns hone in on what they’re ultimately trying to achieve—which then informs their strategies and tactical execution. As you begin to set up a campaign, the following four components are essential to developing the foundation on which a strong advocacy program is built.

Part I: Understanding Your Objective

1. Determine Your Desired Outcome

Why are you building an advocacy campaign? When setting up a program, you have to know why it’s needed. Whether it’s to increase your influence on Capitol Hill or increase donations for your PAC, you must be able to demonstrate what lies at the end of the path for your program and why that path is important to your organization’s broader goals.

Let’s say you’re working to pass new state legislation that supports your organization’s business model; it’s vital that you strategize how your public affairs campaign can support this goal and through what means you can best deliver your messages—not only to the policymakers, but also to the public at large.

2. Audit Your Current Properties and Resources

As an organization, you have existing resources, assets, and communications networks that can be leveraged in whole or in part to communicate your issue priorities. You likely have some that are significantly underutilized as well. As a foundational step to understanding how best to communicate your message, first take a look inward at your organization and understand your efforts to date.

Conducting an audit of your current political, advocacy, and economic assets, mapped against key political geographies, will enable you to understand your areas of strength—and equally important areas where you need to engage, but are currently lacking a foothold. Likewise, an audit of your existing communications and properties will allow you to recognize and catalog the resources you have versus what you may be missing, how you’ve been successful and with whom, and where you’re falling short. With this knowledge, you can pinpoint effective strategies that maximize the reception of your campaign and its message.

3. Research Your Audience and Messaging Tactics

Designing a strategy and campaign firmly rooted in research is critical to your success. After a thorough audit of your assets and communications, more sophisticated research and analytics can identify high-value audiences (those most likely to align with your messaging and take action, including those you’re not actively engaging). These audiences are identified based on their online and offline behaviors and values, including what motivates them to act. What’s more, you can learn where they like to live online—the media they consume—and how you can effectively reach them.

By pinpointing the shared values that resonate with your audiences, you will inform your message playbook as well as your tactical execution—what recruitment strategies you will leverage to engage, educate, and convert them from supporters to genuine activists. Surveys, polling, focus groups, and other research methods can further shape the framework of your campaign and support your overarching goals. The more rooted in research and analytics your engagement strategies are, the more effective they will be in resonating with their intended audiences.

4. Create a Message Playbook

Once you’ve defined your goals, examined your existing properties, and conducted research on your audiences, you can set the foundation for your message playbook. This playbook helps you establish rules for both online and offline campaign messaging across platforms—from website content and advocate outreach communications, to media engagement and editorial content.

Depending on the nature of your campaign and the level of opposition you face, this playbook will also provide guideposts for developing both proactive and responsive messaging to keep your campaign platform on track. This tactical playbook then serves as a north star for the campaign, guiding all of your future communication efforts with ease and clarity.

Utilizing these tactics will allow for the continued steady and organic growth of your campaign. Home-builders do not build a house from the roof down but begin with a clear picture of the end goal so they can then lay the groundwork that supports the rest of the pieces. Define what success looks like for your organization. By understanding your objectives and existing advocacy infrastructure, you will be primed for the build-out of a successful and substantial public affairs campaign—which we’ll cover more of in our next post in this series. Stay tuned!

Check out the rest of the tactics below: 

Part 2: Understanding Your Audience

Part 3: Staging the Conversation

Part 4: Engaging Your Audience

Part 5: Activating Your Audience


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