April 3, 2015

While glitzy ad campaigns and infectious social media strategies are a staple of the public affairs business, the enduring value of good old-fashioned “face time” should not be underestimated. Retail politicking – whether through canvasing door-to-door, addressing interest groups or staging rallies – puts you in close, personal proximity to the people you need to convert and is often the most effective form of persuasion. As a wise political operative once said, “Make people do what you need them to do, make them think it’s their idea, and make them think they are having fun doing it.”

Creating an organic and effective ground game is not easy. It requires taking some risks by coming out from behind your keypad or phone and being face-to-face with the people you’re trying to influence. It means having tough conversations and not being afraid to have a door or two slammed in your face. It means getting creative enough to find pathways for people on the fence to see things your way.

Here are three things to remember when designing the ground component of your next campaign:

Know your audience

It’s the oldest adage in politics, and for good reason – it can often be the most important. While crunching data can help you do this, don’t underestimate the power of a more personal connection. Get to know your opponents. Read their literature, follow their blogs and connect with them on social media. Meet them. Get to know them personally. Don’t be afraid to start a conversation with people who don’t always agree with you. You might (and probably will) learn something valuable.

Cast a wide net

Politics breeds strange bedfellows. Your nemesis from last week might be your strongest advocate today. Identify where stakeholder groups stand on an issue and tailor your message to show how your proposal can solve their problems as well as yours. In order to move the needle on an issue, you have to activate more than the “usual suspects.” Create a pathway for nontraditional allies to get involved.

Get your hands dirty

Get out of your office and attend events where the opposition has a presence. Plant questions. Get them on the record at debates and public meetings. Gather their handouts and documents when possible. Tactics like these aren’t necessarily engineered to sway people to your side of the fence (although it is certainly possible), but they can rattle your opposition and give you fodder to use to your advantage.