Issue advocacy describes the interconnected disciplines of public relations aimed at achieving a specific policy objective. The job of an issue advocate is to create an external environment – supportive media coverage, digital activity, grassroots activism – so that a lobbyist can deliver the votes and be successful.
Such an objective could be the passage or blockage of legislation, promulgation of a regulation or issuance of a permit. Public affairs professionals work hand-in-glove with lobbyists and other advocates to build public support for their client’s position. It’s often said that lobbyists work inside the building (a city hall, state capital or US Capitol), while issue advocates work outside the building (in the media, online and on “Main Street”), creating understanding and public support for a particular public policy issue.
In our experience, good issue advocacy meets what we call the M-A-D test.
The M is for multi-modal.
This means that decision makers should hear about your side of the issue through a variety of communication channels. They should see your views reflected online – in the blogosphere and through social media. They should see editorials, op-eds and letters-to-the-editor favorable to your position in their hometown papers. They should hear directly from their constituents through letters, phone calls and office visits.
The A is for authentic.
Policy makers and their staffs are generally savvy to the ways of generating influence. People who advocate on your behalf must be doing so for believable reasons. If it looks mass produced or like people are just being “put up” to exert pressure, it won’t work. The job of a good issue advocate is to identify groups of people who have a legitimate stake in your issue, either for the same or (preferably) different reasons than you do and then make it easy for them to advocate in their own self-interest.
Finally, D is for diverse.
Gone are the days when bags of identical telegrams, robo-calls or spam emails had any influence. Today, it’s about quality and authenticity. It’s about identifying people and organizations (preferably ones not directly connected to your client) who support your views for a variety of legitimate reasons. Maybe it’s a small business that would be impacted. In other cases, there may be demographic groups (moms, the elderly, minorities, veterans) who generally command respect and who share your views for reasons unique to them. Perhaps there are content experts (academicians, scientists, economists) who are willing to weigh in and whose opinions on the subject carry significant weight.
Conducting issue advocacy that meets the M-A-D test combined with effective lobbying can dramatically increase your chances of success in influencing public policy.