As political sabres rattle, organizations need to think about how their issues and mandates become part of the election conversation—and then part of the government’s agenda.
You can feel it in Nova Scotia: There’s election buzz in the air. Political parties are nominating candidates, engaging stakeholders, building policy platforms, and readying their teams. Promises are being made and records are being touted. Organizations are considering how and if they want to be a part of the dialogue and engage. It’s a new day and a new ball game when election fever starts to rise.
This is a significant time and opportunity for organizations. Candidate education, advocacy programs, election readiness, grassroots organizing for causes and associations—all of these tactics are in play. This could be a time to get your issue top of mind in the public and for those campaigning to lead. Where do you start?
It’s just like preparing for a party. You want to show up well, be part of the conversation, make connections, and be remembered. And be invited to the next one.
Should You Avoid the Election Spotlight?
Before reading the rest of this post about being top of mind in an election cycle, your first decision is simply: Do you want to be top of mind at all?
Rhetoric will be high, positions will be taken, partisanship will be projected (even if there is none), and political footballs will get tossed and kicked around. Issue dog-whistles and baiting will be used for political gains, and could easily be driven by vote-getting agendas vs. the public-good agenda.
Go into your election readiness strategy with a clear assessment. Ask: Should we stay quiet during this cycle? Does it help our strategy to be top of mind?
Education: A Two-Way Street
Whatever your answer is to being top of mind, educating political influencers about your issues should always be part of your agenda. And during an election cycle, the party leaders and their candidates will spend a considerable amount of time educating us—the voters—on their policy positions and priorities. They are in information-gathering and information-giving mode. Prepare to be a part of this and educate candidates and voters on what matters most to you and your organization. Candidate education is a critical pillar of election readiness.
Assuming you want to be top of mind: It’s time to get your position on the record. Think about what you want candidates to know about your organization or cause before the election is called. They’re genuinely interested right now, but once they’ve started officially campaigning, it’s too late. Behind the scenes, they’re busy compiling good ideas and scanning for issues. They want to know more, and it’s a service you can provide—not only for your constituents and advocates, but for the candidates—to have them deeply understand your issue.
There are rules of thumb to follow once you understand how you want to educate:
- Create and deliver key messages that are topical and easy to comprehend.
- This can be more than one channel—think about your government relations activity, as well as your social voice, your mass email, your owned, earned, and paid avenues.
- Paint a vision for the future—don’t vent about the past.
- Identify your influencers and audiences and identify how your values align.
- Be efficient—everyone is busy, so use your time wisely and get to the point.
Understand the message that your advocates want to carry and strategically arm them to support.
Language Alignment, or Wearing Candidate Shoes
In a campaign, look for opportunities to be constructive and aligned with the themes of the day. That doesn’t mean you need to be partisan. It means you need to look for chances to align your issues with a party’s stated vision or policy positions.
Ask: How will advancing your issue help the future government achieve its goals? If you don’t have an answer to this question, you’ll soon be the awkward conversationalist at the party; lots to say about yourself, but no real point about why you matter, aside from your own self-interest.
It goes further than alignment. Here’s a test: Imagine a candidate speaking at a coffee shop or on a doorstep, getting asked your dream policy question, “Where do you stand on [insert your policy question here]?” Do you think the candidate in question could answer that today and defend the point? Have you done everything you can do to get your desired answer top of mind?
Create a thoughtful, constructive approach to message development, with real scenarios in mind. This will increase your chances of being a relevant part of the conversation.
Getting Your Issue on the Record
There are many ways to do this, from written correspondence, to using thought leadership, to generating discussion on social media. Perhaps there is a local candidate who is a natural ally or advocate that can bring your issue forward. Perhaps your social media addicted candidate will tweet in support of your cause, creating a public record. Perhaps the media understands that this issue is important, but needs the tools and research to ask the right questions.
A thoughtful strategy will increase the chances of your issue making its way into a debate discussion, online or in coffee shops, a media interview, or in a party’s talking points. Make it happen.
A Time to Show Leadership
Elections are the centrepiece of our democracy and everyone can come out and have a say. This is especially true for people in a leadership position, with a mandate to advocate for a cause, industry, or idea. An election cycle is an opportunity to raise the profile of your organization by stepping out and advancing the agenda—at a time when people are paying attention to the issues and expect to hear points of view.
A carefully executed election strategy demonstrates that you are a leader on your issue and have a long-term plan for success. It’s showing up at the party with a plan, being at the heart of the best conversations, and being the person talked about after it’s all over—in a good way.
Well-Positioned After the Vote
A good strategy will educate influencers in a way that captures their attention and interest. It will help them form opinions and prepare them for conversations at the door, in the media, and at local debates. Importantly, it will give you a head start with those individuals who may soon find themselves in a position to advance or champion your cause.
Get invited back in a significant way to the next big conversation. Position yourself and your organization as an authority on your issue and as a primary source for policy development down the line.
Advocacy and Data Strategy
Grassroots advocacy is just jargon unless you collect the data to understand who your advocates are, how they should take action, and most importantly, why they should care. Ideally, this is a point of view you have already firmed up by the time an election becomes a reality.
The key at election time is enacting how you want to put your advocates forward and giving them something to do. Should they get busy calling candidates, sending letters, and canvassing their neighbourhood? Will they share your content on social media? Are they the holders of fantastic stories for your cause, and should you connect these storytellers to earned media opportunities?
It’s a topic onto itself. The main point here: An election cycle is a great time to spur advocacy, and spurring advocacy means building your data. And better data means finding insights that can strengthen your foothold with supporters and create new relationships.
We get up in the morning to have a meaningful impact on things that matter to our region, in every province. As Nova Scotia readies for the polls, we are helping organizations be top of mind and show up as their best selves for the party.
An election campaign is a bright light that attracts many, but only the best prepared will make the most of the opportunity. Are you ready for a Nova Scotia election?
Kevin McCann is a Partner with National Public Relations, where he and colleagues focus on digital strategy, government relations, organizational strategy, and advocacy.