The American Chemistry Council (ACC) revamped its communications strategy earlier this year, shifting its focus from one broad-based national effort to in-district campaigns and advocacy work.
With so many major legislative items, such as healthcare reform and climate change legislation, on the table, public affairs pros are increasing in-district work to address and educate influential policymakers and their constituents.
“In-district and in-state is specifically focused on direct advocacy to legislators who have leadership roles that we are trying to impact,” says Lisa Harrison, the ACC's VP of communications.
The trade organization, which represents chemical companies in the US, is preparing for climate change legislation covering issues like cap-and-trade and the Toxic Substances Control Acts (TSCA) modernization.
“The in-district work is more important now than it's ever been, especially on controversial issues like climate change, like healthcare reform,” says Jamie Moeller, MD of the global public affairs practice for Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide. “What happens in the districts will decide the fate of healthcare and, potentially, cap-and-trade legislation.”
In preparation for the cap-and-trade debate, the ACC launched an integrated campaign in Ohio, Michigan, Virginia, Arkansas, and North Dakota in early August, with plans to continue the effort through September.
While in-district work is always heavy during the congressional recess in August, those efforts are expected to carry on through the fall this year, making them a vital component in an organization's overall public affairs strategy.
“We don't abandon those efforts when Congress goes back into session,” says Moeller, adding that it's important to keep pressure in the districts in September and through the rest of the year.
Using social media
Healthcare reform hit a setback when the US Senate said it couldn't vote on a bill before the August recess. But trade groups and membership organizations, like the AARP, plan to maintain in-district efforts that began during the recess through the fall, says Drew Nannis, VP of media relations for advocacy at AARP.
“It will not let up as we get toward the goal line for the simple fact that, as people look to influence members of Congress and their constituents and do it in a targeted and strategic fashion, there is no better way than go to their home districts,” he adds.
AARP will be targeting its members and strategic congressional districts with its healthcare reform message this fall through town halls, virtual town halls, van tours, earned media, paid advertising, mobile, and social media.
The increasing prevalence of social media as a communications tool allows in-district campaigns to continue at this pace, as opposed to limiting them to the month of August.
“Using social media allows you to find, locate, recruit, and educate activists on the ground,” says Scott McCullers, MD at Qorvis Communications. “It's much easier and much more effective than ever before.”
Adds Carrie Jones, principal and MD of Jones Public Affairs: “With some of the social networking tools, we're able to have a local penetration from a national office. That's different.”
Jones Public Affairs works with the Coalition for Patients' Rights, which seeks to target the capitals of states where the scope of practice is an issue.
But because of a limited budget, Jones notes, it makes more sense to target these districts than to launch a national campaign on healthcare, which could go on for years before Congress touches on many of the key issues ranging from access to managed care.
“In-district is critical because so far they've been ignored,” she says. “It's expensive, onerous, and takes a lot of coordination. However, every community has diverse, geographic, economic needs. It's not one-size-fits-all anymore.”
EFFORTS OF OTHER TRADE GROUPS
National Retail Federation
With healthcare reform a key issue for the retail sector, in-district work is helping educate the public and its members
Chamber of Commerce
Launched the “Campaign for Responsible Health Reform” on July 21. Target states included Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Maine, and North Carolina
American Petroleum Institute
With so many energy issues facing Congress this year, it has upped its state-based outreach efforts, notably during the August recess