Ready, set, advocate!

By Geo A. Ropert, APR

With the 2016 election just a few months away, the political landscape, especially here in Florida, will dramatically change. As they say, “All politics is local.” The presidential election aside, with a turnover of all Florida House and Senate seats, along with elections in Congress and many County Commissions and municipalities, a new group of people will be assuming leadership positions that will guide our local, regional and state futures for several years to come.

If you’re a leader within an association or nonprofit organization, it also means a large, new group of people will need to be introduced to, educated about and made aware of your interests and causes. This will be no small task; you’ll have to work fast and furious to bring them up to speed. If they win in November, you’ll have at least laid the groundwork.

Here is where public relations enters the realm of advocacy. As we’ve said before, public relations is all about personal relations and it’s no more relevant than in your advocacy efforts. Now is the time to get on candidates’ radars, if you’re not already. While the primaries will further whittle down choices, it’s important that everyone running for offices that can influence your constituents’ lives and landscapes know who you are and why you exist.

Doing that requires that you tell your story and tell it well!  You, as well as dozens more are vying for attention and to have your voice heard.  Here are a few suggestions to build the relationships that will help you going forward:

•    Learn about the candidates. Get a base understanding of their backgrounds and positions from which you can build your message.

•    It should go without saying, but be respectful to – and professional with – everyone. You may know a candidate doesn’t support one of your important issues but it doesn’t mean they can’t be educated and possibly amend their view; opinions and positions are sometimes formed with limited information. It also doesn’t mean that they can’t be of help in the future. It’s never too early to build bridges.

•    Keep your story brief and powerful. Upon first introductions, make sure they know who you are, what you do, why you do it and why it should matter to them; all in less than two minutes. Important statistics and personal stories make the most impact. Candidates should know the ways your members or constituents are personally impacted by your work, backed up by vital data.  

•    Reinforce your message through follow-up communication. Write “thank you” notes after meeting a candidate and add them to your mailing lists to keep them apprised of your mission. If you see them on the campaign trail, reintroduce your organization and share a slice of information that reinforces your story.

•    Some may think this blurs or crosses lines in terms of advocacy but let’s face it: money talks. If your organization or you personally support a candidate, support their candidacy. Whether it’s through your organization’s PAC or a personal contribution, every little bit counts and is recognized, especially by those entering offices for the first time. And don’t be afraid to remind them of your support if they are elected. Yes, it’s playing politics but there are many others swinging their financial bats on the same field, hoping for a home run or at least to get on base and be on the eyes of candidate.

Remember, this is just the beginning of what can be a long and beneficial relationship. Some entering office now could be in one or more positions for a generation to come