The last days before the mid-term Election Day have given us a media flood on terrorist attacks, gripes about government spending, the rise of third parties, massive rallies, not so massive rallies, poor job growth … enough to make your head feel spun like a bad political attack ad.
No matter how the election goes, you can bet the greater media narrative until swearing-in day will be either (1) “wow, the Republicans won many seats!” or (2) “wow, the Democrats held off an electoral tidal wave!” Never doubt the seductive lure of binary decisions.
That said, for those in charge of their organization’s public affairs department, the concern is how to keep your issues and policy positions relevant when the media would rather breathlessly report on such cerebral matters as one-night stands and bad political manners. Here are five simple tips to enhance your public affairs presence:
• Every issue has its time and place. Even the most important issues (remember the two wars we’ve got going on?) can and will lose political favor and currency. As a public affairs pro, no doubt your policy issues are vital to your organization and stakeholders. Still, no one gets the spotlight 365 days in a row. Follow political cycles to help develop that sixth sense to tell when you’re no longer the new kid on the block.
• Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. When your public affairs issue isn’t front and center, use the downtime to review your messaging, talking points, PR strategy, new ideas, off-the-record briefings, social media, and so forth. Remember that policy cravings are cyclical – your policy issues may not be the lead headline today, but tomorrow they could be all the rage. Don’t waste your primetime having to refine your publicity tactics.
• Turn an opponent’s lemons into lemonade. Sometimes policy debates are little more than a street fight over political turf, so your interaction with opponents will always define some of the media narrative. No one ever gets to control a policy debate simply by being nice. When the opposition stumbles, turn the tables and leverage that weakness into promoting your own policy position’s strengths.
• It ain’t all about you. No organization’s pet policy issues live in a vacuum. If you focus on environment, then technology is always a relevant side issue. Technology taps into immigration issues. Immigration taps into national security issues. National security taps into civil rights issues. Identify potential partners on policy issues so you can share resources and promote your platform on a greater level.
• It ain’t all about them either. Congressional leadership and committee chairs will rotate if either chamber flips party control. If that’s the case, has your organization analyzed the public affairs impact from the powers-that-may-be? Legislative agendas are built and destroyed on political control, so understand how each party or new powerbroker will react to your policy priorities.
By keeping these five basic considerations in mind, your organization stands a better chance of grabbing the public affairs center stage in the coming weeks and months. Just don’t forget to rinse and repeat around November 2012!