I was invited to speak in front of members of the Pennsylvania Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus on how to effectively communicate with public officials. As a government relations and public affairs professional who makes a living as a lobbyist, they believed that I might have some insight on how to build relationships with public officials. I believe that they were a little surprised when I suggested that they should first consider creating something as formal as a strategic communications plan.
Why a strategic communications plan?
If it is your intent to build a relationship with someone you do not know, should you randomly approach that person and discuss the first thing that pops into your head, or should you have developed a strategic communications plan before you utter your first syllable? If you chose the former, you are relying a lot on luck. If you choose to have a strategy in place, you enhance your chances of building a relationship, with the long-term goal of effectively communicating your message.
A solid strategic communication plan begins with market research. You start by determining what your audiences’s interests and needs are. In the case of a public official or legislator, you can Google them and find biographical information. When it comes to elected officials, many of them are now immersed in social media. You can start by “liking” them on Facebook and following their updates, subscribe to their YouTube channel and watch their videos, or follow their tweets on Twitter. You should also pay attention to traditional news sources as well by perhaps setting up their name as a search word on your Google Reader or other news-gathering device. The more you learn about them, the more likely you will be to develop a communications strategy that will be successful.
Though your primary goal is to ultimately tell your story, or convey the importance of your issue in the hope that a public official will support your position, your initial goal should be to establish a personal relationship that is built on trust. Too many times individuals simply believe that their only goal is to convince a public official of the merits of their position. The person who has established themselves in a trusted advisor role is far more likely to be listened to than someone who is perceived to only be concerned with their own enlightened self-interest. A successful public affairs or government relations professional is someone who spends a considerable amount of their time becoming a trusted advisor. A solid strategic communications plan can set you on that path.
Developing the appropriate message
Once you have established your short and long term strategic goals, and have learned everything about the official you can, turn your attention to developing the appropriate messages to begin the conversation and build the strongest relationship possible. Look for things that you have in common to get the conversation rolling (friends, hobbies, interests, geography, etc.). Look to provide valuable information about what their personal or professional interests are, demonstrating that you have an interest in their success. Solid market research in the initial stages should provide a valuable road map.
How do you communicate your message?
Determining how to communicate your message largely depends upon how strong of a relationship you have established with your audience. There are many ways that you can communicate your message: a formal face-to-face meeting; a conversation at a reception; a letter, e-mail, fax or phone call; a Facebook post or tweet. Everyone’s personality is different and consequently their level of comfort with each potential communications channel will be different. Some might find it easier to use social media to begin building a relationship, while some would prefer a more casual meet and greet, while still others would prefer a more formal sit down. Having the appropriate strategic communications plan in place for each channel will maximize your opportunity for success.
Measure your results
As with any strategic communication plan, measure your results and tweak your plan accordingly. By creating a strategic communications plan to effectively convey your message, you will maximize your chance to develop a long-term relationship, which in turn, will allow you the best opportunity to successfully deliver your message.
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