Cultivating Genuine Engagement with Elected Leaders
While most of California’s local elected officials serve only as part-time mayors and councilmembers, they are responsible for representing the interests of thousands of their fellow citizens and must educate themselves on a wide-range of policy issues. The challenge of successfully engaging them on one issue is well known by their constituents, lobbyists, and others fortunate enough to meet with them. However, creative measures can be employed to establish and build the relationships necessary to genuinely engage officials on any issue.
Know Your Audience
The first step is to know your audience. In today’s age of instant communication and broad distribution of social media posts, anyone can easily identify the issues an elected official cares most about and review their personal and professional history. So it’s important to perform, at the very least, a quick scan of those resources. This information is critical to establishing an initial rapport with most elected officials. An effective practice is to then develop a one-page biography on them prior to your scheduled meeting. You may find the official originated from your own home town or state, providing you with an instant connection. They may be involved in the same social causes as you or a family member, or hold a position representing their city on a board or committee in which you have knowledge or interest.
Meet Them Where They Are
After completing your initial research, which can help you establish a foundation of trust, identify conferences they regularly attend and send advance invitations to meet them during the conference. Your attendance at these events provides the opportunity to brief elected officials in a relaxed environment in a one-on-one setting where they can focus more on your issue. The repeated contact you have with them at a conference will also allow you to highlight the benefits they will experience, such as enjoying positive press coverage and enhanced constituent communications, if they act on your recommendations.
Identify Their Goals
Finally, it is beneficial to determine the ultimate political aspirations of local leaders, or at least their plans for the next election cycle. This information will inform your approach to interacting with them and demonstrate that you have considered how your request dovetails with their future goals – strengthening your personal connection through tailored messaging. Once you have successfully communicated your message and secured a commitment for action, it is critical to follow up with the official and their staff to express your gratitude and inform them of the results of their action. This will cultivate genuine engagement and lead to future collaboration – and even friendships.
As a follow up to your meeting, you may also want to post a picture of yourself with the elected official on social media sites, acknowledging their interest in learning about your issue.
Use these proven techniques to improve your next meeting with an elected official or advance your organization’s public policy issue. If you are interested in learning more about NST’s outreach techniques and services, please contact us at nstpr.com/contact/. Also, feel free to share your experience or additional briefing ideas with us on Facebook or Twitter.