Winning the Political Game: Do You Have a Communications Plan?

Most political failures are failures of communications. Most political wins are triumphs of communications.

But many elected and appointed leaders don’t think enough about communications and many serving at legislative and local levels don’t even have a communications plan. They simply take whatever communications opportunities happen to come up and are otherwise silent.

Obviously, major offices that employ full-time PR people are actively communicating (although often even they don’t have very good plans). But most state legislators and many other appointed and elected officials at various government levels don’t communicate very effectively.

Every policymaker should be pro-active, not just reactive, with communications. Every policymaker should have a communications plan. The best PR comes naturally as a policymaker is actively pushing initiatives and projects and pro-actively communicating about those legitimate issues. You can’t create good PR out of nothing. You have to be engaged and active and have important initiatives to promote. Remember, events drive politics and also create good communications opportunities.

But even a hard-working policymaker involved in important issues can’t just wait for nature to take its course. You need to create at least a simple communications plan.

Start by writing down your objectives and goals, especially what you want to accomplish with your projects and initiatives. Then think about (and write down) the various audiences (opinion leaders, political activists in your district, business leaders, active voters, etc.) you need to reach in order to accomplish your objectives.

Once you know your objectives and the audiences you must reach to achieve your objectives, write down the key messages you need to deliver to the audiences. Once you know your objectives, audiences and messages, then think about the delivery mechanisms, or channels, you can use to deliver the messages. These channels might include Facebook, Twitter and other social media, a newsletter sent to your audiences, a press release to local news media, a white paper to opinion leaders, a speech to a civic club, a press conference with those you’re trying to help, a Web log, an appearance on a radio talk show, or a town meeting. Most plans include a combination of channels. There are lots of ways to deliver the right messages to the right audiences to achieve your objectives.

In any communications plan it’s also important to think about timing, survey research, and resources. If you’re working on a legislative initiative, the timing of a committee hearing or bill introduction is important. What resources you have – money, peoplepower, etc. – must be considered in your planning. And if you have the ability to use survey research to test messages and better understand public opinion, your communications will be more effective.  

So don’t approach communications in an improvised, unorganized way. Don’t just reactively say, “We need to hold a press conference.” Or, “We need to get this out on social media.” Use some discipline and think about objectives, audiences, messages, research, resources, and delivery channels. Be creative. Be aggressive. Don’t just wait for communications to happen. Be pro-active. Create a communications plan.