Issue Advocacy on Steroids

The early presidential campaign season provides huge opportunities to insert issues into the national debate.

April 29, 2019

A few years ago, a client asked us to raise awareness and generate support for their critical issue among decision makers and so-called “influentials,” with the aim of influencing policies at the federal level and multiple states. Luckily the request came at a time that offered a tremendous opportunity: an upcoming presidential election.

The first set of “early” states (February 2020) — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — offer unique opportunities for citizens to raise issues, igniting a conversation that can be amplified and carried into other states. And, of course, some of the major Super Tuesday states (March 2020) are critically important battlegrounds for issue advocates. The focus on these states provides access to three important audiences: the media and voters in the state, the media and voters nationwide, and the candidates themselves.

The assignment came six months prior to the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, giving us time to create and implement a strategy that built, state-by-state, an effort that resulted in positive discussion of the issue in all four general election debates and among major state and national news organizations. The result was a measurable positive impact on public opinion. As we neared Election Day, both major party presidential candidates had adopted our message and included it as part of their stump speeches … a 180-degree turn from the beginning of the campaign when no one was talking about the issue.

While not easy or inexpensive — for an industry that desperately needed the support in multiple states and in Washington, D.C. — it was the most cost-effective way to approach the challenge. The effort took 15 months from planning to Election Day, covered most of the traditional battleground states, and was planned and implemented just like a major political campaign, with our “candidate” being the issue itself. It involved polling and focus groups, advertising (digital, radio, television and print), social media, earned media, and massive on-the-ground voter advocacy that generated visibility and demonstrated voter support at candidate campaign events, at the debates and in the news.

The client’s issue became an integral part of the story rather than one more issue fighting for news in a saturated communications environment.

Bottom line, if you need to get people talking about your issue, move public opinion and affect decisions without being drowned out by the increasing noise of the 2020 election cycle, the time to start is now.

Suzanne Hammelman, President, The Hawthorn Group, L.C.