5 Tips For Winning (And Losing) Policy Battles In 2017

Photo of Patrick Sims Patrick Sims · January 26, 2017

It’s 2017,  Donald Trump is POTUS, and Republicans are in complete control for the first time in a decade… Read: There will be seismic policy shifts in 2017, and everything is on the table.

Any time change happens at this scale, it results in a lot of winners and losers. However, the results of these shifts aren’t set in stone. Policy is nuanced and small tweaks can have big impact. This is an opportunity to shape outcomes for years to come.

But hey, don’t take my word for it:

Whether you’re trying to earn media, organize at the grassroots level, or just stay top of mind, it all starts with great content. No matter how good your pitch or marketing methods, your content is either compelling or it isn’t.

So, here’s a handy five-step guide to winning (and losing) policy battles in 2017…

1. Be Authentic, But Savvy

Take the time to listen, identify, and use real-world stories. Become genuinely interested in people. Tailor the information for them (i.e. districts), then target audiences using traditional and new digital methods. If logic leads to conclusions, then emotion leads to actions. Live by this and use data and visual storytelling to win hearts and minds.

Tip: Audiences for 2017 = Workers, Families, Communities…in that order.

Messaging is a smart, necessary exercise. Yes, it’s helpful in the beginning, but populism is in full bloom and bullshit meters are fully charged. Your public image is not a messaging exercise with data points scattered throughout. It’s literally an image…

2. Show Don’t Tell

Use photos, graphics, videos, maps, charts, interactive data, and other visualization techniques to share ideas. People are tired of being talked at. On the other hand, visuals spark curiosity and show higher engagement. Audiences also spend more time with your content when it’s built as a beautiful, visual experience.

Tip: The 10 second rule applies to all content on the internet — use visuals (data and people) to capture attention and don’t let go.

…unless it’s 140 characters, right Mr. President?

Don’t call it a day with a text-filled one pager, a website of “information,” or a simple tweet — your audience deserves better, and you’re not POTUS. Text can be useful, but there’s a reason why a majority of the content on social media are images and video — that’s what people want to engage with. Reporters and influencers are no different; they’re people too…

3. Make It Snackable

People are busy. Pull out the “so what?” early. Synthesize information into snackable insights, using graphics, images, quotes, testimonials, and narrative. There’s more content than ever before. Know your audience is moving fast, intrigue them, then do it again.

Tip: Scrolling, engaging insights increase time spent with your content.

Don’t bury the lede. Put the insight front and center and then support it with the tools listed above. If your audience has to search for the insight, they probably won’t find it. If “content is king” – which it is – then making your audience click “download the full report here” is a royal fail…

4. Unlock The PDF

There are so many vital ideas locked away in PDFs and press releases, never to be read. It’s not fair to the ideas or the funding. Do you have a report? Break down the key points. Make it immersive. Make it beautiful. Make it something that people want to talk about (hint: “I saw this great PDF the other day…” is rarely heard at dinner parties.)

Tip: Dynamic design is your ticket to the party — content needs to be multi-channel (desktop, tablet, mobile, etc.) friendly or it’s not worth doing.

White papers are important academic exercises that add rigor and in-depth analysis. They are designed for academics. If you need one for heft, put it in a flip book and design around it… Check the download stats: that’s not a numbers game; advocacy is…

5. Capitalize On Moments

Life is lived in moments. Miss them, and they’re gone forever. That’s not supposed to make you cry, but should make you want to plan early and remain flexible. You’ve managed to connect with your audience, so now what? Will they care about the same thing today as tomorrow? Maybe not. 2017 seems to be bringing us to the “minutes-long” news cycle, and planning for that is key. The only constant these days is change.

Tip: Create an if-this-then-that process for actions you want to take during key moments. Revisit frequently — if something doesn’t work, change it.

Don’t assume it will all work out just because you’ve done it before. In 2016, some folks threw old rules out the window — it worked. We should expect nothing less in the year ahead. Staying nimble is tough. It requires flexible planning and a lot of rigor — the difference between habits and new year’s resolutions.

Winning and losing matters in the policy arena because policies impact hundreds of millions of people. As America gears up for a major battle of ideas, know that small tweaks can result in big changes.