“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightening and the lightening bug.”
Communications are critical. The perfect fact sheet with just the right arguments that’s easy to read and gives legislators the perfect solution will do no good if it never gets to the right legislators. The perfect action alert with all the right information delivered just before the vote will do no good if it is missing the legislators’ numbers for advocates to call.
1. Decide what you are trying to communicate.
Do you want them to do something, stop something, learn something, attend a public hearing, or add money to the budget for something.
2. Decide whom you are trying to reach.
Who is the audience? The same flyer may work both as a fact sheet for legislators and as an action alert for advocates, but it may not. The same fact sheet may not work for all legislators – some will want to know what a program will do to reduce the number of uninsured, others want to know if it works in other states, others want to know what it will cost. One fact sheet with all those messages may be too busy.
3. Frame the message.
This will follow from the answers to the first two questions. Keep the message simple – a headline of just a few powerful words. Test your message on a few people from the target audience.
4. Choose a few facts or a story to make the point.
Less is more.
5. Design your communication.
Word of mouth can be extremely effective. Written communications can be effective – they are permanent and you know that the message doesn’t change as it goes out.
6. Decide how to get it out.
Unfortunately, there is no clear answer about a universal means to effectively communicate with policymakers – some prefer emails, some mailings, and some only personal communications. Timing or your resources may decide for you. If the vote is tomorrow, mailing won’t work. You may need to enlist someone to go to the Capitol to hand a fact sheet to legislators. For an action alert to 100’s of advocates, you may not have the money for a mailing and have to rely on phoning or e-mails.
7. Timing is critical.
Not only must the alert arrive in time to make a difference, but there must also be preparation for it.
8. Send regular updates.
Send regular updates informing people about the issue. However, only send information when you have something to say. Don’t send empty, worthless updates, or readers will not open the next one.
Find out if your alert or fact sheet got the action you wanted. If not, revise your communications strategy.