When policy progress is up in the air, a coordinated multi-state advocacy campaign can be your most effective power move. It’s bold and it’s challenging – but pull it off, and you’re not just playing defense to prevent short-term setbacks, you’re scoring big wins that drive business outcomes. Particularly when action at the federal level hangs in the balance, think of it as your chessboard across the states, where smart moves build legislative momentum and can turn the tide against shortsighted policy initiatives.
At Sachs Media, one of our core practice areas involves orchestrating complex, multilayered communications campaigns that cross borders and break barriers. Our team uses a combination of research, messaging, earned media, digital tools, and on-the-ground support to help clients tackle multiple priorities in multiple states – often at the same time, working closely with lobbyists and government affairs teams.
While every state is unique, many are navigating similar issues. For example, so far this year:
- 23 states considered legislation related to autonomous vehicles
- 241 bills relating to pharmacy benefit managers have been proposed across 48 states
- 9 states approved legislation related to cannabis regulation
Over the past year, our team was active on public affairs issues in 27 different states. While the communications strategies deployed in different states must be tailored to meet each one’s unique challenges, certain consistent approaches can apply from campaign to campaign.
Here are five key considerations for conducting an effective, strategic multistate campaign:
- Identify Your Priority States
Begin by identifying which states will have the biggest impact on your business or organization and offer the clearest path to victory. Understand the regulatory frameworks and discern where you’ll need to play defense versus where you can take an offensive approach. Remember, each state’s political climate can vary dramatically, impacting your strategic approach.
- Define Your Message
Even if your policy goals are similar, the messaging themes used in various states may shift dramatically. For example: Our team works to advance a client’s clean energy priorities in a number of different states. In some, legislative priorities may be framed as creating and preserving jobs (like our campaign to preserve rooftop solar in Florida) while other audiences may be more motivated by messages regarding pollution reduction or lower utility bills. In these cases, it’s important to let research and data drive the decision-making process.
- Engage Third-Party Supporters
It’s essential to identify partners and look for opportunities to turn adversaries into allies. Collaborating with business groups, trade associations, and nonprofit leaders can be an effective way to build momentum for your issue, but you have to know your audience. Our team worked on a successful telecommunications issue in both New York and Florida. While the policy goals were similar, the coalitions we organized and recruited to support our issue were uniquely tailored to resonate with key legislative leaders in each state.
- Highlight the Problem
Before presenting a solution, it’s essential to paint a picture of the challenges that exist absent your policy proposal. Take, for example, a campaign our team won in Texas for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network that secured $3 billion in funding for cancer research and prevention. The potential consequences of NOT having this funding would mean massive layoffs, reduced economic output, and a significant setback in groundbreaking cancer research, affecting countless Texans. Always emphasize the ‘why’ before the ‘how.’
- Stay Nimble
The legislative process is fluid and filled with unforeseen challenges. Once a legislative session starts, it’s like navigating the rapids: There’s no turning back, only forward. Always be ready to adapt to changing developments and dynamics. React swiftly to media inquiries, share your message boldly through the channels your audience cares about, and maintain supportive media coverage. For complex issues, a trusted advisor or firm can be invaluable – and position you to respond well to developments and detours.
While multistate public affairs campaigns present numerous challenges, they also offer an opportunity to quickly build support across a broad and bipartisan collection of states. That can be transformative for many organizations and associations.
Sachs Media’s proven expertise in this space ensures that businesses and organizations not only navigate the multistate landscape but also dominate it.
Drew Piers is a partner and the Managing Director at Sachs Media.