5 TIPS TO CREATE AN INFLUENTIAL COALITION

                       Patrick Slevin Speaking at a Coalition Press Conference at the Florida Capitol.

                      Patrick Slevin Speaking at a Coalition Press Conference at the Florida Capitol.

Savvy elected officials can smell a fake coalition a mile away.  This is bad news for those executives who haphazardly erect Coalitions in Name Only (CINO) to influence public policy.  CINOs are known as AstroTurf, which are often driven by a single organization with a static website and a Twitter account with 25 followers.  These "coalitions" are usually called out by the opposition and completely ignored by legislators. 

The good news is legitimate coalitions can carry a campaign far and deep into the legislative process.  Coalitions are very effective means of influencing public policy from city hall to the state capital to Washington DC. How you set up and manage your coalition requires effective quarterbacking before, during and after legislation is passed or killed.

Here are my 5 quick tips for influential coalitions that will make the right impressions with the decision makers who impact your bottom line priorities. 

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TIMING

We will use Florida as our model.  The next Florida legislative session is scheduled to start March of 2019.  However, legislators begin committee weeks during the months of January and February.  This means any issue that hasn’t been put on their radar leading into committee weeks is in jeopardy of not being heard.  This is where coalitions can beef up the narratives, building their coalition and establishing arguments for/against whatever the issue is at hand. 

Six Months Before Session:  An influential state coalition needs about four-to-six months to organize, engage and impact the legislative process.  The fall of 2018 is the ideal time to begin a coalition or recalibrate past initiatives before the holiday season.  It’s important for legislators, reporters and allies to see the coalition in the capital and local markets before session.

Warning!  If the media and legislators learn about your coalition at a committee meeting, then its too little, too late.  Your coalition will be exposed to media criticism and political attacks. Thus, weakening any chances of influencing “the process”.

Note:  Municipal coalitions can quickly be operational in days to weeks.  National coalitions will depend on whether the coalition is DC-centric trade associations, or do you need to add state partners to reach congressional districts. 

ORGANIZATION

There are two main options that you can choose to organize your statewide coalition. 

Option 1:  Organizing a 501(c)(4) requires filing the name of the coalition and officers with the Secretary of State’s office.  It’s a public entity, but donors are anonymous.  This proves to be very attractive for fundraising objectives where corporations, special interests and individuals can financially support the mission with anonymity.   Coalitions that are set up as C4’s often contract a campaign manager, communications firm, lobbyist(s), accountant and fundraiser.  A C4 coalition would have a board of directors and executive committee to handle the macro decision making, while providing guidance to the campaign manager who executes the strategy and quarterback’s the team.

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Option 2:  What I call the Posse Coalition is organized by a primary trade association that recruits and rallies other associations.  In this scenario, one of the larger trade associations creates a landing page on their website naming the informal coalition and listing those trade associations and special interests that make up the coalition.  Unlike the C4, there isn’t a central entity, but rather a friendly partnership among trade associations and interest groups. Every partner of this coalition commits its lobbyists, PR teams, and membership to collectively push the issue.  It takes no time to validate the coalition with a logo, landing page, press release, polling, while showcasing advocates (grasstops) in vital markets or home districts. 

Moreover, the Posse Coalition can utilize the existing social media platforms of its partners: Developing #hashtags are all you need to differentiate the coalition from the individual partners.   

Corporations enjoy supporting the coalition via their memberships with respective associations and providing added finances, depending on the Posse Coalition makeup. 

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MESSAGE DEVELOPMENT

A coalition will need to engage a coalition of audiences (external and internal) that it must persuade and motivate.  Message development is crucial component to influencing public officials, coalition partners, donors, advocates, reporters, columnists, and opinion leaders. 

Here are some key questions that require thoughtful answers from the coalition:

·         Why do you need a coalition? 

·         What are the consequences, if this legislation passes?

·         Who are the main partners supporting the coalition?

·         How will the coalition succeed?

·         How does the public benefit from this issue?

·         What’s the history of the legislation?

·         How much money does the coalition need to raise/budget?

An influential coalition, answers these and other key questions in the form of messaging documents such as FACTS sheet, Frequently Asked Questions, fundraising letters, presentations, speeches,  and other media communications.   

MEDIA COMMUNICATIONS

Before you can effectively engage external audiences, the coalition needs to be singing off the same page.  It’s not uncommon to see coalitions unravel due to mixed messaging and rogue partners.

Internal Communications:  Produce an abbreviated “playbook” as well as an one-pager that every coalition partner approves and utilizes. Cueing coalition partners to relay and push out coalition collateral via their own channels to their members.  

Earned Media:  Media engagement in the state capital as well as in local media markets that include press releases, alerts, guest columns, ed boards, and talk radio.

Paid Media: Print ads, radio and television ads, as well as direct mail.

Online:  Website, e-Newsletter, digital ads, blogs.

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Social Media:  Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are key elements to deliver the coalition’s messaging.  Legislators are active on these platforms, so the coalition should follow, like and share. 

Video Communications:  Video has become one of the more influential tools in communicating impressions and narratives.  A very effective means of humanizing the issue and putting a face on the coalition, especially business oriented coalitions. 

Advocates & Surrogates: Arming them with talking points, bylines, and letters aimed at legislators and newspapers.

ADVOCACY

An influential coalition advocates by engaging legislators on multiple fronts from the capitol to home districts to ed boards to inboxes and voicemails.  Unlike CINOs, influential coalitions have a cadre of advocates primed to engage stakeholders.

Lobbyists:  Corporate, contracted and association lobbyists are now available to be dispatched to advocate within the capitol.

Grasstops:  Opinion leaders and influencers are judiciously assigned to intercept elected officials, byline guest columns, participate in ed boards and record video testimonials. 

Grassroots:  Mobilizing and directing coalition members to commence in emailing and phoning.

Rallies: Day in the Capitol, demonstrations in local media markets.

Petitions:  Depending the issue and the number of members per coalition partner.

Emails:  There are very inexpensive subscriptions that augment web communications directing coalition partners to email legislators and the governor’s office. 

BONUS TIP

Organizing and managing an influential coalition doesn’t happen in a linear fashion.  My bonus tip is be situational, by working with what you have to optimize outcomes. Mentally prepare yourself to adopt to circumstances and backfill key elements needed to achieve the mission.  If you follow my 5 quick tips, you will be in the driver’s seat, managing an influential coalition that achieves your mission.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In his 22-year career, Patrick Slevin has managed or consulted a myriad of pro-business coalitions at the municipal, state and federal levels.  Slevin is a former Florida mayor who heads SL7 Consulting, a Tallahassee-based communications and engagement firm representing clients across the nation.  For more information go to www.PatrickSlevin.com

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