Thursday, May 26, 2011

PR and the Legislative Process: Navigating the Washington Web

My first career experience in public relations brought me to Washington, D.C., where it’s hard not to notice the presence of government all around you. From office views of the Washington Monument to Congressional aides rushing by, government is simply a part of everyday life – including client work and, in many cases, the clients themselves. However, as you move “beyond the Beltway,” it’s easy to overlook the effect of government and legislation. Nonetheless, there’s hardly an industry that isn’t somehow impacted by government regulation. Working in public relations means being the eyes and ears of your clients, and legislative monitoring and government outreach can provide a key service.

Lately, I’ve had the opportunity to work with several of our clients on a range of legislative matters. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way to help navigate Washington’s complex web of agencies, organizations and officials.
  • Be aware of the players: A host of players – from lawmakers, federal, state and local agencies, and even community associations – all play a role in how legislation is crafted, adopted and implemented. Prior to any outreach or communication, take inventory of all the different parties involved, what role they play and what impact their actions could have on your client. Then, because each may have vastly different objectives or repercussions, craft specific key messages and materials for each audience. In doing so, you’ll not only gain a better picture of what’s at stake, but your messages are more likely to resonate with each audience.
  • Read between the lines: Oftentimes, legislation is purposely left vague so that the office or official responsible for implementing it has the ability to interpret and develop policies and regulations as needed. By the time the law is codified, it may look vastly different from the original bill. In these cases, the best source of information may not be the lawmaker who crafted the bill, but the parties responsible for its implementation. Go beyond the legislative text and reach out to these sources to find out many of the key details – the who, what, where and when – for how a particular law may impact your client.
  • Consider your resources: Keep in mind that many of the everyday tools and services used to track coverage, trends and other news for clients will not uncover movement in pending legislation if it hasn’t been covered by the media. Furthermore, you can’t assume that a state or municipality website is always accurate or up-to-date. Consider using a service like StateNet, which has local representatives tracking legislation at all levels of government, to supplement your efforts. While they may alert you to a particular item of interest, always follow up with your own research and outreach in order to provide the most accurate information to your client.
  • Persistence pays: It’s no secret that the legislative process can move slowly, especially when compared to the field of public relations. Many of the key sources of information may not have answers to your inquiries right away. Furthermore, it may take a while to not just find an appropriate source – but also one who’s willing to help. When you do, try to establish a relationship and make it a habit to check in on a regular basis – eventually your persistence will pay off!
Certainly, legislative monitoring and government outreach can be quite an undertaking – the number of players and the carefully worded “legalese” is bound to be a challenge at some point. But the value for clients in uncovering key pieces of information that can impact their public relations plans – and their bottom line – is incalculable.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The White Paper Lives!

Development of a white paper as a communications vehicle may sound like a primitive, archaic tool in today’s digital age, wistfully proposed only by older, veteran PR types such as yours truly.
However, white papers remain extremely effective tactics for organizations to creatively convey a position or philosophy, or provide depth to a business problem or solution.
This is particularly true in B2B communications. For example, in a recent survey of business marketers, 84 percent said white papers were moderately to extremely influential in making final purchasing decisions.
Another indication of the interest in white papers: I was one of more than 200 executives attending a webinar last month on white paper lead generation conducted by The White Paper Company. One obvious takeaway – we now have even more distribution outlets for such think pieces, thanks to websites and other social media outlets.
What are some keys to ensure your white paper resonates with audience targets?
  • Educate. Be informative, enlighten, address issues that are new, surprising and/or intrigue the reader. Remain objective and cite credible, outside sources to prove message points
  • Provide specifics and depth. This is particularly critical when covering technical details or new technologies. The white paper offers the rare opportunity to deliver such vital information in a comprehensive manner.
  • Capture attention with clever title. Don’t underestimate the value of a catchy headline, one that lures the reader and highlights the issue. Also, consider adding an executive summary before copy begins to further pique interest…and to make it easier for executives to decide if they should forward the paper to others.
  • Enlist skilled writers. The white paper requires prose significantly different and more sophisticated than copy written for news releases, brochures and ads. Be sure the writer is top-notch.
LCWA client Fabricators & Manufacturers Association (FMA) is a huge white paper advocate. Two recent white papers we’ve written for FMA include “America’s Most Wanted: Skilled Workers," and “The Manufacturing Predicament: Sector Primed to Surge, Yet Skilled Labor Shortage an Obstacle.” Hopefully, those titles will spark enough attention for some of you to request copies here!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

An Award-Winning Friday

We always look forward to catching up with old friends at the annual Publicity Club of Chicago (PCC) Golden Trumpet Luncheon, and yesterday's event was no exception. Adding to this year's fun: receiving three awards for our great work!
  • The Eureka team earned a Golden Trumpet in the Marketing category for its “Eureka Creates Clean Pet Homes” program, which supported the launch of two innovative pet-focused vacuum cleaners. The introduction of Pet Expert and Pet Pal included visual mailers to media, outreach to influential bloggers and several interactive online contests for pet owners.
  • The First Alert team received a Golden Trumpet in Issues Management for the “Get Alarmed” campaign conducted for October’s Fire Prevention Month. We used proprietary “alarming” statistics, aggressive media outreach and an interactive social media contest to support awareness of the need for smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and other life-saving fire safety messages.
  • The Trex team won a Silver Trumpet in the Marketing category for its “Elevate Outdoor Living” campaign. This visual and interactive program supported the launch of Trex Transcend™, a new high-performance decking product, with trade show outreach, targeted mailers, one-on-one editorial meetings and a nationwide online contest featuring celebrity designers.
It's an honor to be recognized for our work. Congratulations to the hard-working account teams, and to all the winners at the PCC event.