More than just lipstick on a pig
Why it’s essential to include the communications team in the advocacy strategy process
In this article published on LinkedIn, Craig Winneker, Director of Communications at ePure, explores the crucial role of communications in shaping effective advocacy strategies and highlights the transformative power of aligning communications and public affairs from the start.
Most lobbyists – from corporates to trade associations to NGOs – would say they consider communications to be a crucial part of any advocacy strategy. But then why are comms teams so often brought into the lobbying loop after a public affairs strategy has been decided, and told to find a way to sell it? In other words, why is it usually left to comms to put lipstick on a pig?
That’s an old saying used by everyone from Barack Obama (“You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig”) to the late, great former Texas governor Ann Richards (“Well, you can put lipstick and earrings on a hog and call it Monique, but it's still a pig”) to mean that no amount of last-minute superficial touching-up can hide problems that are innate*. Other variants on this concept include “trying to polish a turd” and “you can’t make chicken salad from chicken shit”.
You get the idea. I’ve spoken with many comms professionals over the years who feel like they are left out of the important early stages of the strategic process, only to be called in at the last minute and expected to make a complicated set of messages and proposals understandable, palatable, sharable, actionable.
That’s too late. Waiting for the policy team to come up with key positions and messages and then handing them over to the comms people for some marketing pixie-dust makes life harder on everyone. The public-facing side of the strategy – the key messages being disseminated – can end up overly complicated or dull.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Communications should be baked into the advocacy plan, not just spread over the top of it. As a trade association communications veteran, I’ve found a few principles found useful for Integrating communications and public affairs:
Include the comms team in all public affairs working groups and strategy sessions. The communications strategy must be integral to overall advocacy plan, not brought in after the fact. This offers more than just the ability to understand the reasoning and process behind an advocacy plan or policy approach, it also means being able to influence the process so that it makes sense and has a communications component from the start.
And vice-versa – don’t just leave comms to ‘the comms people’. It’s a two-way street. Just as comms expertise is valuable to advocacy strategy, government affairs and policy input is valuable in comms working groups and brainstorming sessions. It not only helps ensure your communications ideas stay grounded in agreed strategic goals, it also provides an additional sounding board for testing messages.
Deploy comms team expertise across your entire organization, not just the public stuff. Clear communications is essential in all policy documents your organization produces: memos, letters, position papers, concept notes, invitations. All of these need to have concise, compelling messages to be effective. The comms team should enforce an in-house style that becomes a calling card for your association or company. This will permeate all your comms output.
In the trade associations where I’ve worked, I’ve always aimed at having an integrated approach to public affairs and communications, making sure to be involved in advocacy strategy from the start and helping nurture it along to something that doesn’t require too much makeup before being put into action.
*And yes, before you comment, I do think pigs are beautiful!