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PUBLIC OPINION REPORT

Washington Public Affairs Campaigns; Beltway Elites on the Ingredients for Success and Failure


DATA SUMMARY

StrategyOne’s research posed two (2) basic questions: 1. “Aside from political donations, when an interest group decides to run an integrated public affairs campaign in Washington, which THREE of the following things do you think are the most important ingredients in a successful public affairs campaign inside the beltway?” Total Building strong grassroots support outside the beltway

45%

Building a large and diverse coalition of like minded groups inside the beltway

31%

Developing messaging, framing the issue to their advantage, and owning the vocabulary used to discuss the issue

30%

Having a strong government relations or lobbying team

29%

Having a well designed, data-driven strategy

27%

Having a strong media relations team

25%

Developing studies that support their goals

23%

Having a compelling or well-known spokesperson

17%

Targeted advertising

15%

2. “And which ONE of these is typically the reason why a public affairs campaign fails?” Total Poor message development

24%

Limited grassroots support outside the beltway

13%

Not developing studies that support their goals

10%

A poorly designed, intuition based strategy

12%

A weak government relations or lobbying team

9%

A small and narrow coalition of like minded groups inside the beltway

9%

A weak media relations team

8%

Minimal or poorly executed advertising

5%

A poor spokesperson

4%

STRATEGYONE’S BELTWAY BAROMETER StrategyOne launched its newest research product, the Beltway Barometer, in July 2008. Through StrategyOne’s Beltway Barometer clients gain (1) a better understanding of the elite opinion landscape on their issue, (2) quantitative benchmark data that can be repeated periodically to track an issue or a campaign’s progress over time, (3) the opportunity to test messaging and issue framing, and (4) data that can be compared with national general consumer research to identify areas of agreement and disconnect between elite and popular opinion. Beltway Barometer data has been featured in The Washington Post Magazine, in which futurists’ predictions about Washington in 2025 were tested among Washington elites and reported in the August 31, 2008 edition.

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PUBLIC AFFAIRS CAMPAIGNS

WASHINGTON PUBLIC AFFAIRS CAMPAIGNS; BELTWAY ELITES ON THE INGREDIENTS FOR SUCCESS AND FAILURE BY: ROBERT MORAN

What are the winning ingredients to a public affairs campaign in Washington? Practitioners may have assumptions that they apply to specific situations, but there simply isn’t much data on what tools are considered more useful than others and what missing or poorly executed tools ensure defeat. Until now. Using the Beltway Barometer, StrategyOne’s proprietary survey research instrument among Washington elites, we now have a better understanding of which public affairs tools lead to success and the reasons why these campaigns fall flat. The Sample: Washington Elites The sample for this survey is a full-spectrum array of Washington influencers: • 1200 elite respondents from metro Washington’s most affluent zip codes surveyed via home phone; • Working or having worked in the White House, Congress, Supreme Court, Pentagon, a federal agency, a think tank, trade association, non-profit association, NGO, media, lobbying firm, Washington law firm, PAC, political consulting firm, paid member of a campaign staff, national political party (DNC, DSCC, DCCC, RNC, RSCC, NRCC) or public relations firm; • With at least a college degree (the majority have advanced degrees) and earning at least $50,000 (the median bracket is $100,000-$149,000); • Split by Presidential vote (600 Republicans and 600 Democrats) The Questions Our research posed two (2) basic questions: 1. “Aside from political donations, when an interest group decides to run an integrated public affairs campaign in Washington, which THREE of the following things do you think are the most important ingredients in a successful public affairs campaign inside the beltway?” 2. “And which ONE of these is typically the reason why a public affairs campaign fails?” In each instance a robust list of options was presented to respondents ranging from grassroots to targeted advertising.

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People + Message + Lobbying Firepower The data is clear that the bulk of Washington elites view public affairs success as the strategic use of three basic tools – people power (grassroots and a diverse Washington coalition), a message that advantageously frames the issue, and a strong government relations team. In short, the recipe for success is engaged citizens singing together from the same song sheet supported by lobbyists who amplify the tune on Capitol Hill.

Total

Democrat

Republican

Building strong grassroots support outside the beltway

45%

47%

43%

Building a large and diverse coalition of like minded groups inside the beltway

31%

33%

28%

Developing messaging, framing the issue to their advantage, and owning the vocabulary used to discuss the issue

30%

30%

31%

Having a strong government relations or lobbying team

29%

26%

31%

Having a well designed, data-driven strategy

27%

30%

23%

Having a strong media relations team

25%

23%

28%

Developing studies that support their goals

23%

25%

21%

Having a compelling or well-known spokesperson

17%

15%

19%

Targeted advertising

15%

13%

17%

Washington opinion elites chose “building strong grassroots support outside the Beltway” as the most important ingredient for success. More than anything else, beltway elites believe that success in Washington begins by mobilizing people outside it. After “building strong grassroots support outside the beltway” (45%), “building a large and diverse coalition of like minded groups inside the beltway” (31%) was the second most frequently chosen tool. Based on this research, it is clear that Washington elites believe that public affairs success begins with grassroots support and builds strength in Washington through a diverse array of coalition partners - an outside-in approach.

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PUBLIC AFFAIRS CAMPAIGNS

After grassroots and a diverse coalition, Washington elites focus on mastering the message. The third tool chosen in this research was “developing messaging, framing the issue to their advantage, and owning the vocabulary used to discuss the issue.” Here it is interesting to note the professional groups that chose message development at higher than the average rate of 30%. They are: political consultants (47%), campaign professionals (46%), those who currently or have ever worked in Congress (43%), Washington lawyers, and trade association personnel (43%) – all individuals that know the value of a strong message. The fourth ranked item was “having a strong government relations or lobbying team.” Interestingly, lobbyists themselves placed their role behind grassroots and Washington coalitions in importance, and as a group ranked message development just below lobbying. Political consultants, those who work or have worked in Congress, and trade association personnel rated government relations as much more important than the average. Rounding out the top five was “a well designed, data driven strategy.” Here it is important for any public affairs campaign to build their strategy on a realistic assessment of the landscape and their most effective issue framing and messaging research. All too often practitioners, distracted by the newest tactical fad, jump to tactics before finalizing the strategy. But, as Sun Tzu noted, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Congress

Lobbyists

Politicos

Trade Association

NGO

Media

Building strong grassroots support outside the beltway

48%

52%

44%

50%

41%

49%

Building a large and diverse coalition of like minded groups inside the beltway

35%

43%

34%

34%

24%

33%

Developing messaging, framing the issue to their advantage, and owning the vocabulary used to discuss the issue

43%

39%

42%

43%

37%

31%

Having a strong government relations or lobbying team

42%

41%

39%

31%

29%

30%

Having a well designed, data-driven strategy

22%

22%

23%

23%

33%

27%

Having a strong media relations team

26%

19%

22%

26%

27%

28%

Developing studies that support their goals

20%

26%

19%

27%

20%

19%

Having a compelling or well-known spokesperson

10%

10%

13%

12%

20%

16%

Targeted advertising

11%

9%

12%

7%

10%

16%

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Campaign Failure Points While elites identify the first ingredient to public affairs success as grassroots, they identify the primary ingredient to failure as poor message development. After all, a campaign may be able to mobilize grassroots support and build a diverse coalition, but if it delivers a poor, mixed or nonexistent message, the organizational advantage is wasted. As the results below show, across the board, Washington elites believe the primary failure point in public affairs campaigns is poor message development. Campaigns that don’t hone their message and develop an advantageous vocabulary will find themselves on the losing end of most Washington struggles. Here focus groups, polling and dial testing are invaluable.

Which ONE of these is typically the reason why a public affairs campaign fails?

PAGE FIVE

Congress

Lobbyists

Politicos

Trade Association

NGO

Media

Poor message development

27%

33%

28%

33%

22%

18%

Limited grassroots support outside the beltway

20%

16%

12%

16%

12%

16%

A poorly designed, intuition based strategy

8%

9%

10%

13%

16%

14%

Not developing studies that support their goals

6%

8%

11%

12%

10%

12%

A weak government relations or lobbying team

14%

12%

11%

10%

8%

9%

A small and narrow coalition of like minded groups inside the beltway

7%

9%

10%

5%

10%

10%

A weak media relations team

5%

4%

4%

4%

8%

6%

Minimal or poorly executed advertising

2%

1%

6%

2%

2%

7%

A poor spokesperson

2%

3%

4%

2%

4%

1%


PUBLIC AFFAIRS CAMPAIGNS

Conclusions 1. Master the message, frame the issue, and own the vocabulary of the debate. Focus groups, survey research utilizing head-to-head message development and dial testing are invaluable in building a message that hits its mark. But, it requires message discipline to take and own the terms of the debate. 2. Washington coalitions are also crucial. Use these as a force multiplier and avoid the urge to go solo. 3. Mobilize outside the Beltway. There is no substitute for strong grassroots. As a factor in public affairs success, current and former lobbyists place grassroots engagement above even their own function. This speaks volumes. 4. Retain the best government relations counsel possible. The data is very clear on this. Among current and former Congressional staff, powerful government relations was essentially tied with message development for the second greatest factor in public affairs success. 5. Develop a well designed, data-driven strategy. Avoid the pitfall of substituting a multitude of tactics for a cohesive strategic whole. 6. Beware of synthetic substitutes for grassroots development and Washington coalition building.

Methodology During the winter of 2009 StrategyOne conducted 1200 telephone surveys among Washington, DC elites using the Beltway Barometer, its proprietary research tool. All participants in this survey live in the Washington metropolitan area and work or have worked in Congress, an Administration, the Judicial branch, a federal agency, the Pentagon, a trade association, a PAC, political consulting, a lobbying firm, the media or a multi-lateral NGO. All participants hold at least a four year college degree. The survey was fielded evenly among Democrats and Republicans.

Robert Moran leads StrategyOne’s primary research division in Washington. He can be reached at robert.moran@strategyone.net or 202.326.1772. StrategyOne is a full service, strategic consulting firm that employs opinion research and advanced analytics to craft evidence based communications strategies for its clients. With offices in Washington, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, London and Paris, StrategyOne offers its clients service on a global scale and with a global perspective.

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http://www.strategyone.net/documents/WashingtonPublicAffairsCampaigns.pdf

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