When it comes to your public affairs goals, it’s always easier to get by with a little help from your friends. Organizations start coalitions for a variety of reasons: to advance legislation, unite against unfavorable proposals or simply to bring attention to a critical policy issue. But how do you start building a team and determining which allies are right at a given time?
We’ve used the three Cs as guidelines to assemble and manage coalitions that have made a years-long impact and are positioned to do so for years to come.
Individuals that are the least like you can be your strongest allies. Developing a coalition that represents interests up and down the value chain positions your preferred policy position as something that benefits all, rather than a special interest giveaway.
For example, if you are advancing a manufacturing coalition, it would be ideal to have companies or associations related to raw materials, production, logistics, distributors and retailers. Supporting materials should highlight how a proposal can be beneficial to each group in the process from source material to store shelf.
Doing so serves two purposes. First, it makes repetition of key messages, a coalition’s raison d'etre, easier. The more times and places a lawmaker hears a supporting statement, the more likely they are to view it as a favorable policy. Second, it ensures that members know what issues and phrases to omit to avoid upsetting other members.
When it comes to recruiting members, we look for a few things. First, does the organization have an existing, robust public affairs operation? Those tend to be good partners because they understand the nature of the work and can serve as an easily accessible point of contact when there is a need to develop a new message or take action.
Second, do they have a geographic advantage? If recruiting trade associations, try to cross reference the presence of state chapters or affiliates with the key state legislatures or the members of Congress you will need to influence.
Prior to the recruiting stage, we advise developing a list of target organizations and creating a master messaging toolkit. From there, you can customize the components to recruit messengers or get them advocating from day one, since much of the work has already been done for them.
The best coalitions understand that they can’t be all things to all people. In fact, the more tightly defined the coalition, is the more successful it is likely to be.
The initial planning of a coalition should include explicit instructions on what the coalition will be supporting, as well as areas in which it will not venture. After all, if this is a truly broad coalition, there may be other issues where there is conflict between members.
If there is a desire to advance messaging or policy that is unrelated to the key issue, the coalition can provide a way to make that known to individual stakeholders. However, the group’s manager should not raise the issue with the group before receiving the green light from each individual member.
By keeping your coalition focused on a specific policy issue, you can prevent fracturing further down the line, ensuring that your organization is viable for as long as possible.
Coalition management is akin to cat herding. You have a lot of different individuals with a lot of different ideas. Unlike cats, they also have very crowded calendars.
It is unlikely any individual coalition representative will have the time to run the ranch in addition to their day-to-day duties. Therefore, it is advisable to have an outside organization responsible for managing the coalition’s actions. This includes things like setting up meetings, coordinating messaging, leading earned or digital media efforts and providing legislative updates.
It also ensures that there is a dedicated resource available if you need content available on short notice. This is especially true when dealing with state legislative coalitions, since their sessions can be as short as 40 days, or 20 for a budget session.
Additionally, this approach ensures continuity should one key member at one of the coalition organizations leave. Having an outsider will ensure that momentum continues over time. In order to ensure that turnover at the management organization does not affect the coalition, we suggest developing an ongoing coalition guide that covers the group’s operations and key contacts. Institutional knowledge is one of the group’s strongest assets, but it needs to be retained in real time or else it will be lost.
With these guidelines, organizations should be able to establish coalitions that are able to travel a long and winding road toward success.
John Brandt is Senior Vice President at ROKK Solutions.