The Impact of Election Cycles on Issue Advocacy

April 11, 2018

 

We don’t represent political candidates. But that doesn’t mean we’re not intensely involved in the political process.


In truth, our business goes up during election cycles – even though we don’t work for office seekers. Instead, the issues become our candidates. It’s right there in our name – Ceisler Media and Issue Advocacy.


From my experience, issues are a whole lot better to work for. They don’t have tempers like some politicians. They’re not paranoid. And they don’t need hand holding.


During big election years like 2018, many of our clients seek to ensure that their causes become part of the debate in Congressional or state legislative races. With so much other issues vying for attention, it’s easy to get lost in the clutter and the noise.


That’s where we come in at Ceisler Media. Our job is to help our clients get heard. And cycles like this offer a great opportunity to get the message out so that elected officials realize their constituents have an interest.


Issues change cycle to cycle. What’s trivial to voters one year becomes critical the next. Of course, the words – and social media posts – coming out of Washington affect what people see as priorities.


Recently, a national organization working to protect DACA and focus on other pro-immigrant policies hired Ceisler Media to direct its 2018 Pennsylvania strategy. Our job is to take their national messaging and tailor it to fit this state’s U.S. Senate race and Congressional campaigns.

 

Now, whenever our president tweets about that issue – which is early and often – we keep our eyes on it and react quickly with an op-ed, news conference or press call. And as quickly as things shift these days, we’re ready to adapt a complete campaign overhaul. 


The key priority is to make sure the truth gets out. Of course, these days, people’s version of the truth varies widely.


One societal change that has impacted how we promote a client’s position is the shift in how people find their news. Certainly we still help clients react in traditional media, like newspapers. But nowadays, more and more people get their information from partisan sources like cable TV news and targeted websites. So whether the issue is taxes, the environment or health care, it’s often delivered with a slant. That’s something we at Ceisler Media address in our messaging for clients.


But even in these hyper-partisan times, we occasionally bridge the gap. Here’s a great example: When it comes to Affordable Care Act, two groups that couldn’t be further apart are Americans for Prosperity (who would repeal the ACA in an instant) and the Free Clinic Association (which would aim to expand it).


But one Ceisler Media client, the Pennsylvania Coalition of Nurse Practitioners, allows us to bring those divergent groups together. 


The nurse practitioners are seeking to modernize the state’s outdated rules governing their practice.  Proposed legislation (PA Senate Bill 25 and House Bill 100) would enable the free market to expand access to care for low-income communities.


We at Ceisler Media have helped the nurse practitioners build a coalition (Care for PA) of more than a dozen organizations that bridge the health care spectrum – and party politics.


Americans for Prosperity support the proposed reform because it cuts red tape and outdated regulations. And the Free Clinic Association is in favor because the reform has proven in other states to increase health care quality and expand access – especially for low-income communities.


Of course, such agreement is a rarity. But the public consensus does move on some issues. One where the shift has been dramatic is legalization of medical marijuana.


Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program, which is being rolled out in stages, is a key element of the platform Governor Wolf and many lawmakers are running on in 2018. We have clients involved in the program, and we’re helping them tell the stories of how medical marijuana is already proving beneficial to patients.


This coming election cycle could also prove to be a busy one for our corporate clients, as the political sands shift and issues of in the energy, telecom and healthcare are at the forefront of most stump speeches.


For our corporate clients, we are often called in to monitor issues at the local, state or federal level.  We work to research and understand all sides of the issue and determine where to plug in. We identify third-party spokespeople who can support our client’s position.  We prepare proactive plans to ensure we aren’t caught flat footed as the volume increases on the debate.  

 

And we tell their stories. An example of government and politics intersecting with our corporate client work came last year with the changes in federal tax laws. We helped share the story of how Walmart transferred some of its tax relief to workers by raising its starting wage, creating new benefits and distributing bonuses to eligible employees.    


A few other thoughts:


The intersection of energy and environmental policy is always a hot topic. But in an election year, there is increased attention paid by elected officials and candidates to job creation and economic innovation and opportunity.  


We have been working with clients to highlight a narrative about the economic opportunity surrounding clean energy for Pennsylvania. In fact, a new poll out from Franklin & Marshall College done in conjunction with State Impact Pennsylvania found that 69 percent of voters want the state to pursue policies supporting renewable energy and 62 percent believe climate change is causing problems now.


Gender issues are tremendously important in 2018. Make sure you have a diverse group at the table when you are discussing your communications strategy.


I’m curious to see the how the leak of people’s personal information on Facebook resonates with the public. Will it become part of the debate on larger telecommunications issues? Will politicians – especially Democrats – want to regulate companies like Facebook or Google? It’s a breaking story now, one that could have legs with the public for years to come.


Keep an eye on how Pennsylvania, and other states, deal with the matters of redistricting and gerrymandering. We work with a non-partisan advocacy coalition called Keystone Votes, which aims to update this state’s election system. It’s a hot-button topic here, and should be all the way up to 2022, when the Legislature redraws districts again.

 

Larry Ceisler, principal of Ceisler Media, is a national leader in strategic communications, with more than 25 years of experience executing public affairs strategies, grassroots efforts and issue campaigns. 

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