On the Record

Insights and Analysis from Gallatin Public Affairs

It’s time for business to embrace the new era of digital advocacy

February 21, 2017

by Dan Lavey



The Internet, smartphones and social media have changed how we shop, bank, drive and share ideas. They’ve also changed how public opinion and policy is shaped and made.

For decades, companies and industry associations operated with one approach: define your agenda and send the lobbyists into the capitol to persuade lawmakers. In the last 15 years, business groups built web pages and added rudimentary email newsletters to call on members to contact lawmakers.

In 2017, technology has entered a new era, one that’s more sophisticated, complicated and professionalized. The distance between a voter and lawmaker is now the click of a smartphone. It’s time for businesses and trade groups to respond with modern, digital strategies that take advantage of the technology that’s now available.

As businesses and industry groups consider how to take advantage of these new digital opportunities, here are seven strategies for building a modern advocacy program:

  1. Communicate and organize around policy threats and opportunities – not organizational identities.
    Put specific issues front and center. Allow policy-makers to align with specific issues without having to necessarily embrace an entire industry.
  2. Recruit allies and activists of the impacted and concerned – not just those on your email list or that pay dues.
    Reach beyond members and employees to create and activate digital coalitions of the willing, concerned, and philosophically aligned.
  3. Elected officials care about what their voters think. Make sure they hear directly from them.
    Communicate with and connect real voters with lawmakers. Bring the outside-in through digital and social media activism.
  4. Policy makers are people too. They will remember stories and visuals.
    Combine personal anecdotes with facts and visuals to inform and persuade lawmakers and the media.
  5. Get to know your supporters and target audiences to optimize your advocacy efforts.
    Gather data to customize and enhance the quality of your engagement. Use sophisticated digital tools that consider an individual supporter’s most used social channels, past donations and emails opened to deliver customized content.
  6. Punch-up by connecting your issue to larger economic, cultural, or political trends.
    Be prepared to creatively insert your issue into an emerging news story, sporting event, SNL skit or funny hashtag trending on Twitter.
  7. A year is forever in tech and politics.
    Refresh your tools and approach every few months. Is your digital platform designed to broadcast your message to people? Or is it designed to organize people and compel them to advocate on your behalf? Can your supporters read your website and your emails on their mobile phones?
  8. Dan Lavey

    Partner, President and Shareholder, Oregon

    For more than 25 years, Dan Lavey has been a leader and go-to strategist in Oregon’s political process and public affairs arena. He’s provided counsel to numerous businesses and public-eye organizations along with elected officials and political candidates across the Pacific Northwest.