Happy Thanksgiving week and welcome to the inaugural edition of the FORA Five, our occasional musings on politics, policy and design.
The election is largely behind us and the transition is unfolding in real time. Regardless of the outcome in the Georgia Senate runoffs, the next several months will bring a closely-divided government and a significant amount of unfinished policy work to stabilize the economy and address the pandemic. Now is the time to take stock of opportunities & challenges and develop fresh advocacy strategies before the new crop of decision-makers arrives in Washington.
Don’t Wait Until January
Big decisions are being made now and speed matters. The Biden-Harris transition has been operational for months crafting a policy agenda and preparing a bevy of administrative actions. They are moving quickly to roll out key staff announcements. The inauguration is nearly two-months away but key decisions are being made now.
Team Biden won’t struggle in the same ways that Trump did in getting key personnel in place. There is a deep pool of loyal, experienced staff to draw from, a more efficient process to finalize the placement of the nearly 4,000 political appointees that will make up the core of the new administration and there are nearly 10,000 applicants already in the queue. Biden’s choice of Cathy Russell to lead the White House’s Office of Presidential Personnel is an indication of his commitment to recruit women to the senior levels of his administration. Russell served with Biden in the Obama Administration and as ambassador for global women’s issues. We expect these announcements to continue at this pace each week through the end of the year. There are opportunities to engage now, as the incoming team begins to outline their policy priorities across multiple agencies.
Check out FORA’s Plum Book Project for a unique approach to engaging in this policy and personnel process.
The DC Landscape Is Shifting
When power shifts in DC, the business of government and the culture of DC change as well. It may be self-evident that thousands of new political appointees will have their hand in shaping policy, but what often goes unnoticed is the wholesale restructuring of government agencies that usually follows.
What does that mean for your company or industry? Which issues will be more important after the election and which are likely to be sidelined? What industries and companies will receive new scrutiny? What type of advocacy and messages will play best in this new landscape? Organizations don’t have to guess anymore. Our proprietary research tools can provide deep insights relevant to these new audiences.
Now is the time to take stock with a detailed, data-driven review of your brand, core messages and reputation inside-the-beltway to understand these new threats and opportunities.
Build Capacity Outside The Beltway
COVID restrictions have changed the business of traditional lobbying. Relationships, meetings and face-to-face interactions have new limitations that Zoom alone can’t replace. Moreover, heightened levels of partisanship mean risk-averse decision-makers will be looking for demonstrations of real public support on the most controversial issues of the day.
With a closely divided Congress and highly risk-averse elected officials, only those with a true inside/outside game are likely to prevail. Fake grassroots or astroturf campaigns won’t cut it. Advocates need to invest in their ability to mobilize the most influential grasstops and grassroots messengers on the issues that animate public discussion.
Every policy decision over the next two years will be made with the midterm elections in mind. Real change often bubbles up first at the state level through legislation or ballot initiative. Keeping an eye on the issues that move outside-the-beltway and who the champions are – can be a good way to see where Congress may be headed on an issue next.
Be mindful that your messenger is the message. Mobilizing the right allies – opinion leaders, policy voices, trusted grasstops and grassroots messengers and building coalitions on any given issue are critical to ensure success.
Don’t Neglect Your Visuals
Design is now a dominant part of everyday life. We live in an audience economy where communication is primarily driven by visuals and stories. Creating symmetry between the images and substance helps reinforce the consistency and stability of your message.
This is crucial because over time this consistency and stability helps build authenticity and trust and trust is the currency of politics. When done right, design is practically invisible and easy to ignore. It’s the campaigns that fall flat with untested messaging, discordant messengers and tone-deaf advertising that we all remember.
The creative process should not be an after-thought or developed in a silo separate from the rest of your communications strategy. If you allow it to serve as the scaffolding for your advocacy efforts, you can leverage the design process to create message discipline across your campaigns.
Tune Out and Disconnect
With most DC offices still operating on work from home status – it’s easy to let your business and personal life bleed together. Make sure you carve out some time to do something mindless that doesn’t remotely resemble work.
If you haven’t seen The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, do your eyes and heart a favor and watch it this weekend – beautiful, dark, heartbreaking, hopeful and moody – it’s worth every hour. We are headed into a period of enormous change and uncertainty. Enjoy time with family and friends this week during Thanksgiving to reflect and unwind.