Wielding influence in Washington, D.C. requires a holistic approach to media relations, public affairs and developing relationships with influencers — but who are these influencers and how do we engage with them?
In D.C., major players from Congress, the Administration, think tanks and other Hill organizations are constantly moving and shaping public policy. It takes a strategic approach to develop relationships and purposefully engage with policy influencers key to moving your organization’s priorities forward. To help you identify the influencers that matter most for your organization, we have put together this high-level overview of who to know in Washington and how to best position your company’s legislative and public policy priorities when engaging with these influencers.
Good relationships on Capitol Hill are essential to your business success, but it takes a lot of legwork to secure support for your legislative priorities, and developing those relationships goes beyond traditional lobbying.
To identify which Members of Congress to target with your communications, consider who represents the state or congressional district where your organization is headquartered or operates; the chairs and ranking members on committees with jurisdiction over your priority issues, as well as other committee members who represent your organization’s state or congressional district; and who has introduced legislation that your organization has supported in the past or that is similar to the goal you’re trying to achieve now.
Social media engagement can also be beneficial when building relationships with members of Congress. Like and share influencer content relevant to your organization. Wherever appropriate, tag members in posts that amplify relevant news stories, committee remarks and legislation.
Like Congress, it’s important to develop strong relationships with White House staff, agency heads and program staff in offices, departments and agencies that have jurisdiction over your policy. Many departments and agencies also have established working groups in areas that could advance your policy priorities. Within these groups, you will find public-private collaboration and an opportunity to establish your organization as a key player in the industry and a knowledgeable resource for federal partners. The same social media recommendations for Congressmembers apply to members of the Administration.
Former Members of Congress and Agency Administrators
While no longer in key decision-making positions, former members of Congress, agency administrators and agency officials often remain engaged in their areas of expertise, and don’t always go on to lobby. They may end up at think tanks, in academia, as policy advisors for major corporations or as policy media contributors. These individuals could prove to be valuable spokespeople, third party validators and policy development partners for your organization. They know the ins and outs of their former organizations and maintain relationships in the field.
Think Tanks and Academia
D.C. is home to several think tanks and policy institutes, as well as universities with robust public policy programs. These institutions produce research and host events or discussions on the biggest issues of the day. To identify partnerships, look to align your organization with institutions that focus on issues affecting your industry. Engagement with these organizations gives your policy priorities legitimacy and an unaffiliated platform for public discourse.
By establishing relationships with researchers and program experts, you can establish your organization and executives as thought-provoking industry leaders with insight and experience. This positions you as a source that could benefit future research efforts or provide a smart industry voice to any one of their event discussions. Many of the congressional and administrative staff mentioned above lean on these think tanks to help determine sound policy and regulations to implement.
The media goes beyond individual journalists. While briefings and backgrounders are great ways to establish relationships and develop your clients as trusted and reliable sources, there’s more to media than just print and online coverage.
Most large policy media organizations, including The Washington Post, Politico and Axios, host regular events on hot public policy issues. These events can be great platforms for your organization’s executives and thought leaders to interact with policymakers and the media. Participating in these events is also a great way to further develop relationships with journalists, as well as fellow policy leaders, that will serve your organization well into the future.
RH Strategic is a Seattle and D.C.-based communications firm with a nationwide presence and additional global reach via membership in the Worldcom Public Relations Group. We provide strategic public relations for innovators in the technology, public sector and healthcare markets.