• June 25, 2019

5 Tips for Targeting Lawmakers to Get Your Bill Passed

In the world of public affairs, the idea of targeting is two-fold. There’s the efforts of the outreach team in charge of building an engaged audience ready to take action on your cause, and then there’s the act of targeting lawmakers to make sure your bill gets passed. 

While many organizations excel in the former, few organizations are developing the comprehensive, calculated, legislator targeting to get their bills passed. 

Luckily, intuitive targeting isn’t all that complicated. Here are some tips for when you’re launching your next campaign.

Segment your legislator list

On the surface, this is a pretty basic concept, and you’re already probably doing it on the advocate level. But at the legislator level, how should you segment legislators?

The obvious answer would be segmenting based on their anticipated their vote – but that’s not always clear. Instead, you can target by party (republicans vs. democrats) or by chamber (House vs. Senate) in what can be referred to as, a “thank and spank” campaign. “Thank and Spank” campaigns do exactly as the name implies, one party or chamber gets a message thanking them for their future (or past) vote, and the other gets a message intended to persuade their vote. 

With tools like Capitol Canary you can set up intuitive Thank and Spank campaigns, and divide by party, chamber, or other segments, so that your supporters can send two entirely different messages to their legislators office without any manual effort on their part. Although, we do always recommend that your supporters personalize their messages to maximize their impact.

Apart from your supporters sending more specific messages to their lawmakers, this tactic helps build your organization’s relationship with legislators. If you’re sending hundreds of emails to a lawmaker condemning them of not supporting a certain bill they’ve already vocally supported, it can damage your credibility in certain offices. Moreover, you don’t want to bog down their servers with unnecessary messages, especially if they are a co-sponsor of the bill – in which case they probably shouldn’t receive an email from one of your advocates at all. 

Allocate your efforts appropriately so you’re solely focused on the lawmakers that don’t support your bill (or support the bill you’re opposed to). 

Make the timing of your message to lawmakers count

The timing of when you decide to amplify your message to lawmakers can mean everything for getting your issue passed. Most advocacy organizations target lawmakers prior to a vote in an effort to make or break a bill.

But sometimes – and especially on the state and local level – that may be too late. Some state sessions are as short as 40 days, so lawmakers often make their decisions on a vote before the session even begins. 

The solution? Capture their attention well before the session begins. Lawmakers inboxes aren’t being bombarded during this period so you can start getting your issue on their radar as they are meticulously planning how to make the most of their limited days in session.

Targeting lawmakers within committees

Advocacy groups often have trepidation about targeting committees because it implies you’re encouraging non-constituents to contact lawmakers to influence policy. But in reality, committees are a huge step in the lawmaking process, and if a bill you’re in opposition to gets passed out of committee, it can create a lot more work for you later. 

Targeting a committee can mean you end up contacting 25 different lawmakers, which can result in a diluted message to the decision-making elected officials. The trick is to find a few lawmakers – like the committee leaders or your “swing voters” – and send specific messages on how the bill can help or hurt the constituents in their district. 

Don’t just flood their office with messages, find where they are online.

Lawmakers are on social media and they’re watching TV, just like us, which provides advocacy groups with new channels to leverage their influence. Targeting lawmakers online has become a more prominent tactic inside the beltway, and even more so during the Trump presidency where interest groups are booking commercial slots on Fox & Friends just to grab Trump’s attention.

That’s not to say go all on in on commercial advertising on Fox, but there are ways to grab your lawmakers’ attention without breaking the wallet. With geo-targeting capabilities on paid social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, you can create audiences based on specific locations in the District. Want to target the Rayburn building with a white paper outlining why a proposed bill would adversely impact the economy? Just launch a Facebook Ad. You’re now on the timeline of not only the lawmakers themselves – but probably their entire staff. 

The targeting capabilities vary by platform. LinkedIn won’t give you as granular of targeting as Facebook and Twitter, but it’s not that likely that lawmakers are spending a ton of time on LinkedIn. If you want to get really savvy with your geo-targeting, find out when lawmakers are congregating in a new destination that isn’t inside the beltway and target that location – but clarify you only want to target only “visitors” to that location. Now you’re just targeting those specific people who don’t live in the area & are there temporarily, i.e. your legislator targets.

The ROI of online targeting can be tough. You’re not going to find yourself with a tangible conversion like you would with mobilizing your supporters to send emails or calls to lawmakers. But advocacy is a bit like marketing, influence has a ripple effect, and if you trust the online algorithms, you can start to better leverage those mediums to maximize your influence. 

Diversify your methods of communications as a bill goes through the legislative process.

Modern advocacy programs have the ability to leverage a multitude of different mediums and platforms to connect their supporters to their elected officials. To sophisticate your advocacy program, choosing when and where to use each medium can make all the difference. 

Advocacy tools like Capitol Canary allow your supporters to email, Tweet, or call their supporters, each of which can serve a different process as a bill goes through the legislative process. 

For example, looking to get in a last minute word on a bill right before it hits the floor or during a hearing? Send your supporters a text alert to ask them to tweet their official. We’ve heard first-hand from elected officials that before a vote, they’ll check Twitter to get a pulse on how their constituents feel about the bill. 

The day before, we usually tell your partners to drive phone calls to light up the phone lines of lawmakers. As for email, this medium is more evergreen and can be used at any point during the legislative process, but can be primarily helpful in the weeks prior to a bill, or in the off-season of a state legislative session. 

A repeated cliche in the advocacy universe is to know your audience. The same can be said for the legislators that you’re targeting. At the end of the day, you need to know where they hang out online, how their office takes into account constituent messages, and what message is going to resonate with them. A lawmaker in rural Montana is going to interpret constituent communications differently than a legislator in downtown Los Angeles. 

Tools like Capitol Canary can make your targeting efforts simpler and more efficient, so you can spend more time crafting your message to lawmakers to persuade them in your direction. Find some time with our experts to learn more.