Very few things can consistently energize your members like an election. True, a presidential race generates more enthusiasm. But midterm elections offer plenty to hold people’s interest -- and next year’s races more than usual.
Savvy PAC managers, membership directors and grassroots strategists will spend the next few weeks planning how they can make the most of next year’s election by updating their members, employees and advocates in unique and engaging ways.
Whatever your position on President Trump, most experts agree that next year’s election will be a referendum on his performance. Voters have not always been kind to first-term presidents in the midterms, and it’s an open question whether Republicans will maintain control of both the House and the Senate. There’s plenty of action in the states, too. Overall, there’s a lot at stake.
As difficult as it is to track fractured congressional elections that take place all over the country, voters of all stripes will be paying attention, following along as best they can.
This is where your organization has an opportunity to provide valuable education to your members, employees, advocates and stakeholders. They have joined your organization for professional or political reasons, and many will consume everything about the election that you put in front of them, so long as it is relevant, engaging and respectful of their time.
If this information has an exclusive element -- perhaps even an “insider” flavor -- it will be valued even more. And here’s a secret: with a bit of planning, none of this is a heavy lift. In truth, it is well within reach for most PACs, corporations or membership organizations. Why? Because your members and stakeholders already trust you.
While it is true that every major news organization will follow the election in exhausting detail, those organizations do not have the same access to your members’ inboxes. Members, employees and advocates expect you to communicate with them, and periodic updates about the election are not likely to upset anyone. Depending on your organization, they may even expect it.
More important, your organization offers a unique prism through which to view the election. The professional or political interests that bind you and your stakeholders will be the lens through which you analyze the election. For example, if you are an organization supporting animal rights, then your advocates have an abiding interest in animal rights. Your election updates can explain the races in terms of candidates who are for (or perhaps even against) animal rights.
Updates that align with the interests of your members, employees or advocates can be extremely helpful to them, and a powerful attractor to your content. Content like this is an easy launching pad to get people engaged. To continue our example, a call to action attached to an election update asking members to write a letter or make a donation in support of animal rights is likely to be well received.
Planning Your Work
How do you plan an election update program? Let’s start with delivery. Most organizations have an email program that they use to communicate with stakeholders and that should be the primary channel you use here. Whatever content you plan to send them -- video, blog posts, links, graphics -- there is no reason to change that channel, though you can add to it. For example, you might plan to release election updates on email and via social channels.
Next, you’ll have to address content. Start with why you are communicating during this election and what you need to get across. In many cases, it will simply be a solid general analysis and update, but some organizations may have more sophisticated needs. Think this through with your team and put it in writing.
The next step will be to address who is providing election analysis and who is synthesizing that analysis into a format that can be easily digested for your members. If you work for an organization with a full political team that does analysis and a full communications team that can write and edit, you are way ahead. All of your election updates can be done in house, and your planning will be dramatically simpler.
If you don’t have those resources, there’s no need to panic. There are several products available (not surprisingly, our favorite is VoteWatch 2018, a collaboration between 720 Strategies and David Wasserman of The Cook Political Report), and you can buy them for far less than it would cost to put a paid intern on staff for help with the election. If your organization is interested in state politics -- like gubernatorial races -- be sure the product you buy covers that material. For a few grand more, some (yes, like VoteWatch) can be customized with your branding and logo. These will give you solid election analysis that you can augment with your own information, commentary, calls to action or anything else.
You should also give real thought to how to make your election content engaging. For example, video often has a much higher engagement rate than written posts. If you can create or purchase engaging video, it is well worth considering. If not, plan to do some lively writing and present it in a way your members will appreciate. Do your members want everything in a long email or will they link over to your site? Do they read at their desk on a machine or on a mobile device? If you are not sure, gather some analytics. Think through the delivery process and make some decisions about how to present your material.
The last piece of planning is cadence. How often will you update your stakeholders? Unless you work for an organization with some very intense political needs, a weekly update will be too much. The truth is that congressional races don’t always have big changes week to week. A monthly update is more realistic, and the truth is that you may be able to get away with one every six to eight weeks. That’s enough time to really have something to say.
Create a calendar of what you want to say (generally) and when you want to say it, realizing that this is just a plan. You can always adapt. If your updates are working well, for example, you can add more. With decisions made about content, delivery and cadence, you’ll be ready when the action heats up. Take a few days in November and December to plan your work. When the New Year arrives, you can work your plan.