Post-election Takeaways for Government Relations Professionals

The Capitol December 29, 2016 By: Jessica Goodwin and Tommy Goodwin, CAE

With leadership changes coming to the White House and Congress in January 2017, association government relations professionals can strengthen their advocacy efforts to be most effective amid shifting dynamics on Capitol Hill.

Since Election Day, associations have been working overtime to prepare for the changes coming to both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. With President-elect Donald J. Trump filling out his cabinet and Republican majorities in both houses of Congress setting their legislative agendas, association government relations professionals have been analyzing the election results for insights into how the political climate will affect their members' issues in 2017 and beyond.

Here are five key takeaways from the 2016 election that will drive association activities on Capitol Hill and in federal agencies in the coming weeks and months.

Big Association Issues Are Back on the Table

After years of gridlock, the political stars have aligned for action on major issues affecting all associations, such as healthcare and tax reform. Congressional Republicans are already planning a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act in early 2017 and working on a replacement. House Republicans have also placed tax reform and action on the Department of Labor's controversial overtime rule near the top of their 2017 legislative agenda.

Inclusive messaging highlighting how effective public policy solutions can benefit the nation as a whole will be foundational for success in this new political environment.

With Republicans in control of the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives, association government relations and advocacy professionals should anticipate a fast and furious start on these issues when Congress reconvenes in January.

The Time for Offense Is Now

It has been said that with change comes opportunity. For associations, this means finding ways to work with the president-elect and the 115th Congress, even where areas of disagreement exist. For example, while the National Association of Manufacturers opposes Trump's policy position on trade, it is actively engaging lawmakers on infrastructure investment, an area of agreement.

"Associations are coming out of the woodwork with proactive plans for 2017," says Sherry Stanley Whitworth, executive vice president at Voter Voice. "People are energized and looking for opportunities to engage their members and find ways to work with the new administration."

Messaging Matters—A Lot

After the divisive election, there have been many calls for unifying people around common causes and issues, an area where associations excel. As ASAE President and CEO John H. Graham IV, FASAE, CAE, noted in a post-election message:

"While campaigns can be divisive, associations are responsible for bringing people together. We share common interests to advance the industries and professions we represent, and to have the association sector recognized for its expertise, its passion for helping others, and its role in advancing the economy and the quality of life in communities all over the world."

As associations ramp up their 2017 government relations and advocacy work, inclusive messaging, highlighting how effective public policy solutions can benefit the nation as a whole, will be foundational for success in this new political environment.

Shoe-leather Lobbying Is Critical…

The DC power structure is always evolving, but the 2016 election ushered in seismic changes: an outsider president, several surprising cabinet appointments, and 59 new members of Congress. With such dramatic turnover, the need to connect with lawmakers has never been more important, which means ramping up traditional lobbying efforts.

Despite various articles hyping the decline of lobbying and calls to "drain the swamp," association government relations professionals will need to burn through a lot of shoe leather this year to keep their fingers on the pulse of legislative and regulatory activity and to ensure their organizations' voices are heard amid the rapid pace of policymaking on Capitol Hill and in the agencies.

…And So Is Advocacy On Social Media

With the election of Donald Trump, America will likely have its most Twitter-active president ever. And because of that, associations need a best-in-class social media presence to support their advocacy efforts. While Congressional Management Foundation research found that 30 or fewer comments on a social media post is enough to get a congressional office's attention, this election showed that one well-timed tweet has the potential to reach the president directly.

Patti Shea, owner of Sunshine Social Media Consulting, advises associations to focus social media tactics on their top legislative priority. "Associations concentrating on one common outcome makes the communication more effective and talking points clearer… You shouldn't go buckshot on social media and cross your fingers you hit something."

This election was a game changer for associations, and government relations professionals will have a busy year ahead. With big policy issues up for debate, proactive associations with the right message, lobbying strategy, and social media plan have a unique opportunity to create positive change for their members this year.

Jessica Goodwin

Jessica Goodwin is a freelance writer and author.

Tommy Goodwin, CAE

Tommy Goodwin, CAE, is a federal and international government affairs professional in Washington, DC, and vice chair of the ASAE Government Relations Section Council