Jewelyn Cosgrove is director of federal government affairs at the Healthcare Distribution Alliance in Arlington, Virginia.
With the federal government mired in partisan gridlock, associations have transitioned their advocacy resources to the state and local level to keep their issues front and center.
In contrast to the stalemates and atypical party alignments at the federal level, recent election cycles have delivered huge legislative changes at state and local levels. This has forced associations to rethink how to most effectively advocate on behalf of their members. Here’s how to shift your advocacy approaches to the state or local level in a resource-efficient and mindful way.
Assess internal resources. First, review materials you typically leave with federal lawmakers and regulators to see if they need to be adapted for a more local perspective. Also consider whether you can divide the subject matter into an evergreen document. If so, create separate supplemental documents that can narrow the issue down to relevant local data or details. And if time and resources allow, decide whether additional data can be collected to support your perspectives and incorporate them into new materials.
Review legal parameters. Before engaging in broader state efforts for an issue or introducing new staff to the effort, be sure to look at state lobbying registration requirements. If you don’t already have a robust state government affairs team, this will be key to staying within legal parameters. Additionally, if you don’t have the resources to send staff—or if the issue gains momentum quickly—look for local lobbying firms. Some states won’t even let a non-local lobbyist come in for a meeting, so this is a key point to consider as you adjust your engagement strategy.
As with any well-coordinated effort, partnerships and alliances are key to strategic plans turning into strategic victories.
Bring your full team up to speed. This is an opportunity to look at your current staff and consider what expertise they can bring. If you have staff focused on state issues, schedule joint meetings to share intel and perspectives. For issues that span both state and federal discussions, aligning efforts will become increasingly important. Further, work closely with other internal departments, like communications or industry affairs, to build on existing efforts.
Produce new or updated materials. After reviewing what you have in place, develop new materials to better capture the issue as it transitions to a state or local level. Remember to think about the new audience. Since tenure in their roles may be different and the regulatory entities they work with will vary, your messaging should change from what you might present to a member of Congress or federal regulator. Consider that your media strategy may change too since local lawmakers rely heavily on local newspapers to read what issues are important to their constituents.
Loop in relevant partners. As with any well-coordinated effort, partnerships and alliances are key to strategic plans turning into strategic victories. Determine if your current federal-level coalition of stakeholders can be deployed at the state level. Organizations with state-level affiliates, local trade associations, individual advocacy groups, and more present new opportunities for local coalitions.
Issues have often spanned both federal and state levels, but the intensity of state activity in this cycle is something all associations must take stock in. Rethink the kind of collaboration and communication you engage in, adapt and adjust resources and materials, and ensure you’ve established new alliances that can help you achieve success at all levels.