How to align communications and government affairs (or advocacy)
‘Comms’ and ‘advocacy’ can sometimes feel like they’re moving in different directions, but there’s a simple solution to align communications and government affairs.
Most communications and government affairs leaders devote limited attention to defining how their teams coordinate with each other and de-conflict their activities.
If the teams conducting outreach, asking for money, prompting advocacy ‘activation,’ and trying to recruit new brand ambassadors don’t coordinate their efforts, they could very well create a sense of ‘contact burnout’ among their audience members.
Overlaps and boundaries
There are natural points where the efforts of these teams may overlap. Both the communications team and the government affairs (or advocacy) team employ similar strategies, in that they use some of the same tactics, some of the same resources, and even target some of the same audiences. But a lack of clearly defined boundaries poses a significant liability to each team, and to the organization as a whole.
One of the most important boundaries to define is which department ‘owns’ communication with each audience or individual.
A simple way to begin defining ownership and outreach authority is to consider the following questions:
Who ‘owns’ each communication channel (email, Twitter, Facebook, direct mail, etc.)?
Who ‘owns’ each particular audience?
Who can grant permission to contact an audience not within one’s ownership?
Are any audiences completely off-limits?
In a traditional view (something like what’s shown in the graphic below), each stakeholder audience is considered fair game for each team, with little regard to how the other teams may seek to interact with them.
A better way
A better perspective is similar to a ‘systems thinking’ approach. Rather than each team viewing their activities as taking place within a vacuum, consider that there are multiple systems at work.
The first system in this example is the government affairs team and its interactions with its target audiences. Another system is the communications team, and how their efforts impact and are influenced by some of the very same audiences. A third system could be the fundraising team; extending outreach to raise capital in support of political action goals.
Each system may interact with the same audience members, and this could cause that audience’s members to feel overwhelmed by all the demands placed on them by a single organization.
Or worse: they could create the perception in the minds of potential advocates, donors, and brand evangelists that the organization’s efforts and messaging aren’t strategically integrated.
Defining ownership boundaries will help all the teams conducting external outreach to better coordinate their activities. A graphic like the following could be sketched out on a white board as the managers of each team discuss and agree upon the most sensible ownership matrix:
The one concept that should be used as a framework for negotiating and defining ownership is:
How can each team obtain the value they seek from each individual stakeholder, individual audience member, or entire group without exhausting the brand capital of the organization as a whole?
In other words, the design of an ownership matrix and the multi-system activities it enables must serve the interests of the organization. If an effort by the government affairs team yields positive benefit for that team, but diminishes the activities of the communications team, then that should be considered a failure of collaborative planning.
If the government affairs and communications teams (and other teams, as sensible) spend time together thinking through how each team can support the organization’s strategic goals in ways that are not detrimental or ‘cannibalistic’ of the other systems in play, then a more mature and more sustainable structure can be created.