Once you start a public affairs campaign you need to be prepared to stay the course. Dropping out along the way or letting government ‘off the hook’ can be counterproductive. You need to keep going.
Whilst priorities can change, it is important that once started, the momentum in a campaign is maintained. The dangers of losing your way, losing interest or simply backing down are large. This means being committed from the outset, throughout the campaign and being prepared to see it through. So plan for activity over potentially a long time needs to be included from the outset.
If you don’t keep going, fade out, or simply stop, then it can inflict potential reputational damage both on the issue and the organisation. There is the very real possibility of undermining your own credibility with government. If the issue was important enough to campaign on in the first place then that should continue to be the case. Otherwise government may think that you are not serious and will likely ignore you in future. Don’t be seen as ‘all bark and no bite’. Sometimes a campaign needs a little bite!
You also risk your relationship with other stakeholders, not least politicians, as well. If get them interested and possibly even involved in the campaign only to fade out then they too may not be happy (and so less likely to help again in future).
So how can you maintain momentum?
- Fill the gaps – you need things to do at all stages rather than let a vacuum be created. There could be a space in the formal policy making process which could cause it to drop off the agenda of politicians. If you don’t have activity planned for such times then you risk having to recreate interest and momentum. Frankly that is always more difficult. So plan activity that keeps the profile of the issue, if not high, then at least visible. This means not just having a stream of creative ideas but also understanding the policy and political processes to know when they may need to be deployed.
- Flex – be prepared to shift emphasis over time and build in a range of messages to audiences. The audiences themselves may have different roles to play at different times. This too all helps to fill the gaps.
- Work with others – public affairs campaign can be good at identifying friends and allies from the outset but is often less good in identifying people to work with as a campaign develops. New friends and allies and even joint campaigners can emerge over time. Some semblance of co-ordination will be useful but maybe a formal announcement of a working relationship could be used for profile and momentum purposes. But at least always start with a list of targets and prioritise them for contact throughout the campaign.
- Pay constant attention – one of the worst failings of a campaign is to miss potential opportunties because no-one was really paying attention to the policy development. That could be a consultation or more likely activity in Parliament. So at best a missed opportunity to maintain momentum but at worst failing to spot the final decision-making process.
- Consider all your communications cards – whilst the emphasis may be on the political engagement, that should not exclude other forms of communications – internal, media, social media etc. But consider these not simply because you can but rather as part of the way to maintain momentum, to keep the audience interested, and potentially increase profile for the issue.
So don’t start a campaign and then fail to see it through to the end. Your reputation and relationship with government could be at stake.