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Marketing & Issue Advocacy: Leveraging Your Stakeholders on Policy Issues

Chazz C

As CEO, Chazz serves as the product visionary, revenue driver, and strategic leader of One Click Politics. He has consulted on over one hundred international, federal, state, and local campaigns for candidates, corporations, associations and non-profit groups. Additionally, he has attended the Civitas Institute of Practical Politics, North Carolina Institute of Political Leadership, Republican National Committee's Campaign Management College, and the Campaign Management College. Chazz is also a member of the American Association of Political Consultants, Grassroots Professional Network, and the Public Affairs Council.

Matt Cummings: Who should we consider to be an organization or company's stakeholders? How you define those?

Chazz Clevinger: I think different companies have different perspectives on this, but it could be, most likely your employees, to start with. Most companies are most comfortable and have the most interest in keeping their employees happy for a variety of reasons. Beyond employees, that could include investors, board members, vendors, suppliers and then of course consumers. And consumers are who marketing professionals, and also public policy professionals like myself, have to keep happy when we're doing issue advocacy campaigns. Because consumers are, of course, the lifeblood of any company.        

MC: So why should marketing communications professionals care about involving customers and employees of their company in these public policy campaigns?

CC: It’s very important to be able to engage with people that are closest to your cause or your initiative. Mobile sports betting is an issue that is going on all around the country, and states are having to decide how they want to handle that. Whether they want to allow people to be able to engage in betting from their mobile phones. That wasn't a topic of discussion five or ten years ago, but companies who are trying to make a product, or are trying to penetrate into that market, need to be able to leverage their employees of their company and their customers to be able to send messages to elected officials on that issue, if they want to be able to continue to remain in existence. Companies in the sharing economy have to do this as well—such as Airbnb, Uber and Turo. If you just take a look at a lot of the companies that their very lifeblood and existence depends on whether or not they're able to operate within the confines of the law. It becomes very clear, in those cases, that every possible stakeholder, including customers, employees, need to be leveraged in those types of situations. And so, for broader companies outside of that it's important because leveraging people on public policy issues is not only an opportunity to save your company money, in terms of avoiding laws or regulations that can cost you money, but also as a way to keep the people who matter most to your company engaged in what's important, and what matters to you.

MC: You mentioned employees, investors, board members, consumers can all be stakeholders. But are all of those appropriate to market a public policy issue to?

CC: That varies from company to company. I’ve worked with a lot of different corporations from your traditional blue-chip Fortune 500s on down to your more disruptive start-ups, and I think the answer to that question varies from situation to situation. Most organizations I work with are comfortable leveraging their employees, and perhaps their investors or board members. That's kind of the first tier of people who are the most appropriate. And then from there, occasionally they may want to reach out to vendors and suppliers next. But consumers are really the thing that are most scary to a company. Because their interests may not be aligned with the policy interests of the company. For example, there's several large retail companies that I've done work with in the past, and their stance on minimum wage laws, for instance, don't always align with the views their consumers may have on those same issues.

MC: What are some of the challenges that you feel are inherent in involving stakeholders in these public policy related marketing campaigns?

CC: One of the biggest challenges is reverse engineering what your goal is. And in any public policy campaign the goal is typically always to defeat or to help pass legislation or regulatory measures that are going to be beneficial to your company. And in choosing who is going to be best able to help you do that can be a difficult thing. Sometimes large companies have a bunch of employees clustered in a single state, but they really didn't have locations around the rest of the country. When it came to dealing with federal issues, even though this was a Fortune 500 company, they needed to reach beyond their employees and customers and existing stakeholders, and try to find new ones. We had to help develop what we refer to as an ideal advocate profile, similar to an ideal customer profile. Except in our case, we weren't trying to convert people into consumers necessarily as much as we were trying to convert them into advocates for this particular company's cause or initiative. I'd say one of the largest challenges inherent in involving stakeholders is making sure that you have enough stakeholders to make an impact.

MC: I know there are a number of risks that are associated with engaging one's stakeholder on policy issues. Can you share a few of those?

CC: I think the number one risk that organizations are always telling me they're concerned about, is whether those stakeholders are going to stay on message. As marketing person, you always want to, first of all, make sure that you have tested the appropriate message. You've got a focus group or survey research, and you've identified what that message is that resonates with your audience. And then once you've gone through all that hard work to figure out what that message is that's going to resonate, making sure that your stakeholder is staying on that message is probably the biggest risk, and why oftentimes companies are hesitant to want to go out and allow a larger group of stakeholders, beyond their employees or maybe their investors and board members, to be engaged. There’s a lot of work that my company does around trying to control that messaging. When that type of work is done digitally, it's much easier because you're controlling the messaging that goes out from a large number of stakeholders. Very easy to only allow people to send pre-approved messages online, through social media or through email or other communication channels. But once you open that up to non-digital channels it becomes more difficult to control. Risks beyond that, though, include potentially putting yourself in a situation where you create so much noise on an issue that you end up having the opposite effect that you were hoping to have.

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