Populist Lobbying For A Populist PresidentChristy Paavola and Michael Chenderlin
Anyone who has watched five minutes of news since Donald Trump was elected president knows this president does not play by normal Washington rules. Politico recently published a story about how lobbyists have been unable to kill Trump’s tariffs, which is not surprising considering during his campaign he ran on a message of America first, protectionism, and standing up to the elites in Washington. He is not going to easily change his position on these issues with a visit from a lobbyist. Traditional means of influencing the White House are no longer effective and public affairs firms need to employ new strategies to fit the new Washington.
For a populist president you need to use populist lobbying.
At Definers, if we were to run a campaign to influence the president on trade we would:
- Conduct Trade 101: Educate people in and outside the Beltway about trade using layman’s terms so people truly understand what is at stake. Trade is a complicated issue, everyone could use a primer.
- Take a trip to the heartland: Talk to Trump’s base and explain how a trade war is not an obscure policy theory, but a series of events that will have real-life consequences for people in America, for example, the price of beer increasing. Bring the issue down to a tangible level.
- Go where the president goes: If you want to get your message to the president, target those in the media he listens to. We know the president watches cable news, take advantage of that and targets hosts he likes.
- Rinse and repeat: Repeat the pro-free trade message on social media until yours is the prevailing thought on the issue and Trump has no choice but to listen to tariff disapproval.
To accomplish these objectives, a digital campaign is a must.
Industry discussion about digital campaigns can seem impenetrable, surrounded by a wall of technical jargon, statistical breakdowns and ever-changing platform minutiae.
These details aren’t trivial, but they can obscure what makes digital critical in the age of President Trump: the democratization of lobbying. However big or small your brand, whatever the credentials of your audience, your campaign has the same few seconds of screen time to make a convincing case. It’s hard to name a policy vehicle more populist than that.
A digital campaign on trade should:
- Reach the president’s base: Take advantage of the cost-effectiveness of targeted digital ads to put your content in front of Donald Trump’s primary interest group — those who voted for him.
- Treat the audience with respect: The campaign should wear its agenda on its sleeve, and plainly acknowledge its audience’s points of agreement with the president on trade. Those who voted for Trump are looking for straight talk and a good deal; have faith in your messaging to make a persuasive case, and then empower voters to reach out to the White House themselves.
- Know who it’s talking to: Digital campaigns have unparalleled capacity for customized content delivery. Don’t be that guy from the Beltway who has the same message for everyone from Cleveland to Cincinnati. A strong digital campaign is one that has a relevant message for everyone it reaches, and the impact from trade policy will be very different from town to town. Definers campaigns are backed by our robust research capability, allowing the necessary breadth of knowledge to make issues meaningful at the city and county level. If you put in the work to craft a relevant message, your audience will take the time to consider what you have to say.
- Capitalize on its own success: A strong digital campaign is a living thing, reacting to the news cycle moment to moment and providing supporters with a sense that they’re making real progress. Show off your growing momentum by promoting earned media successes, especially from regional voices with on-the-ground credibility. Definers’ war room and media monitoring teams help all of our campaigns stay up to speed on their key issue, and provide a tangible sense of progress to keep your audience invested.
The president has ditched the rulebook on how things are supposed to work in Washington. Your campaign should, too.