20 things you should have in your Public Affairs toolbox

As a Public Affairs professional you have many tools available to create attention on a relevant issue or assert your organisation's influence. But often we see PA people getting stuck with a few of their favorite tools and thus miss out on new opportunities and tactics. Therefore we are going back to PA basics and present you with the 20 essential tools for Public Affairs work. The list of PA tools is extracted from Ulobby CEO Anders Kopp Jensen’s book The Public Affairs Engine - please note that the tools are not ranked in any particular order - their usefulness always depends on the situation and the nature of your organisation.

1. Research reports

Having unique and credible data about your challenge or issue, including the impact on society, can be pivotal for sparking political interest for your agenda. These types of reports can be conducted by researchers, think-tanks or specialized analysis/market research companies.

Pro tip: Try to get as many visuals and graphics as possible as these are more likely to be shared and create engagement on SoMe.

2. Webinars

Given the Covid-19 pandemic most PA professionals are probably not strangers to webinars and virtual meetings in general. Hosting your own webinar can be a good way of attracting a larger and maybe different crowd than IRL events and is also something which can be pushed before and after the event.

Pro tip: A tendency during the Covid-19 peak was that companies were hosting webinars about almost anything, even subjects completely unrelated to their business or issues. Although this might be entertaining it is not a very effective use of resources, so use webinars as an enhancer or enabler of an activity you already have lined up or kicked off, e.g. a policy proposal you are currently trying to create awareness around. This can be done in a creative or fun way, which may also include stakeholders you were planning to reach out to as a part of the plan.

3. E-books

E-books are becoming more and more popular as a way to contribute with free thought leadership which then can be used for other purposes, e.g. in relation to stakeholder management. A free e-book with unique content can have a far greater reach than sponsored content on SoMe and can also be used as a way to spark new partnerships, for instance as co-authors.

Pro tip: There are many relevant tips worth mentioning, but besides producing quality content the easiest tip with the highest ROI is simply to choose a killer title for your e-book and not something too boring or niche. Easy to say, difficult to do!

4. Policy papers

Policy papers or policy catalogues can be seen as a political proposal or contribution as a solution to an ongoing political discussion. Make sure it is crisp, well-documented and credible, don’t exaggerate positive or negative effects which you may or may not agree to.

Pro tip: It’s a good idea to have two versions – one one-pager for a “layman” and one very detailed and more comprehensive outline of the challenge, economic consequences and concrete legislation text (if relevant).

5. Long blog posts

With the increasing importance of digital channels, blog posts can be a good way to position your organization or CEO as a domain expert on certain subjects or take a stand on broader challenges for society. Bear in mind that this is a long-term effort and should be done with a consistent frequency, which means it should be prioritized even when other urgent matters pop up (which they always do).

Pro tip: If the sender is your CEO, this is also a good way to position yourself and the PA department if you ghostwrite the blogs and get, for instance, 30 minutes alone with her every other week or once a month.

6. Targeted digital advocacy

Digital advocacy is a popular term, and covers many things, but often related to Twitter and LinkedIn. It can be very effective to prepare content, e.g. tweets with a graphic content, which can be shared with the ambassador corps (mentioned above) and pushed out at a certain time.

Pro tip: Try to be very focused on your target group and not just shooting blindly in the dark. For example, on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn it is easy to be very concrete and specific about who your target. And if you are targeting a specific politician, investigate or use software that tells you when the politician is mostly online and set your content up accordingly. This tactic can also be combined with physical activities enhancing the digital messages, e.g. with billboards placed strategically near parliament or high profile transport locations (e.g. Schuman).

7. Short videos

As the digital age also results in a great deal of noise which has the effect of making the user more lazy or tired, videos can make a nice change to the normal written posts. Videos can bring something new to the table, and, if done well, they can even have a much bigger impact than a well-conducted policy proposal. For some companies it is also a good way to show the face of their CEO or top management, maybe even in an informal way.

Pro tip: Again there are also many relevant tips worth mentioning, but here are three key guidelines: Informal videos can work very well but don’t make them too informal or intermistic, as the quality and message still reflects upon the entire organization, remember that poor sound loses views, and finally – in contradiction to the latter – also remember subtitles because many don’t turn on the sound when browsing through their feeds or watching them on the train.

8. Magazines

Writing and publishing your own magazine is not something typically seen coming from PA professionals. However, digital magazines can provide value for the buck as they can be used as a means of getting in touch with stakeholders who are possibly not so accessible.

Pro tip: If you are handling an issue which is tough to arouse political interest around or for politicians to form an official opinion about, interviewing them for the magazine about the issue can be a good way to not only get to know them but also their thinking.

9. Twitter ads

Twitter is probably the most widely used digital channel, often sarcastically referred to as the intranet for politicians and journalists. Organic tweets are often more authentic, e.g. directly from the CEO him- or herself, but more companies also add Twitter paid ads to their campaign tactics as these can be precisely targeted towards specific stakeholders you want to make aware of a specific message. But remember authenticity is the prerequisite for trust. If the organization, and in particular its leaders, are not trusted, social media will not correct the problem

Pro tip: Try to mix the Twitter cards with promoted tweets and with different messaging, so you get a different mix of messages across so your audience doesn’t get fed up with the many polished corporate messages.

10. Sponsorship

Sponsoring events, sports teams or causes are not that uncommon when “paid” for by sales, marketing or communication, but in PA this doesn’t happen quite as often. But it can be a useful way to, for example, empower an existing campaign by sponsoring an event which many relevant stakeholders will see.

Pro tip: Make sure the cause is in line with the ethics, values and actions of the company, otherwise it can backfire catastrophically. And once you have identified a cause, team or event then do some due diligence on the people behind it so there are no surprises later on.

11. Google and Google Ads

Google has more than a 90% market share when it comes to internet search, and guess what? Your KOLs also search for information on the internet. Everyone does. So, PA professionals should remember that their stakeholders also use Google for research and that the search results on the first page are important. Moreover, Google Ads can be placed so your message with a link appears in relation to your issues.

Pro tip: Have you ever Googled yourself or your own company? Did you like what you saw on page 1? If not, there are ways to get the more favorable content up in the rankings e.g. via more strategic SEO content.

12. Political contributions

This is for some a potentially controversial subject. Should you as a company contribute to a specific politician or political party? And if so, what does this signal? And is there a risk of entering into an unethical position? It really doesn’t have to be that controversial. As long as it is done in a transparent and open manner, it doesn’t have to be a problem.

Pro tip: It is stating the obvious that you should conduct thorough due dili- gence before you transfer any money, but, before you select a person or group, try to have an open mind in terms of which political party they belong to. Maybe you can sponsor two candidates from different parties, but which have certain values or approaches to a subject in place which fit your own? And of course, remember: You have to be able to answer critical questions the second it is public so it is a good idea to prepare a small Q&A beforehand.

13. Podcast

The podcast format has gained tremendous popularity over the past 5 years. This has also meant that more companies have tried, with varying degrees of success, to ride this wave. As a company it should be carefully considered before entering into as it should not be used as an intranet or advertising channel. But focusing on a specific subject and having interesting guests participate can be both good branding for the company as well as a way to get in touch with or in front of certain KOLs.

Pro tip: Also, this is one of those places where there are a million relevant tips worth mentioning, and some focus obsessively on content while others focus on format. Both are super important, so the pro tip – which admittedly doesn’t make your job easier – is to balance both content and format.

(Listen to Anders Kopp Jensen’s own Public Affairs podcast The Persuaders here)

14. Merchandise

Merchandise is not usually what PA professionals spend most of their time thinking about, and some may even laugh at this as something they should not even bother with. But in the 500PAC it became clear that, on a tactical level, some campaigns were actually driven by creative artefacts such as merchandise which created or enhanced a buzz and awareness in public, especially when connected with content on SoMe.

Pro tip:  If you go down the road of merchandise opt for a few rather than many items. Pick something of good quality, and which may actually stay with the receiver for some time. For instance, if you are promoting or fighting against an issue which can be a little complex to communicate or understand, try to find

a piece of merchandise which can make a simple and/or humorous point. PS: Also remember to perform some kind of background check on the producer of your merchandise so you don’t order something from an unethical supplier.

15. Linkedin content & campaigns

LinkedIn has become increasingly popular as a place to both read and post news from everyday life. There is still an ongoing discussion where the balance is in sharing personal news and there is also the question around expecting employees to use their own profile, but – all things being equal – it is a platform relevant for reaching specific target groups. This can both be done very effectively from company profiles as well as through paid campaigns.

Pro tip: There are many tips to using LinkedIn, and Google can probably quickly provide hundreds of “hacks” from self-proclaimed experts about word length, picture likes or reach, which can be important, but – as a Public Affairs professional – first and foremost try to focus on getting the organization to adopt a framework or guide for the content, tone and frequency which reflects the political context you are in. Too often too many departments and people have access to the company profile which can create mixed messages or maybe even be counterproductive for PA activities.

16. On-site visits

Policy papers or policy catalogues can be seen as a political proposal or contribution as a solution to an ongoing political discussion. Make sure it is crisp, well-documented and credible, don’t exaggerate positive or negative effects which you may or may not agree to.

Pro tip: It’s a good idea to have two versions – one one-pager for a “layman” and one very detailed and more comprehensive outline of the challenge, economic consequences and concrete legislation text (if relevant).

17. Constituency “love”

This is connected to 16. Another classic tactic, but which nonetheless is not always utilized. The recipe is simple: Take a look at your stakeholder list, the different tiers and position of the stakeholders, and then see if there are certain people you should give extra attention to in their constituency by being active and present so they will notice your efforts. In short, show the constituencies love!

Pro tip: There are many activities to consider, from events that may be arranged together with the politician or in a more indirect way by writing a com- ment in the local newspaper or buying billboard ads in high profile locations in the constituency.

18. Internal SoMe ambassador corps

Creating ambassadors across your organization is not a new phenomenon. However, with the wave of SoMe becoming mainstream, these ambassadors can also do a lot of good digitally. For example, it is seen often in labor organizations or NGOs that educate a selected or volunteer corps of ambassadors in how to approach debates online.

Pro tip: Make sure that you: 1) educate the corps professionally and with competent instructors/teachers, and 2) nurse the corps with high-quality inspiration on a steady basis which they can easily use, for instance when they sit down on the couch in the evening or commute on the train in the morning. This can be a very powerful Public Affairs enhancer.

19. Grassroot mobilization or astroturfing

This is also – for some – another controversial subject. Especially in the time of fake news astroturfing has a bad rep, but the term is basically the practice of enabling or promoting (critics would say “masking”) the cause or movement and encouraging it to push on. Normal grassroot activity is very “natural”, impulsive or unstructured, while astroturfing may turn a movement into a near-professional organization. Like it or not, it is a phenomenon which some PA professionals know about and shouldn’t be scared of addressing. As long as you as a company are transparent about the causes you support and you are ready to explain it in public, then you are shouldn’t be scared of this.

Pro tip: Small organizations or movements locally can make a huge difference in stopping or promoting a certain issue. For example, encouraging local residents in arguing their case if it is in line with your cause. Remember to be public about who you endorse so you don’t get criticized for this later which then may compromise your cause.

20. Election party club

This is a concept which has appeared more than a handful of times in the 500PAC. The essential idea is creating a network or club gathering around elections across the world. This gives the arranger a chance to gather relevant KOLs around a topic which occurs naturally, so they don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time. And even though you cannot predict all elections by date, it is something which is often prioritized over all other things as the members want insights on the consequences of the election.

Pro tip: Many reported that besides having a lot of cold beer and wine lined up you also need someone to lay out the essence of the election debates and about who is combating. But aside from this it requires only a big screen and a fridge.

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