Study: Relationships and Storytelling Drive Advocacy Success

A new study from APCO Worldwide examining how association advocacy efforts are perceived by DC power brokers and other stakeholders offers some strategic and tactical insights for association GR teams.

Relationships, storytelling, and third-party validators mark associations with effective advocacy programs, according to a new study from communication, engagement, and business strategy firm APCO Worldwide.

“This year’s study shows that relationships still matter, but storytelling and independent third-party validators serve as differentiators for associations,” Bill Dalbec, deputy managing director of APCO Insight, the company’s research arm, said in a press release. “Our results demonstrate that the most effective associations are increasingly focusing on these latter two areas to achieve their policy goals.”

APCO’s third TradeMarks study looked at the perceived effectiveness of 50 trade associations in Washington, DC, based on surveys completed by 306 stakeholders and policy leaders: congressional staff, agency and regulatory groups’ public relations staff, and private-sector executives and constituents.

As in the first two studies, conducted in 2013 and 2014, relationships with stakeholders like the legislative branch, executive branch, and regulatory agencies are identified as playing a large role in advocacy.

“It’s more than just identifying those relationships; it’s how you build them, maintain them, and deepen them so that there’s a mutually beneficial relationship between the two parties,” Dalbec told Associations Now.

He recommends that associations understand who their stakeholders are and start building those relationships well before the organizations need to leverage them. The most effective, mutually beneficial relationships are developed by an association establishing itself as a reliable resource for both policy makers and members.

This year’s study also found that giving a message emotional appeal creates greater influence. “It’s more than just data and facts that a lot of people think that congressional staffers are interested in,” Dalbec said. “It’s about putting a face on the issue, showing how a policy or a law would impact their constituents, and giving voice to those constituents.”

In addition, Capitol Hill staffers want to hear from a variety of voices, not just an association’s government relations team. The third-party validators the study refers to include association members and their employees and customers.

The way associations need to communicate their messages is also changing. Hill staffers are moving away from typical information sources and are turning to social media, receiving much of their information on mobile devices. They are relying on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to connect with organizations but are also subscribing to newsletters, tip sheets, and “inside-the-Beltway publications” that can be easily accessed from a phone on a commute.

Mobile has become an increasingly powerful channel, Dalbec said, noting that associations need to create “communications that can get out in those 140-character soundbites on Twitter, or be mobile-optimized so that people can read their press releases or other information they’re trying to get out on their phone,” Dalbec said.

During the first two studies, APCO also looked into associations working with the European Union and found that policy makers across the Atlantic still largely depend on transactional relationships. A third study on Europe will be conducted next year in line with the EU’s election schedule.

More highlights from the latest study can be found in the infographic below:



Alex Beall

By Alex Beall

Alex Beall is an associate editor for Associations Now with a masters in journalism and a penchant for Instagram. MORE

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