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Effective Communications

Communications are critical. The perfect fact sheet with just the right arguments that's easy to read and gives legislators the perfect solution will do no good if it never gets to the right legislators. The perfect action alert with all the right information delivered just before the vote will do no good if it is missing the legislators' numbers for advocates to call.

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.

-- Mark Twain

First, decide what you are trying to communicate. Do you want them to do something, stop something, learn something, attend a public hearing, or add money to the budget for something.

Two -- decide whom you are trying to reach. Who is the audience? The same flyer may work both as a fact sheet for legislators and as an action alert for advocates, but it may not. The same fact sheet may not work for all legislators - some will want to know what a program will do to reduce the number of uninsured, others want to know if it works in other states, others want to know what it will cost. One fact sheet with all those messages may be too busy.

Three -- frame the message. This will follow from the answers to the first two questions. Keep the message simple - a headline of just a few powerful words. Test your message on a few people from the target audience.

Four -- choose a few facts or a story to make the point. Less is more. For help, go to Research - Finding and Using Data.

Five -- design your communication. Word of mouth can be extremely effective. If you want to address a misconception among legislators, the best way might be to enlist a few friends in the legislature to have a conversation with your targets.

Written communications can be effective - they are permanent and you know that the message doesn't change as it goes out (unlike personal communications). You can include artwork and/or color to attract attention.

According to our 2002 Policymaker Survey, both legislators and staff prefer short, one or two page fact sheets. Brief memos were a close second.

To create a fact sheet or action alert, go to Create a Fact Sheet or Action Alert.

Six -- decide how to get it out. Unfortunately, there was no clear answer from our 2002 Policymaker Survey about a universal means to effectively communicate with policymakers - some prefer emails, some mailings, and some only personal communications. Timing or your resources may decide for you. If the vote is tomorrow, mailing won't work. You may need to enlist someone to go to the Capitol to hand a fact sheet to legislators. For an action alert to 100's of advocates, you may not have the money for a mailing and have to rely on phoning or emails.

Seven - timing is critical. Not only must the alert arrive in time to make a difference, but there must also be preparation for it. Sending alerts only when you want people to do things is about as effective as politicians who only visit the district at campaign time.

Eight - Send regular updates informing people about the issue. However, only send information when you have something to say. Don't send empty, worthless updates, or readers will not open the next one.

Nine - Evaluate. Find out if your alert or fact sheet got the action you wanted. If not, revise your communications strategy.


How to Create Fact Sheets and Action Alerts

If you only have 5 minutes to make a difference

How to testify at a Public Hearing

How to work with a lobbyist

Legislators - Who are They?

Tips on Public Speaking

Research - Finding and Using Data

Sample Letter Raising a Concern

Sample Letter Opposing a Proposal

Sample Letter Supporting a Proposal

Sample Script for phoning a Policymaker

Sample Fact Sheet 1

Sample Fact Sheet 2

Sample Testimony

The Importance of Legislative Staff

Tips for talking with reporters

Tips No Advocate should forget

Writing to Policymakers

Visiting with a Policymaker

Calling a Policymaker

Writing Op-Eds and Letters to the Editor

How to work with campaigns

Changing Public Opinion

Collaborations and Coalitions


Telling it Our Way A media strategy kit with specific tools from We Interrupt This Message

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