Lobbying Strategies: How to Write an Effective Policy Brief

May 13, 2024

Lobbying spending in Washington again topped $4 billion in 2023. In the current political climate of intense partisan gridlock, direct lobbying and government advocacy can be one of the most effective public affairs strategies for shaping public policy.

Direct lobbyists play an essential role in providing expertise on complex policy issues to help lawmakers make more informed decisions and expedite the legislative process. Policy briefs are one of the most popular and effective lobbying tools to share information and articulate policy positions.

What is a policy brief?

Public policy briefs are a key communication tool that government affairs professionals can use to make their case to lawmakers. Unlike a white paper, which is an in-depth policy analysis aimed at experts, a policy brief is a shorter, more practical guide to help nonspecialists grasp key concepts and identify solutions. A strong policy brief provides elected officials with concise, evidence-based information that supports a lobbyist’s policy proposal to sway the lawmaker toward a particular stance on an issue.

Policy briefs as a relationship-building tool

While it may be difficult to directly measure the effect of a policy brief on legislative outcomes, they can still be an important tool for creating meaningful relationships with policymakers and establishing yourself as an expert resource. Remember that a significant number of House and Senate members were sworn in after the 2022 midterm election, so they don’t necessarily have clear track records on every issue. In many cases, that means these newer members of Congress are trying to gain a better understanding of policy issues and see where there may be an opportunity to have an impact. As these lawmakers seek to learn, lobbyists can seize the opportunity to share how their policy recommendations tie back to a lawmaker’s home state or district and would benefit constituents. In fact, elected officials and decision-makers generally prefer information about local impact over global.

Arrange a follow-up meeting with the lawmaker reading your brief to hear their direct feedback, address concerns or questions, and discuss strategies for working together to achieve shared policy goals.

What makes a good policy brief?

Your brief should clearly articulate the policy position you’d like the target policymakers to consider, which is why it’s essential to gather and understand key facts, supporting data, political challenges, and competing interests.

When considering effective lobbying strategies, review your policy brief to ensure it’s not overly biased and that you’ve accounted for bipartisan perspectives. Make sure you’ve used professional and plain language, and that you’ve avoided using jargon or overly academic language. Revise as needed to ensure your recommendations are supported by facts.

As you start crafting your message and outlining your brief, keep these following points in mind to strengthen your arguments.

Know your audience

An important part of carrying out effective lobbying strategies is studying your audience. The more you know about the lawmakers who will review your brief, their interests, and their motivations – such as their voting histories and previously sponsored bills – the better your chances are for connecting with them.

Understand current events

It’s important to understand the current events surrounding the issue you’re advocating for.

Timing matters when you’re vying for the attention of policymakers, who are often working on multiple pending policy issues at any given time. Lobbyists should be aware of the latest developments in legislative timelines and news coverage and how they may impact policy priorities.

For example, many of the tax breaks established under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 are set to expire in 2025. Since tax policy is a major driver of lobbying activity, public affairs professionals should anticipate when the issue is likely to be most salient with lawmakers and deliver a policy brief when it will have the biggest impact.

Ground your policy analysis in research

Include topical, timely, and relevant statistics in your policy brief to support your analysis. Factual, credible, and well-sourced research from government reports or recent white papers from notable professional organizations and associations can provide an objective basis for your recommendations.

Understand the ebbs and flows of political influence

Consider the varying pace of our current and near-future political landscape and the impact it may have on your key issues. Legislating tends to slow down ahead of an election, when elected officials are focused on reelection campaigns and may be wary of taking a public stance on a divisive issue.

The shifting balance of power between political parties can have a major impact on policy priorities; the majority party sets the legislative calendar and controls committee leadership assignments, effectively serving as gatekeepers for what moves forward and when.

Consider sentiment

While the facts of an issue are critically important, public sentiment also matters. Understand the discourse around your recommended actions and how it might affect lawmakers’ constituents. Consider how both Republicans and Democrats view the issue so you can provide an unbiased recommendation in your brief and address how your policy proposal serves their goals.

Review economic impacts

The more you can show the positive profitability and revenue impacts of your proposed policy, the better you can position your recommendations to achieve desired political, economic, and social outcomes. Charts and graphs can be an especially powerful way to visualize data and drive your point home.

Key elements of a policy brief

Once you’ve developed your campaign strategy and key messages, use this outline as an example of how to format your policy brief.

Length and formatting

Remember, the purpose of a policy brief, by name, is to keep things brief. The average length of a policy brief is 6-12 pages. You may decide to limit your brief to one page to increase the chance that more lawmakers will read it in its entirety, or you may expand your brief to several pages for issues that require more background.

In any case, review and edit the format of your brief to make sure it’s concise and readable. Use clear headers for each section so readers can easily skim and review key points.

Executive summary

So, your summary should be concise. If someone were to read only the executive summary, they should still understand the main points of your full brief. Include a high-level description of:

  • The problem
  • The importance of addressing the problem
  • Significant data points
  • How your analysis should inform policy

Reasoning for action

Frame your policy brief and proposed action with a sense of urgency and explain why government action is required now. Ask yourself:

  • Why should a lawmaker review this policy now?
  • What are the potential consequences of action – or inaction – on this issue?

Support your assertions with evidence. For instance, if you’re lobbying for an environmental policy change and know that a recent natural disaster requires decisive action, include that information when making your argument.

Research and analysis

This section confirms the basis for your recommendation. Include relevant data and visualizations that explain your findings and support your proposal. Remember that your policy brief should be written for a nonexpert audience and should be free of any technical jargon.

Also include any relevant notes about current events or public sentiment that demonstrate why this matter requires lawmakers’ urgent attention.

Proposed policy options

Discuss the policy implications of the analysis you’ve provided. Include up to four key message points for consideration, including existing policies that are likely to be impacted and why a new policy or change to the existing policy is necessary.

Policy recommendation

State this clearly, without jargon. Connect the research and data that you presented earlier, while keeping your recommendation actionable and to the point. Again, beware of making an overly biased recommendation. Frame your recommended policy outcomes to demonstrate their positive impact on the public good, not just how they’ll benefit the interests you represent.

Contact information

Confirm how lawmakers can best contact you with any follow-up questions or concerns, or to discuss ways to work together to achieve your policy goals.

A smarter, faster approach to government affairs

In today’s hyperpartisan political environment, lobbying and public affairs professionals must stay on top of relevant news, current events, and public sentiment to write effective policy briefs that can help lawmakers overcome political stalemate to take legislative action.

Streamline your direct lobbying and advocacy efforts with the latest news, expert analysis, and comprehensive coverage of key policy areas from Bloomberg Government. Our OnPoint presentations provide ready-to-use slide decks to share with your stakeholders, making it easy to act quickly and confidently in key policy areas. See for yourself – download our TikTok Legislation: Strategic Intel OnPoint presentation for key insights into the current state of play as TikTok comes under congressional scrutiny.

Request a demo to see how Bloomberg Government can save you valuable time and help you build successful government affairs strategies with ease.