When Should You Use Grassroots Advocacy for Your Corporate Public Affairs Strategy?

May 13, 2024

In a global economy where public policy can impact businesses in wide-ranging ways, lobbying can be a crucial part of a larger corporate public affairs strategy to safeguard and advance a corporate mission. Specifically, grassroots organizing can be an effective way to engage diverse stakeholders and build strategic alliances around specific issues in ways that often exceed traditional public affairs efforts.

Public affairs teams with a solid grassroots advocacy campaign stand to gain significant advantages, including the ability to mitigate reputational risks, anticipate and prepare for regulatory changes, and seize new consumer markets. However, grassroots advocacy strategies for corporate public affairs are not a one-size-fits-all proposition. To maximize positive outcomes, government affairs professionals need to be able to recognize when to use specific grassroots advocacy strategies to best serve their objectives.

Grassroots advocacy to influence elected officials

Advocacy that comes directly from constituents is particularly compelling to lawmakers. Given elected officials’ accountability to their voters, they’re more likely to respond to and act on policy issues and concerns directly affecting the people they represent. For example, if constituents rely on jobs and income from a corporate presence, local lawmakers are more likely to address policies that impact that company.

Grassroots outreach can be key to developing local support for complex policy issues. For example, an oil company operating in a coastal town may face local concerns about its ecological impact and initiate a campaign that includes community meetings, environmental education programs, and shared gatherings with local conservation groups. This grassroots approach helps address local concerns and enhance the company’s social license to maintain operations.

Grassroots advocacy to support a corporate mission

When it comes to mobilizing grassroots support for a corporate cause, authenticity matters. A strong corporate public affairs strategy should begin by identifying issues that reflect the company’s mission and stakeholder concerns.

Generally, constituents and members of the public are more likely to support issues and campaigns when they feel personally invested in the outcome. Organizations should proactively engage with local communities where they operate to enhance their standing as a community partner – don’t wait until a public affairs issue comes up to start building grassroots support. That way, public affairs professionals can more readily activate grassroots activists in response to any potential legislation or regulatory change that could impact corporate operations.

Regardless of campaign merits, corporate public affairs professionals should anticipate scrutiny of their corporate backing of grassroots advocacy campaigns that seek to foster local public engagement and capture lawmakers’ attention. Be transparent about corporate policy objectives and align actions with messaging to sustain broad-based support.

Grassroots advocacy to leverage existing community networks

Grassroots campaigns are most successful when they can cultivate buy-in and a sense of ownership among their supporters. One way to do this is by decentralizing campaign leadership and empowering local advocates to execute campaign goals.

Organize workshops to train advocates on policy issues and the tactical knowledge they need to effectively lobby elected officials themselves. Social media platforms and local events are great ways for advocates to leverage their own community networks and recruit additional support. Develop a set of focused talking points that demonstrate how the issue impacts supporters with a clear “call to action” for how targeted policymakers can achieve the desired policy outcome.

Corporate objectives may not always uniformly align with all stakeholders or supporters of a public policy issue. Implement inclusive engagement strategies that actively seek input from a diversity of views and acknowledge areas where alignment may present challenges.

Remember: stakeholders can change throughout a campaign. Grassroots advocacy initiatives should conduct ongoing stakeholder analysis and adjust communication and outreach strategies accordingly.

Grassroots vs. grasstops campaigns

As the name implies, grassroots campaigns seek to engage communities from the ground up. This approach is useful when issues benefit from a groundswell of local support. For example, in response to a new law that may stymie business operations and impact the local economy, a grassroots effort may include measures like door-to-door canvassing that spur residents to express their concerns as consumers to local leaders.

Alternatively, grasstops advocacy is a top-down approach to influence public policy by recruiting individuals with a direct connection to the policymaker. This approach is typically suited for situations in which direct influence is crucial and time is limited. In the same example – in which a new law may stymie business operations and impact the local economy – a corporate public affairs team may employ a grasstops advocacy strategy by engaging influential community leaders such as large donors, union representatives, or the chamber of commerce to lobby lawmakers directly.

The choice between grassroots and grasstops approaches is not always exclusive, however. Some issues benefit from both community support and direct decision-maker influence. The decision to proceed with either strategy, or a hybrid of the two, is context specific. It’s important to analyze the dynamics at play – including the lobbying target, public sentiment around the issue, timing, and intended policy outcomes – before implementing your grassroots advocacy strategy.

Fighting campaign fatigue

No matter how much buy-in there is among your grassroots supporters, campaign fatigue will inevitably set in the longer a campaign continues. To minimize this risk and sustain engagement, it’s crucial to frequently communicate about campaign progress and highlight successes while explaining how the issue is evolving.

Because issue advocacy campaigns can take years to successfully influence public policy, it can be challenging to draw a direct line between specific campaign efforts and policy outcomes. Public affairs professionals should issue regular reports to stakeholders that demonstrate an ongoing return on investment and provide a comprehensive view of the campaign’s sustained impact.

Grow your influence with Bloomberg Government

A well-executed grassroots advocacy campaign for corporate public affairs can be a powerful lobbying tool to amplify your brand voice and advance government affairs goals. And while lobbying is key to shaping public policy, you need a strategy informed by research and the right tools to act quickly if you want to gain the advantage.

Bloomberg Government can help you stay ahead of state and federal policy developments with comprehensive news, data, and expert analysis. Watch our on-demand 2024 Congressional Outlook webinar to hear insights from our news and analysis team about the issues that Congress will be focused on ahead of the election.

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