Engaging the Public: Grassroots Lobbying
The Traditional Media
Elected officials very closely monitor how they are covered in local media. Using the news media and paid advertising to urge public action on legislative issues is grassroots lobbying, as defined by the IRS. The basic approaches are:
- Meeting with radio, television, print, and digital editorial boards to encourage them to take a specific position on an issue, and to encourage a specific editorial or column about the issue.
- Guest columns, blogs, or op-eds written by your board president, conductor, manager, or other appropriate spokesperson.
- News releases or media advisories sent to media outlets.
- Press conferences and photo opportunities at events.
- Appearing on a radio or television talk show; calling in to such programs when your issue is up for discussion.
- Paid advertising to deliver your message or pooling coalition resources to buy local ads on an issue.
This is grassroots lobbying in its purest form. Over many years, orchestras have from time to time gone to their audiences to seek support on important issues: a local tax earmarked for arts support, calls or letters to members of Congress to support the National Endowment for the Arts, and other issues. Patrons may be asked to:
- Respond to action alerts to be sent by the orchestra calling on them to write their own letters and social media messages, or to make calls to legislators.
- Attend a special public event on the issue, or be asked to attend the legislator’s next “town meeting” and raise the issue in person.
- Participate in a Twitter town hall urging action.
Flyers on the seats, messages in the program books, brief remarks from the podium by the board president or conductor, signs in the lobby, and letters to your subscribers constitute the main ways you might involve your audiences.
Remember to check your facts and test your pitch before you publish anything or speak to the audience. Try it out on your peers to see if it’s clear and would be well received by your audience. Always remember to keep your messages completely non-partisan in both content and tone.
Using social media channels to urge legislative action is also considered grassroots lobbying. More and more, legislators at the federal, state, and local levels are receiving their news and constituent feedback through social media.
This opportunity to directly engage is constantly changing through new tools, so basic tenets are to use your best judgement and be open to innovation.
- Start following the social media feeds of your legislators. Twitter and Facebook remain the most commonly used, but some staff use Instagram and some legislators who want to be a thought leader on a certain topic are using LinkedIn.
- Legislators are increasingly using Twitter and Facebook for virtual town halls, live video feeds, and to post events or accomplishments.
- With the advent of Facebook Live, you can be notified when the legislator is using this function. The legislator can see your comments and questions in real time.
- In a study by the Congressional Management Foundation, 71 percent of Hill staff said that the more people affiliated with a specific group or cause respond to a legislator’s social media post, the more likely they will have “some” or “a lot” of influence on the lawmaker’s decisions.