From a communication perspective, Congressional Democrats did two really good things this week: [1] they admitted there was room for improvement in their communication with voters, and [2] they made a plan to improve. In Democrats’ summer communication tune-up, there are great ideas children’s advocates can borrow for their own communication work, as well as an idea to avoid.

On the upside, congressional Democrats:

  • Assessed their communication efforts. Many nonprofits don’t, hoping the same old thing will deliver new results. It’s difficult to do, and it’s sometimes uncomfortable. But periodic and objective assessments are a good habit for all of us.
  • Made a plan. Sounds obvious, but it’s surprising how often nonprofits don’t take this logical next step.
  • Emphasized simplicity. Their aim is to use the upcoming August   congressional research to focus on effectively delivering just a few key messages. Message simplicity is always good in communication, whether as advocates or political candidates. And simplicity makes “message discipline” – the rigorous focus on key messages – easier.
  • Embraced experimentation. Congressional Democrats are approaching this effort as a “road-testing,” aiming to assess their own capacity to execute the strategy. Advocates are often reluctant to experiment with new messages or tactics, but that’s the only way to learn if they’re an improvement over the status quo.

The bad news? Congressional Democrats are turning to polling results to pick the issues they will showcase this August. That may make sense for candidates, whose electoral objectives are by definition short-term. But children’s advocates are in it for the long haul, and our issues aren’t always on the front page, so we must also use our communications to shape the agenda. On this one, advocates can better take a lesson from presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz, who always spotlights the issues he’s passionate about.

It’s too early to say if congressional Democrats’ communication tune-up will work. But their approach of self-assessment, planning, simplicity, and experimentation is a good model for children’s advocates.

House Democrats’ Summer Communications Project, and What Children’s Advocates Can Learn from It

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Want to learn more? First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions.

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