Chambers do an amazing amount of good and most of them have a hard time honking their own horn. On one hand, it’s getting easier these days to decide not to market the chamber legislative activities and efforts because people appreciate a much more subtle indicator of greatness. But you shouldn’t give it up entirely. If you don’t market what you’re doing, no one will know what that is or how it benefits them and the community.
This is especially true of the chamber’s legislative activities. Let’s face it, even with increased interest in this year’s elections, voter turnout in this country is still much lower than the crowds that wait for the big box stores to open on Black Friday.
It’s time to get over the discomfort of telling businesses what you’re doing for them on the legislative front and begin calling attention to your efforts.
Today’s Marketing and Chamber Legislative Activities
There’s been a shift in marketing over the past decade. It’s no longer about clever slogans and beating someone over the head with your message. People don’t like the interruption to their lives.
Today’s marketing is more an act of utility. People want to know what you can do for them. They want you to show them by providing countless resources and memorable experiences. The good news for chambers is that they come by this sort of skill naturally. Chamber pros are out there giving of themselves and their knowledge every day. They share their skills with local business and provide tons of free resources for the community. They also are very skilled in making introductions.
This is wonderful when it comes to visible things like opening a business incubator in town. It is not so helpful for the nearly invisible task of supporting legislative initiatives. Most of our communities are fairly complacent when it comes to the political process.
They only get involved when it becomes personal and affects their livelihood directly. Sometimes even when it does, they are unaware of what is going on in the state legislative arena.
That’s why it’s up to the chamber staff to share not only what they’re doing to improve the business community but also how proposed bills and laws could affect the community in the future.
4 Ways to Share Your Chamber’s Legislative Work
The following are angles you can use to frame what you’re doing with the community and to explain why it’s so important. Many people hear “legislative” and tune out. They have no interest in political occurrences. None…until it affects their business and their wallets.
Play Up the Political Disconnect and How You Can Help
On the surface, this may not sound ideal but it’s important to understand a large number of people feel disenfranchised and negative about politicians. The political disconnect they feel causes many of them to be disinterested in political participation or they feel the exact opposite. They are so disenchanted with what they see that they’re protesting. Either way, they don’t like the way things are.
One way to get more attention for chamber legislative initiatives is to ask your members if they feel like politicians understand their businesses. If the answer is no, remind them the chamber can fill that void. It’s one of the things you’re doing in the state capital, making sure every business person in your town is heard and that their thoughts matter.
Arrange a CEO Session for Small- to Mid-sized Businesses
Large companies on your member roster are well represented in a legislative way. They have lobbyists looking out for their interests. Your small- to mid-sized businesses likely don’t have the budget for that. However, while your mom and pop shops may just be looking to keep the doors open, the slightly larger businesses are looking to do more but can’t afford lobbyists.
One thing you could do to ensure their voices are heard is to create a monthly or quarterly CEO economic summit or session. This small event allows leaders of companies to voice concerns and bring ideas to the table. You can arrange meetings with economic development people, environmental leaders, and government representatives to amplify their voices. This positions the chamber as a bridge between business and government and helps give more power to the smaller voices of the community.
Today and Tomorrow’s Job Creators Task Force
Many communities are facing extreme challenges in skilled labor. Many have governments in place that are willing to court companies to come in and bring more jobs. However, these communities face the challenge of filling those positions.
Generally, to solve this dearth of employable candidates you need to work with economic development people, educators at all levels, and businesses that are “interesting enough” to ensure young people remain in the area. There’s a legislative component of this too–ensuring that you get the right people in office to help make your community a community with a future and plenty of jobs.
Again, the chamber is uniquely positioned to bring different groups to the table without a hidden agenda. The chamber merely seeks for the community to thrive. It isn’t concerned about a particular agency or company receiving a contract. People can respect that and answer a call from an organization that doesn’t have a vested interest.
This sort of undertaking can be a high profile one that benefits everyone if you position it correctly. You’ll want to put resources into this whether or not your chamber has a legislative director on staff.
Business Assistance Programs and Advocate
Where I live right now, we’re starting to see the effects of red tide. It stinks, quite literally, with thousands of dead fish washing up on Florida’s shores. This has a long reaching effect on many of the businesses in the area. Professional fishermen and tour guides feel the pain. But so do ripple-effected businesses like hotels, restaurants, Uber drivers, and others who make their living based on tourism dollars.
The SBA recently announced loans for businesses affected by red tide but they won’t be enough for local businesses. This is an example where the chamber’s legislative voice can help the community. The chamber can:
- put businesses in need in contact with the government groups that can help
- ask lawmakers to consider provisions that would help protect business owners
- contact insurance lobbyists over the issue to change provisions
- ensure that legislators “hear” your community’s voice
This is not about red tide, however. Every community faces issues. The chamber knows the right people to get in contact with so all voices become amplified. Make sure your members understand this.
Visible Examples of Chamber Legislative Work
Most people don’t think about what they don’t see. You know the old saying, out of sight, out of mind. This is especially true of something like legislative work. If you’re not talking about it, or better yet, showing them, they will have no idea just how valuable your efforts are to their businesses.
Here are a few ideas to make your efforts more visual:
- Create a legislative affairs agenda for each legislative session and post it on your website and on social media. Place it in your newsletter. Your website isn’t enough because people who are already members rarely visit your website unless they’re looking for specific information. They hardly ever just go to see “what’s up.”
- Create a visual tracker of legislation that is important to you and your member businesses. The process of a bill becoming a law is not clear to many people. Creating a visual representation of where each bill you’re watching is and keeping it in your office or visible from your front window can help the community understand what your priorities are and what the next step is before it goes for signature or for a community vote.
- If there’s a group supporting your cause, work together with them on an event, in a phone bank to call the voters, or share things from them on social. The more visual your affiliation, the clearer it will be for all.
- Share pictures of legislative visits on social media.
- Ask fun questions on social media about legislation or other things your constituents would like to see in their town or changed about their area. This can be entertaining and inspiring. It also shows a different side of the political process particularly if you can tie it into a real bill.
- Publish periodic summaries of legislative initiatives in plain English. No one wants to feel like they need a PoliSci degree to figure out the legislative process and what you’re working on. Give it to them straight and quick. Again, a visual depiction of next steps is also helpful.
- Share top concerns and things you’re working on. Sometimes your top priorities aren’t bills at all. If your legislative priority is to work on the cost of living, for instance, show specific ways in which you are doing that. This could be by speaking to your legislators, council people, etc. Share this.
Successful chamber legislative programs encompass two things: positive legislative priorities/programs and the ability to market them. Most chamber pros shy away from using the term “market” because of its hard-sell reputation. But if you’re not ensuring your members and community know about your efforts, they won’t value it.
It is absolutely essential to the success of your program to ensure people know what you’re doing for them and for your community. Don’t see it as bragging. View this type of marketing as simply sharing with your constituents how you are helping