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Reclaiming Your Communications in a Post-Trump White House

By Ashley Burns, Amber Hubert, Pi James, Sommer Yesenofski, and Sean Wherley

While we can collectively exhale that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were sworn in as President and Vice President of the United States, the real work now begins.

After four years of relentless assault on civil rights, the environment, healthcare, and the economy, now is the time to go beyond reversing the damage and unequivocally advance progressive, equitable, and power-shifting policies. Biden and Harris made promises they must keep. Period. And strategic communications plays an important role in pushing them even further on everything from the climate crisis and economic recovery, to racial equity, LGBTQI rights, and the COVID-19 vaccine. As we turn this corner, now is not the time to pump the brakes — it’s time to accelerate.

The Trump administration’s constant lies, white supremacist sympathies, and denial of science forced activists to remain in reactive mode. Instead of advancing the visions we have for our communities, more often than not, communications were focused on condemning the administration’s actions and defending communities against them. Trump also made a great foil: a villain to hold state and local level politicians up against, comparing and contrasting their opportunities for leadership in the absence of a federal vision.

While Trumpism may live on, his absence from the media limelight gives advocates and communicators space to reimagine our messages, restructure our campaigns, and reinvigorate our audiences. We now can play on offense — something we couldn’t do the last four years.

Creating lasting and meaningful change was nearly impossible under Trump, and yet will not be easy under the Biden administration. We have higher aspirations, but we can’t take anything for granted. We are still going up against powerful business and conservative interests intent on stopping our agenda, and therefore we will need to put in a tremendous amount of work to hold our “ally” in the White House accountable through communications.

Here are five steps for motivating your supporters and driving for change under the new political context.

Celebrate — and center on who made this win possible

It’s important to thank your supporters and celebrate victories — both large and small — and particularly acknowledge and center the Black women, voters, and leaders who were so instrumental in the Democrats winning the Presidency and control of the U.S. Senate. We can and should celebrate the fact a Black and South Asian woman was sworn in as Vice President at the same spot where white supremacists stormed the U.S. Capital only two weeks earlier. We can and should also recognize the danger in quietly centering whiteness in the liberal-progressive movement that will prevent us from realizing an equitable future, particularly for our Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities.

Share your vision with supporters and let them know how much work still lies ahead

After celebrating our victories and those who shaped them, it’s time to commit to deeper partnership and harder work. To start, communicate with your team — not just the board members and staff in your organization, but also the followers and subscribers connected to your mission. Share what is on your 2021 agenda. More than ever, audiences want to be connected to something bigger and feel integral to our work. Remind them that the work is not over, and that they have an important role to play.

Reclaim your time by setting a timeline

After being on defense for so long, now we get to prioritize our own agenda. It may seem like we have four years to make the changes we want, but with the midterms, an impeachment trial, and a global pandemic — we definitely don’t have time to spare. Creating time-specific goals for the first 100 days of the Biden administration will help keep your supporters engaged. After the first 100 days, what do you aim to accomplish in 2021 with the new administration? After the first year, paint a vision of where you want to go in the next four years and ask them to commit to that vision with you. Bring your supporters along the process with you — so that they can help you hold elected leaders accountable, and they can hold you accountable.

Embrace nuance — while holding strong to your radical vision and goals

When facing a “villain” like Trump, good versus bad couldn’t be much clearer. But with an administration that generally depicts itself as “on your side,” strategic communications can ironically become more challenging. Nuanced communications are more effective if it’s a matter of someone who says the right thing but fails to follow through.

For example, when the Biden administration is slow to implement the change we want, bashing them in the same way Trump deserved may not get us to our desired destination. Because Biden’s team is closer to our position, treating them like an enemy may destroy any chance of making change. Therefore, remember that influence, persuasion, and frankly educating allies often requires nuanced critique. Having a partner in the White House means engaging in strategic conversation rather than hostile confrontation.

If (or when) your decision-makers fail, have an accountability plan

Inevitably, the time will come when our policymakers fail to act on the will of the people. In these moments, we have to be prepared to activate our audiences to amplify our message and assert pressure. Just as it’s important to hold President Biden and all policymakers accountable, it’s equally important to have an accountability plan for your organization. Do you have a plan to mobilize quickly and turn on the pressure? This is the fun part of our work — where we get to turn up the heat and get creative.

What is your communications goal/desired outcome and what is the strategy to get you there? Are you centering your communications on equity and prioritizing the voices who need to be at the table? How will you measure your success? What are the insights that will inform the development of your strategy?

To make the positive change we want, we need to keep going stronger than ever. Under the Biden administration, we can build the momentum to push forward and actually create significant change. So let’s take that breath, cheer these wins, and get to work. We can be right there with you, helping you navigate this new dynamic every step of the way.

Thank you to our clients and partners who are on the frontlines supporting the communities most affected right now.

RALLY is an issue-driven communications firm | Certified force for good by B Corporation

Our team consists of experts in political, media, and digital strategy. Get inside our brain: click here to sign up for the official newsletter. Learn more at wearerally.com.




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