I have a new article up at Think Freely Media on the Jones Act, and how the lesson of Puerto Rico should make us rethink what we’re doing when we try to “protect” an industry from competition.
You may have the perfect policy to meet your population’s needs. But do you know how to give them what they want?
Principled public policy advocates tend to work proactively where they see the biggest need for reform. This differentiates them from politicians, who largely react to public opinion. Taking on the big issues is a good way to go about staying true to your mission, but it can backfire if your advocacy only focuses the need for the reforms rather than connecting it to what people truly want. This doesn’t require a change in policy, but it does call for thoughtful marketing and communications strategy and execution.
For instance, as a fiscal policy expert, you may know that your state needs to shut down its wasteful “economic development” corporate welfare programs. Evidence, logic and principles are on your side and you can explain very clearly how this needs to happen. But most people want a job far more than they want good fiscal policy. While you’re explaining to them why they need these reforms, the interests at the intersection of big business and big government simply contend they’re “creating or retaining” jobs and you lose overwhelmingly.
I joked on Twitter today that I was going to save this graphic from a depressing Annenberg Center study for the next time I had to convince a policy wonk to tone down the complexity of their messaging for a general audience.
There is a serious point behind that joke: One of the most important roles a communicator plays in an organization is serving as the proxy for their audiences. Before you can communicate effectively with an audience, you have to be able to listen to them — and listen as them — as well.
This is especially critical for groups engaged in advocacy or education, such as think tanks. Communicators have to help subject matter experts distill their work into messaging that’s appropriate for each unique audience, while keeping it all consistent enough across those tiers of complexity. This avoids what I’ve called “messaging arbitrage,” where your inconsistencies in what you say to different audiences can be collected and used against you.
To accomplish this, the communicator needs to be able to put themselves in the audience’s mindset and understand what they value, what they know and what they understand. This lets them be an effective sounding board or even gatekeeper for their subject matter experts, who understandably struggle with the “Curse of Knowledge” in these situations and can value comprehensiveness of argument over comprehension.
I was struck by the way the unions and their allies in Missouri are trying to co-opt the language of individual liberty and thought it would be worthwhile to follow their rhetoric about rights to the logical conclusion. (Spoiler: It’s not where they say it is.)
I’m at the State Policy Network Annual Meeting in San Antonio this week. Say hi if you see me, or reach out if you’re interested in setting a time to get together.
My one formal responsibility is serving as the mock interview subject for John Kramer’s session on donor privacy. It’s on Thursday at 9:45 a.m., feel free to stop by and watch me play a besieged spokesperson.
When I joined the Mackinac Center for Public Policy roughly a year and a half ago as its vice president for marketing and communications, I described it as my “dream job.” I’d been passionate about liberty and free markets since the early 1990s, but had never had an opportunity to combine my personal beliefs with my professional expertise. The Mackinac Center gave me that opportunity, for which I will be eternally grateful.
The only downside to this dream job was the two-hour commute each way between Mackinac’s Midland, Mich. headquarters and my home in the eastern suburbs of Detroit. While the commute wasn’t always fun, I did find ways to make it worthwhile. It became my time for creative thought, for longer-form phone discussions with colleagues and for catching up on podcasts and audiobooks of all kinds. But at the end of the day, what forced me to regretfully tender my resignation last week was the impact my near-constant absence had on my family. As much as I loved my job, life is too short to miss all the Little League games and family dinners and homework questions for which I was on the road.
I remain a huge fan of the organization and of its people, and will be rooting for it from the sidelines and supporting it however I can. As I wrote in Forbes last month, I know exactly how much good policy matters to the people of my state.