2019 Policy Insider's Report

Policy Insider's Report: Chapter Three

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The Rise of Digital Media as a Lever for Influence

Changing times, and skills needs, for Policy Professionals

Over the past five years, a confluence of interrelated trends have amplified digital media’s importance as a tool for influencing policy outcomes. Social media’s role in political communication, which has been growing steadily for over a decade, reached outsized proportions during and after the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. During that time, the rise of grassroots movements and growth of public engagement on policy issues pushed politicians to give greater weight to their digital messaging and presence online. Companies, by then accustomed to monitoring and protecting their brands on digital platforms, found they were subject to the new risks from the public, politicians and investors calling them out on policy issues online. 

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Policy professionals have watched these trends closely. While communication and relationship management have always been—and remain—the policy influencers’ most important assets, those in the field see changes on the horizon. Nearly a quarter of policy professionals believe digital media/storytelling and data analysis will be among the top three skills important to their professional success by 2022. Similarly, many policy professionals predict large upticks in the amount of time they dedicate to monitoring social media and analyzing quantitative data.

Harnessing the Explosion of Policy Data

Data’s role in driving influence was a particular point of interest among the policy professionals we engaged in our research. An abundance of policy-related data has become available in recent years, ranging from details of legislators’ histories and relationships to consumer opinion on public policy and trends in lobbying spending. Many of the government affairs leaders we spoke to indicated a desire to use these and other data to set strategy and direct resources more effectively. To date, however, the use of metrics and data remains in its infancy within the profession. Just like other disciplines suddenly awash in analytics, policy professionals often lack the time and resources to invest in quantitative analysis and are still working to see which data sources and tools will truly deliver value.  

The Growing Importance of Policy Advertising

One place where the impact of policy data, social media and digital storytelling is already readily apparent is in policy professionals’ investment in issue advertising. With more politicians on social media and greater volatility in the policy environment, policy professionals are turning to advertising as an innovative means to capture policymaker attention and shape public opinion. Digital issue ad spending is expected to skyrocket from less than $1.5B spent during the 2016 election to more than $2.85B in 2020, and more than one-quarter of policy professionals are expecting to spend more on public and media relations in the next year.

Despite the rise of grassroots movements and increasing outspokenness of the public on policy issues, shaping policymaker opinion remains the top reason for organizations to invest in issue advocacy given their unique and outsized role in shaping policy outcomes.

The leading policy professionals we spoke with were partnering with advertising and media consultants to measure the precise impact of their issues ads on policymaker opinions of their brands. This detailed brand and reputational tracking provides policy professionals a clear, articulable metric for conveying how their organizations’ investments in government affairs translate into outcomes in Washington. Using these data can in turn empower organizations to ask for more budget to invest in advertising and communications in D.C.

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