POTUS plugged your organization’s cause. Now what?

When the president mentions an issue during his annual address to Congress, it usually doesn’t happen by accident.

Many advocacy organizations spend a significant amount of time and money trying to get just one line supporting their cause into the president’s speech. The reason they seek that support is because the president’s address can attract over 30 million viewers eager to hear him articulate that year’s legislative agenda. A positive mention raises an organization’s issue to priority level and places it directly in front of the nation.

So what if your organization’s cause gets a plug — but surprisingly, you didn’t advocate for or expect it?

Well, you’ve got a big opportunity. And you don’t have to be caught off guard. Here are some steps your organization can take before, during and after the president’s biggest speech of the year to take full advantage of a positive mention.

Step One: Prepare
The past few years, members of Congress and media outlets have received advance access to the president’s speech. On the night of the speech, take a moment to scan the speech in advance and see if your issue receives a positive mention. If it does, start drafting content for social media so you can engage with the president’s audience. Finally, take the time to look internally and ensure your key messaging is up to date, using the most recent data available. You’ll want to be ready to share the latest and greatest from your organization.

Step Two: Engage in the moment
You don’t have to wait for the president’s speech to be over to start taking advantage of the free publicity your issue has gotten. As soon as your cause is mentioned, you can take to Twitter to engage in the conversation viewers are having about the speech. That’s because tweeting during a presidential address to Congress has become second nature for many organizations and politicians. In 2016 more than 2.6 million tweets carrying the hashtag #SOTU were sent during President Obama’s last State of the Union.

When you join in on Twitter, be sure to:

  • Use relevant keywords and hashtags, such as #JointSession and #TrumpAddress.
  • Link to useful resources on your website and (if it fits your priorities) retweet a relevant clip of the president’s speech to your audience.

Step Three: Update key messaging and share with supporters
Once the president positively mentions your issue, the topic will stay in the media cycle for the next few days. Start making connections with reporters and other media contacts so you can send your representatives to appear on local and national news outlets.

Within the first few days after the speech, you might also consider quickly drafting and pitching an op-ed that highlights your organization’s position. Meanwhile, send emails to supporters reminding them why your issue matters and encouraging them to share key information on social media and with their local communities. The days that follow the president’s speech are critical if you want to begin framing the issue in a way that fits your organization’s agenda. Framing the issue is important, because the president might not discuss your issue in exactly the way you think it should be discussed. By connecting the words with your messaging, you and your organization can control the message and how it’s perceived by the American people.

Step Four: Plan for the rest of the year
After the first few days, you will want to build on the momentum gained from the president’s speech. Your government relations team, if you have one, will want to engage with key policymakers to push your ideas forward. Also, consider drafting and implementing a long-term digital media strategy ensuring your issues remain top-of-mind in your community – and within the administration. Tactics could include Change.org petitions, social media ads and Facebook Live.

When the president uses the bully pulpit to speak to the nation, the country listens and reacts. It will pay off in the long run if you make sure you’re ready to ride the wave that comes from a positive presidential mention.

Wait a second? What if the president goes negative?
Sometimes your agenda doesn’t match the president’s priorities and that’s okay. These steps still work.

  • Engaging in the moment on Twitter will still allow you to take part in the national conversation.
  • Updating key messaging and contacting your supporters will ensure that your grassroots organizations feel the urgency to mobilize. Placing your surrogates in the media will allow your team to speak their objections to the president’s priorities.
  • Finally, planning for the rest of the year will allow you to start the work needed to move more policymakers and members of the public to see your side of the issue.