National Journal Innovation Awards

About the Innovation Award

The National Journal Innovation Award is presented to Washington’s most creative and solutions-oriented government affairs offices. This second annual award comes after dozens of impressive submissions and hundreds of conversations with executives and practitioners inside and outside the beltway. This year, five organizations stood out for their innovative and proven solutions to some of Washington’s most widely-felt challenges in the advocacy space. The Innovation Award recognizes the contributions of these five organizations to National Journal’s membership and Washington government affairs practice.

Swiss Re

Advocacy organizations representing nearly every industry have noted the stress that expanding policy portfolios has placed on individual lobbyists to master and manage new terrain. While the short-term solution has often been to work longer hours to accommodate an emerging issue, Swiss Re developed a more sustainable solution that put the burden of issue expertise on the system, via a broader community of company stakeholders, not just on individual lobbyists.

First, the Head of Government Affairs redesigned staff roles, transitioning from 4 specialized lobbyists with issue assignments divvied up between them to 2 generalist lobbyists with no assigned issues and 2 policy analysts with even deeper expertise in the company’s main business units. Next, the department formed nearly two-dozen Technical Advisory Teams, each made up of 5-7 managers from around company that have a financial stake in the issue. These teams are activated on an as-needed basis by the lobbyist running point on each issue, and provide substantive support in the form of modeling policy risk, drafting and editing company statements, and visiting Washington when necessary to provide an expert’s account of a bill’s likely impact for policymakers and their staff.

By leaning more heavily on system expertise, not individual expertise, Swiss Re’s GA team is far more adaptive to changes in the policy landscape, especially in the form of new issues hitting their plate. Meanwhile, the Technical Advisory Team’s contributions add up to the equivalent of adding 2 FTEs to the GA team.

International Sign Association

Stories are powerful tools in advocacy but most organizations in Washington lack focus when it comes to what stories are best to share and are haphazard in when and how they collect them. The International Sign Association developed an adaptable master story that articulates a shared vision for how staff should work with each other and policymakers to solve industry challenges, and a set of processes for surfacing constituent stories that reinforce that broad narrative.

Of note, the master story was created via an inclusive, day-long retreat that built consensus among staff from all corners of the association. Thereafter, the group determined what type of story themes—for example, economic security or health and well being—staff should seek out, and assigned responsibility for chasing down details and developing story language, among other tasks, to ensure that their master narrative was reinforced by great constituent examples. In the year or two that have passed, ISA staff has collected just over 100 constituent stories that reveal the impact that good sign policy can have communities.

Novozymes

Advocacy organizations have long understood how compelling their grassroots advocates can be as policy messengers, but they have often failed to capitalize on that potential because they fear what might happen if advocates go off script. Yet, this risk aversion has a real cost in the form of squandered authenticity.

Novozymes found a way to borrow the authenticity of their most engaged employees without completely giving up control. At the center of their innovation is a piece of brand advocacy software common in the marketing world; a hub for a group of highly engaged advocates that is populated near daily with content that their ambassadors network can read and share with their professional and personal networks online. Employees visit the hub regularly (on their own, or with a gentle nudge), scan newly uploaded materials, and with a click of a button share the most appealing content. A leaderboard details the scale and the impact of sharing to date, and encourages healthy competition among their ambassadors. Advocates can also sign up to take part in offline advocacy actions.

Through the end of Q2 this year, the Hub had 80 ambassadors at a cost of only $10 per advocate and a participation rate of nearly 100%. The hub is easy to administer, with most content curated from either internal communication resources or industry content produced by advocacy coalitions or associations.

Zillow

Putting together a memorable event in the advocacy space is hard work, let alone one that generates interest in their policy perspectives even days after the event takes place. Yet, Zillow, a new entrant in housing policy debate, regularly receives phones call to speak with their policy experts more than a year later.

Their success can be partly attributed to the narrowness of their focus, seeking to fill a room of 25-50 of the right people, not a giant ballroom. They are also unusually committed to convening the right conversation, beginning to scope the event several months in advance and interviewing 15-25 of their target attendees before they nail down the event’s agenda. Government Affairs works closely with company economists to put together research that explores a policy issue surfaced in their conversations that is generally overlooked in the current debates, with the intent of offering new insight and jumpstarting a constructive dialogue with the key players. By the time the event rolls around, they are confident in the utility of the content they have developed and have formed relationships with their audience members, many of whom played a role in shaping the research output.

Of note, Zillow explained that the relationships they hope to build really form in the weeks leading up to the event, not on that day. The event does more to cement their place in the debate; by the time it ends, there is little question of the large role Zillow can play in supporting policymakers on the issue.

American Medical Association

Advocacy organizations continue to generate thousands of form letters each year even though reports from Capitol Hill suggest that they are largely ignored.

The American Medical Association has given the traditional form letter a facelift, shedding the standard 2-4 paragraphs of prose sent privately over email for a customizable graphic than can be shared directly with Members of Congress via Twitter or Facebook. The graphics are relatively frictionless to build. Advocates personalize them with just a few clicks, selecting language from a few pre-authored options, adding their photo, and a geographically appropriate background.

Since the “Twitter Cards” are built for and shared on social media, they are far more likely to be noticed by Hill staff, even the Member of Congress. Since the AMA began using them campaign their advocates have generated over 27,000 of these Twitter cards, and plan to broaden the program in future campaigns.

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