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S4 E4: The Intersection of Public Relations and Public Policy with Chip Taylor
Episode 422nd February 2024 • PRGN Presents: News & Views from the Public Relations Global Network • Public Relations Global Network
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Public policy, public affairs, and public relations are interconnected fields that shape the relationship between government, civil society, and the public. In this episode, Chip Taylor discusses the role of public relations in influencing public policy. He explains the differences between public affairs, public policy, and public relations, highlighting how lobbying and advocacy are subsets of PR.

Chip emphasizes the importance of consistency in messaging and coordination between PR practitioners and elected officials. He also explores various tactics for impacting public policy, such as social media campaigns, thought leadership pieces, and grassroots efforts. Finally, he provides insights into measuring the impact of PR campaigns and navigating the ever-changing landscape of elected officials.

Key Takeaways

  • Public affairs encompasses issues affecting civil society, while public policy focuses on the government's effect on civil society through regulation and legislation.
  • Public relations is a broader field that includes lobbying and advocacy as subsets, specifically targeting elected officials and legislative bodies.
  • PR practitioners can influence public policy by setting the stage, laying the groundwork, and creating an environment for beneficial conversations to take place.
  • Consistency in messaging is crucial, whether through media relations, special events, or public policy conversations.
  • Social media campaigns, op-eds, letters to the editor, and thought leadership pieces are effective tactics for impacting public policy.
  • Grassroots efforts, where passionate individuals engage directly with elected officials, can be more impactful than professional advocates.
  • Building relationships with elected officials and providing ongoing education on issues are essential for successful public policy strategies.

About the Guest

John (Chip) Taylor is Vice President of Novitas Communications, a full-service public relations firm located in Denver, CO. He has worked in the Colorado public policy and government relations environment for three decades. Chip is an expert in issue management, effective messaging, and coalition building. A recovering attorney, he also specializes in policy analysis and regulatory issues. For over 20 years, Chip was a lobbyist and spokesperson for Colorado’s county commissioners, at one time or another covering virtually every topic of county interest. Ultimately, Chip served eight years as the executive director of Colorado Counties, Inc., the statewide association of county commissioners, elevating the visibility and influence of Colorado’s counties in regional organizations, national organizations and policy debates.

Chip has professionally immersed himself in Colorado policy for most of his career. As a young lawyer for the Colorado General Assembly, he focused primarily on tax, finance, election, and education law, including implementation of the TABOR and Great Outdoors Colorado constitutional amendments. Chip also served as the county administrator for Ouray County in 1998 and 1999, and as executive director of the county insurance pools until 2022. He received both his Bachelor of Arts and Juris Doctorate from Pepperdine University and practiced civil litigation in Southern California before moving to Colorado in 1992.

About the Host

Abbie Fink is president of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. Her marketing communications background includes skills in media relations, digital communications, social media strategies, special event management, crisis communications, community relations, issues management, and marketing promotions for both the private and public sectors, including such industries as healthcare, financial services, professional services, government affairs and tribal affairs, as well as not-for-profit organizations.

PRGN Presents is brought to you by Public Relations Global Network, the world’s local public relations agency. Our executive producer is Adrian McIntyre.

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Transcripts

Adrian McIntyre:

From the Public Relations Global Network, this is PRGN Presents. I'm Adrian McIntyre.

Abbie Fink:

And I'm Abbie Fink, president of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. With public relations leaders embedded into the fabric of the communities we serve, clients hire our agencies for the local knowledge, expertise, and connections in markets spanning six continents across the world.

Adrian McIntyre:

Our guests on this biweekly podcast series are all members of the Public Relations Global Network. They discuss such topics as the importance of sustainability and Environmental, Social, and Governance programs, crisis communications, content marketing, reputation management, and outside of the box thinking for growing your business.

Abbie Fink:

For more information about PRGN and our members, please visit prgn.com. And now, let's meet our guest for this episode.

Chip Taylor:

My name's Chip Taylor. I'm vice president of Novitas Communications. We're a full-service PR firm here in Denver, Colorado. We do quite a bit of work in property management and development, as well as in energy. We're an all-of-the-above firm, but we also have a number of association clients for whom public policy is a priority.

Abbie Fink:

Public policy, such an interesting topic. Chip, let's just maybe, to get the conversation started, do a little bit of level-setting on public policy versus public affairs versus public relations, you know, kind of by definition or your definition. What do those things mean?

Chip Taylor:

Well public affairs is probably any issues that affect civil society and are of concern to a substantial subset of the population public policy as I think about it is more kind of the government effect on civil society and where legislatures and elected officials come in and try to regulate things to have our societies and our economies work the way they should Public affairs, public policy. What was the last one that you said?

Abbie Fink:

Public relations.

Chip Taylor:

Public relations. Well, of course, what we do. And of course, public relations is kind of the whole gamut of interpersonal relations and people dealing with each other and how it gets presented to the world. I would argue that lobbying and advocacy and public policy is a subset of public relations. It's specifically geared towards elected officials, legislative bodies, our local, state, and federal bodies that decide on the laws for our societies.

Abbie Fink:

So how do PR or PR practitioners influence public policy or work in tandem with our elected officials to influence or create public policy? What role do we have? Dr. Anneke Vandenbroek.

Chip Taylor:

You know, Abbie, all of these discussions that happen in a legislative body, whether it's a municipal government or a local regional government or a state government, happens in the context of all of the people that they're affecting. So we have kind of, I would say, a subset of public relations called lobbying and lobbyists who specifically talk to those elected officials. Commercials but all of those conversations happen in context no matter what the issue is happens in the context of the society and public relations pros have a real opportunity to kind of set the stage lay the groundwork create the environment for conversations to happen that are beneficial that are sensitive to their clients needs and interests so.

Abbie Fink:

We talk a lot about you know and when we're advising clients about, you know, key message development, consistency in messaging, you know, how we might share that information changes from, you know, whether it's a media relations effort, a special event, public policy conversations, but it really has to be, you know, coming from a place of consistency. So how do all of those players in that mix work together? You know, when is it appropriate to bring in someone who is more of a policy, specialist or a lobbyist from a PR perspective, or when a client says we need to, you know, know what's happening at our state legislature? Where do all those partnerships start to develop?

Chip Taylor:

You know, a lot of it depends on the client, and it's going to be incumbent on all of us to look at our clients and figure out who is where. As I mentioned, we represent a bunch of associations, and they have an ongoing active interest in public policy. So we actively monitor legislation. We actively work with their legislative folks, their lobbyists, their lawyers, and make sure we understand the issues that they're concerned about and that we're watching for them. And as you said, a consistent strategy, a coordinated strategy is really important. So we talk a lot in those cases to lobbyists. We meet with our members. We talk about what our messaging ought to be, what our likely avenues of success are in the legislature and how we can message out and support it from the outside so that the advocates that are at the legislative body can be most effective. At the other end of the spectrum, we have business clients for whom they don't necessarily pay attention to the public policy process, but we know that there's things that go through because we're watching that will affect them. An insurance company is affected by insurance regulations.

Any of our property management development clients are going to be affected by land use regulation that affects their ability to use their property. So we're watching those. And in those cases, I think what we are doing is reporting to the client, telling them what's going on, and then we're kind of having to take their temperature about how engaged they want to be through us. It's really obvious when you represent the association that it's your job to get at the front and do it. When it's one of our private business clients, they may have another association or another advocate or somebody else that's going to work with it. And then I'm just making sure that they know that this is happening. And frankly, I consider it a value add on their public relations contract to help them just know what's going on at the legislature. Is.

Abbie Fink:

Is there a different approach if you're talking about city or state elected officials versus maybe what you would do if you were, you know, engaging on a federal level?

Chip Taylor:

Yes, indeed. You know, all these folks have to come home at some point. The folks that go away to deal with issues in the United States, in Washington, D.C., any of the federal government levels, I think they have more distance And you really are way more effective working through an organization because there's power and strength in that voice that comes through. At the local and state level, much more you see folks at the grocery store, at the gas station, in the community. And I think that you can help train your clients and people who are interested in their issues with talking points. As you were talking about earlier about having a strategy, if you have a PR person has four or five talking points that they can share with their clients, that they can share with other folks with a common interest, every time you run into somebody at the grocery store is an opportunity to make your case.

Abbie Fink:

So let's talk a little bit about some of the maybe tactical components of, you know, creating a public policy strategy. We've touched on that face to face or one on one discussions directly to the policymakers. But are there other ways to impact public policy that maybe, you know, that utilize some of the other skills that we have social media, other media relations things?

Chip Taylor:

A remarkable number. And Abbie, I appreciate you feeding me the social media one. As you know, we just won an award with our public relations global network for our social media campaign for one of our association clients who was very concerned about rent control. And it was a very hot issue. There was a lot of both lobbying and media campaigning going on, and we were able to use Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Ads, Twitter as a way of getting our message directly out and helping lay the groundwork for a discussion that allowed our clients' interest to be protected. But we do so many things that are just right in our wheelhouse. Op-eds and letters to the editor and articles on topics that are of interest to the client can be really relevant, especially for conversations that are going on in the legislature. legislature. One of the other things that was remarkable with this same client that we did the rent control for is we had done a number of thought leadership opportunities for them in advance, kind of laying the groundwork proactively. And then when it came time for them to go to an expert, we had already established credibility for our client through the use of the thought leadership pieces, and they were able to be more effective.

So there's those kinds of things, you know, not only the messaging and development, the events you mentioned, days at the Capitol and, I spent a couple of decades as a lobbyist at the Capitol, and I can tell you it was always overwhelming, not only for the elected officials, but also for the staff at the Capitol when folks show up en masse on one particular issue. It sometimes happens when there's a committee hearing or a debate on gun rights or reproductive rights or something like that, and folks just show up. But we also saw organized days. There's an organization here called the Children's Campaign that has a day at the Capitol, usually organized around school finance or other child funding, and they will bring in a bunch of gingerbread-style cutouts decorated by children and put them on every legislator's chair. And then those folks are in the Capitol just talking to their legislators, inviting them to lunch, having a conversation, not really lobbying, but organized by PR and comms folks, and it really focuses all the legislature's attention on their issues, on the children's issues, on their funding issues. And so that's a real opportunity for PR folks to be in a strong support role and move issues forward on behalf of their clients.

Abbie Fink:

That type of strategy is, I would call that a bit of a grassroots effort, that these are not necessarily professionals who regularly communicate or regularly contact their elected But they're passionate about a particular cause. We used to do, you know, when we would have, you know, print out, you know, how to write a letter to the editor, how to call your elected official, right, that strategy. But we found grassroots campaigns to be, as you said, very effective in part because they were very passion driven versus the professionals that, you know, understand and do that. How do you work with organizations that, you know, may not be as sophisticated in the process, but certainly understand the value of having, you know, an organized effort, take an active role in working with, you know, in addressing and talking to their elected officials? How do you counsel? How do you get the common man or woman ready to meet with their legislators and make those passionate pleas for assistance or support?

Chip Taylor:

As much as anything, Abbie, I feel like when folks come into the Capitol and they come into the committee room, it's a really intimidating experience. And I want them to be comfortable and recognize that all of these elected officials are just people trying to do a job for their community. In all likelihood, they are not experts in the topic that they're talking about because they're asked to deal with so many topics and making sure that people understand they want to hear from you. In fact, as you just identified, you are more effective in many ways than a professional advocate because you are from home. You are talking about your experience. You are putting a face on the issue that they are dealing with. They are all people trying to solve answers or provide answers to hard questions.

There's a number of things that I put in a blog post recently that's on our website and I’ll share the link to that but I think you know mostly it's about being authentic being yourself, and recognizing one that you're creating a relationship with somebody you don't want to just go in there and say hey you have to do this you owe me you're talking to somebody and I try to convey to folks when they're going to the capitol you want to provide your position and recognize that you're creating a discussion, an ongoing discussion with this legislator. If you really want to knock them out, ask them what other information you can provide to them and follow up with them. Nobody ever does that. They always just say what they want and walk away. See if there's something else you can do. Those kinds of things really help in terms of being able to communicate with legislators the same way when you're testifying and committing. You want to be simple, clear, brief, authentic, and create a relationship with those folks. In terms of when to do it, the legislative process, as we all know, is an arcane, complicated process. And I think if you're trying to get into committee, you can monitor legislative calendars. I have a couple of links that I can share as well for our page on how to get information on not only each state's legislative calendar, each state's legislative homepage, and where to get information on bills.

And there are a number of different bill tracking services, some that are nationwide, some that are for me, Colorado specific. I'm guessing that every state has those so that you can learn how to watch the calendar, see when things are coming up. And Has an affinity for your position because you want to coordinate with those advocates. They can tell you where votes are. They can tell you who is likely to change their vote. They can tell you what the best arguments are.

Adrian McIntyre:

Chip, one of the biggest challenges for any communications campaign or influence campaign is measuring impact, especially in an environment where there are so many influencers trying to influence the influentials who make the decisions, write the laws, etc. I spent much of my 20s and 30s kicking around the Middle East and Africa and ended up working on a number of conflict crisis situations with large international humanitarian relief organizations. And we did a lot of this kind of advocacy and lobbying and media work, these multifaceted attempts to get the message to the people who could influence the UN Security Council resolution on a particular topic, for example. And of course, every agency doing that is trying to report back to their stakeholders, their donors, whether or not their campaign worked and whether or not they spent the money effectively. In the context that you're talking about here, could you speak a little bit to those issues of measurement and impact? With many actors trying to communicate messages, both for and against what your clients want, how do you know what worked and who gets credit for it?

Chip Taylor:

So, you know, defining your objective early on makes a big difference because at the legislature, there are some very clear black and white ways of telling whether you've succeeded or not. Did your amendment get on the bill? Did it not get on the bill? Did the bill pass? Did it die? Was it vetoed? Those are very concrete. Did you get there or not? And if your only objective is I have to, for example, change tax rates and I need it next year. And that doesn't happen. Well, there's a pretty good indicator. On the other hand, we had last year a bill that the governor wanted on affordable housing and local land use. And there was a huge fight about that bill and it ended up failing. I think the governor considers that whole mission a success because he got everybody out and to the table and talking about the issue he wanted them to talk about. So partly when you're thinking about how to get these things together, including how you were talking about in funding discussions, sometimes just getting things to move up the priority, get them on the table so that they're being discussed is the measure of success that you want. Nobody has been paying attention to my issue before now. And all of a sudden I have a platform. form, that is a good measurement of success.

Abbie Fink:

So, you know, the election cycle changes your target audience potentially every year, right? We have elections, people come, people go. So the mindset and the philosophy at the legislative body changes one side of the aisle or the other is in power. How do you, and yet we assume our clients, you know, maintain their belief system, right? They're still focused on what they're focused on. So it seems like it's an ongoing and ever-changing maybe strategy. What does it look like, you know, out of session? There's got to be some opportunities there to continue those dialogues. And then what do you do to, you know, counsel across this idea that, you know, the target we were working with this past session is no longer in office and we've got to develop new relationships and, you know, and kind of start from scratch each time? The.

Chip Taylor:

The education part is perennial. You're always educating elected officials because they're always somebody new coming in who doesn't have the history, who hasn't been focused on your issues. And you're right, outside of any form of a legislative session or meeting season, you need to be cultivating those relationships. As I mentioned before, it's the kind of thing that you want to have credibility when the time comes. So you're always providing education. You're always, as a PR person, promoting your client's credibility as an authority, as somebody that can be turned to for information. Those are the thought leadership pieces come in as well. So I think taking folks, I don't want to advocate what kind of spending people should do, but taking folks to lunch and making sure that they understand that it's more than just this one bill. It's not just a transaction.

They're invested in the community. You're invested in the community. You have a shared mission. I have a friend who's a lobbyist who says that she finds it really disarming when she goes to legislators. Instead of going to them and saying, I want to convince you to think the way I do, to say, I'm not here to convince you to think the way I do. I'm just here to offer you another perspective. And it gives them an opportunity to share each other's vision and also the common passion that they have for whatever issue it is that they're talking about. And I think cultivating that in advance really makes a difference when you come around to a legislative session and then you want to say, I need you to vote yes on this amendment.

Adrian McIntyre:

Thanks for listening to this episode of PRGN Presents, brought to you by the Public Relations Global Network.

Abbie Fink:

We publish new episodes every other week, so follow PRGN Presents in your favorite podcast app. Episodes are also available on our website—along with more information about PRGN and our members—at prgn.com.