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How Organizations Can Strategize & Respond to the State of the Union

by Adam Stone, FiscalNote

Create an action plan to seize the moment and make the most of the president's State of the Union address. 

State of the Union address

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For government affairs and advocacy teams, the annual State of the Union address presents a unique opportunity. There’s a chance that the loudest voice in the room might, for a moment, put your issue in the spotlight.

President Biden’s State of the Union address will be delivered on March 7, 2024, so you can use the next few weeks to create an action plan to seize the moment. It’s important to make the most of this address to move the needle for your issue or organization.

How to Prepare for the 2024 State of the Union Address

While the State of the Union typically isn’t finalized until just before the cameras go live, there is much that you can do to prepare. For instance, the president will likely preview some of what will be covered in the speech ahead of time. “Leading up, it’s smart to pay attention to his public appearances and to hear what he talks about in his first campaign speech,” says Meredith Glacken, founder and principal of Foresight Messaging.

In addition, you can follow the remarks of cabinet members whose activities dovetail with your interests. “They are going to be speaking about some of the more important initiatives for the administration,” says Stephanie Kennan, senior vice president of federal affairs at McGuireWoods Consulting. “Sart looking at what are they trying to achieve in their budgets, and follow the breadcrumbs.”

Members of the press will have access to embargoed versions of the speech, and strong media ties can be a boon here. “If you've put in the work to build strong relationships with the political reporters that cover your region or your issue, you may be able to get a flavor for some of that content,” Glacken says. “That's going to help you when you go to craft your own response.”

A tool like FiscalNote’s Factbase SOTU coverage can help here. It offers AI-driven analysis of every topic discussed in the State of the Union since 1989, as compared to legislation introduced in Congress that same year. It will also look at recent presidential speeches to give predictions on what will likely be in the president's speech.

You can leverage this information as you formulate a strategy and determine what’s likely to be covered and how it connects to your work. Then, establish a strategy within your team for several possible scenarios. This will help prepare you to issue a timely response to the speech.

You've got to really be selective when you pick your topics, focusing on the things your stakeholders care the most about. Be targeted.

Meredith Glacken, Founder and principal
Foresight Messaging

How to Respond Strategically

The State of the Union historically covers a lot of ground and a wide range of topics. “It’s easy to get sucked into wanting to respond point by point, and then you completely lose sight of your thesis,” Glacken says.

To craft an effective response, “you've got to really be selective when you pick your topics, focusing on the things your stakeholders care the most about. Be targeted,” she advises.

If there’s a place to align your issue with something in the address, it makes sense to act on it right away.

“I know organizations that have done a press release the next day saying: ‘We applaud the administration for saying XYZ, and this is good because of ABC,’” Kennan says. “When there's so much going on — from wars to the economy and all sorts of stuff in between — it’s easy for a good idea to get lost if there's nobody championing that idea. The more you can become an echo chamber for an idea, the better positioned you are to try to move it.”

At the same time, the State of the Union can and should be a catalyst for longer-term engagements. Once your issue is on the radar, there is a strong opportunity to communicate with supporters, so use newsletters and social media to get members and allies involved in the conversation.

In addition, many will want to engage directly with the government following the speech. Advocacy teams can use tools like FiscalNote’s VoterVoice to track congressional members’ sentiments and easily correspond with the right lawmakers.

You should also work to fine-turn your messaging. “If it’s something that’s budget dependent, you start looking at the numbers and talking to the budget committee,” Kennan says. “If it’s something that can be done on a regulatory basis, you start talking about how to help shape those regulations.”

Capitalize on Opportunities After the State of the Union

If the State of the Union puts your issue on the radar, there’s a significant opportunity there. It can allow you “to talk about something that might not otherwise naturally be a part of the news cycle, and you have to capitalize on that,” Glacken says.

To make the most of the moment, try being more personal in your communications.

“We're used to seeing canned language … lots of navy suits with blue or red ties, and robotic speeches that amount to little more than reading aloud,” Glacken says. “I'd love to see people take some more risks and experiment with different formats and timing — and show a little bit more authenticity, too.”

Even if your issue doesn’t get a direct nod from the president, it can be worth making an effort to fit your messaging into the overall themes of the address. “The state of the union is about lofty goals. It may not be about your specific issue, but you can still fit into those lofty goals,” Kennan says.

Say you’re working on a healthcare issue and the president talks about responsible uses of artificial intelligence. Could you craft a message showing how AI supports more effective healthcare outcomes? It’s just one example of the creative ways in which government affairs and advocacy teams can find an organic fit for their issues within the speech’s broader themes.

Use Technology to Craft Your Response Strategy

Ahead of the State of the Union, it’s important to stay on top of proposed legislation or regulatory changes and to align your efforts with potential shifts. In responding to the address, timeliness is key. Technology can help. FiscalNote aids government affairs teams monitor key U.S. legislation and regulations and be proactively alerted to what’s coming.

On top of that, FiscalNote’s AI technology delivers a live, real-time transcript of the address, along with video coverage and human-enhanced analysis, to help you understand the context, nuances, and potential impacts of the speech.

And VoterVoice can help ensure your communications hit the mark. VoterVoice’s customizable grassroots action center pages make it easy to keep your base informed about emerging issues, facilitate letter-writing campaigns, and track their representatives’ voting records. Plus, the segmentation tools in VoterVoice allow you to tailor your outreach efforts by location, constituency, activities, custom fields, and previous actions.

With proper planning, and a robust response supported by technology tools tailored to your needs, government affairs and advocacy teams can leverage the State of the Union to get their issues front and center.

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