The 5 W’s of Effective Advocacy Communication

How to talk about political involvement in a way that educates and inspires.

Unlike many professionals, REALTORS® have a strong, coordinated presence in local, state, and federal politics. Every REALTORS®’ dues help sustain this presence through a wide variety of advocacy programs ranging from supporting candidates for elected office to registering members to vote. NAR is widely considered one of the most effective advocacy organizations in the country.

Yet, none of this success would be possible without a continuous communication effort focusing on the need for advocacy and what it achieves for REALTORS® and their communities. Here we’ll take a look at the essential who, what, where, why, and when of advocacy communications.

The Who

Who is communicating the advocacy message to members, consumers, and the media is nearly as important as the message itself. Association elected leaders play an important role in rallying fellow members around advocacy. Their speeches, media interviews, social media posts, and newsletter editorials are all opportunities to promote the political or legislative position of the association and the candidates it supports.

AEs are also essential spokespersons for the advocacy message. “Without a strong AE who understands advocacy and leads by example, chances of success are slim,” says Dale Zahn, CEO of the West Michigan Association of REALTORS®. “It’s up to us as AEs to play the role of cheerleader and rally the troops.”

Customizing who your advocacy message is targeted to can also increase engagement. Consider crafting messages to different demographic segments of members about your local issues. Write messages directed at home owners that members can forward to their clients, and customize messages to attract potential coalition partners or pique local media interest in your cause.

The What

Political and legislative issues are rarely simple. The regulatory jargon alone can be daunting to understand. This is why associations strive to boil down multifaceted issues to their essence–their relevance to REALTORS®.

“We have to frame issues so that members understand them and realize the reach of government in their business,” says Brian Bernardoni, government affairs director at the Chicago Association of REALTORS®. His approach involves simple slogans members can get behind that sum up the heart of the issue. For example, “If builders don’t build, REALTORS® can’t sell.” This easy-to-remember catch phrase helped Bernardoni communicate the core of his association’s efforts to ease the zoning, building, and planning logjam in the city that prevented new development. “If they get the simple approach and see how it relates to them, I can get them to become more involved,” he says.

The Where

If you’re looking for a study that says politically minded professionals use Twitter more than Facebook, or that they prefer videos over text, unfortunately, you won’t find it. The fact is that your advocacy-interested members are men and women, Republican and Democrat, tech-savvy and old school. Their preferred information outlets are just as varied.

Savvy use of every outlet of social and traditional media, as well as events and one-on-one conversations, are required for advocacy messages to generate healthy participation.

To update members on current issues, the Oklahoma Association of REALTORS® posts videos on YouTube every Friday during the state’s legislative session. “Our GAD and contract lobbyist’s videos helps members understand issues while also encouraging them to become a part of the process through calls for action and RPAC involvement,” says Oklahoma’s marketing vice president Steve Reese.

The Why

When members ask why they should invest in RPAC or get involved in advocacy, the answer most associations provide is the same: to help protect the interests of the real estate industry and private property owners. But to drive the message home, associations use specific examples of local laws or regulations that would not have passed without REALTOR® advocacy.

For example, the Illinois Association of REALTORS® produced a video recently titled “REALTORS® Made a Difference.” It features several legislators that the association helped elect and explains the important role REALTORS® play in shaping public policy as it relates to private property issues and the real estate industry.

Many associations, including NAR, issue a report of legislative success stories every year and work to keep those successes in front of members year round.

Still, many members view advocacy as someone else’s responsibility. “Our government affairs motto is, ‘take a seat at the table, or end up on the menu.’ REALTORS® get that message,” says Dave DeLeon, government affairs director for the REALTORS® Association of Maui.

At the Atlanta Board of REALTORS®, Government Affairs Director Lennie Shewmaker drives home the idea that REALTOR® party efforts are like a wagon: “You can get a free ride, or you can help pull by joining in the committee, responding to calls for action, and investing in RPAC. If not us, then who?”

The When

Because hot political and legislative issues pop up sporadically, it can be hard to keep advocacy in front of members consistently. Yet regular columns, posts, and videos on advocacy are essential to maintaining interest and momentum.

“Our GAD runs a blog with regular content that we link to every Monday in our member newsletter,” says Michael Caesar, communications director at the Charlotte Regional REALTORS® Association. “He also has a bimonthly e-mail newsletter and is extremely active on Twitter.”

Most members will quickly forget past advocacy successes unless they are reminded often. Use each medium consistently so that members know what kinds of communications to expect on each platform and how often to expect updates.

Ensure that your advocacy strategy includes these five W’s of communication for continued success.

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