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Digital strategy will become critical at #lalege in 2020

Ask every lobbyist at the Louisiana State Capitol what the single most important aspect of each of their jobs are and you’ll likely hear variations of one thing: relationships. Being prepared for committee hearings and floor debates is important. So is nailing down the policies you’re trying to either advance or kill. But nothing is more important than your access to the people who actually vote the machines. And nothing gets you that access except for putting in the time to build strong relationships.

Most years, that isn’t enormously difficult. In off years, there are sometimes a handful of special elections for state representatives and senators. A few members might resign, and you’ll start the next session with a new member in their places. You can call and ask for a meeting after their election is over, or even wait until session starts to sit down with them. When there are only one or two new members to get to know, it’s easy to find the time to build common ground and trust.

In 2020, however, we’ll experience the first true sweeping turnover of legislators due to the term limits passed in 1995. If that seems like a long wait to feel the effects of a new law, that’s because it is. The term limits stipulate that a person can only serve three consecutive terms in each chamber. Since 1995, some legislators have gone on to serve three terms in the House and then three terms in the Senate, a total of 24 years in office. In 2020, we’ll potentially have 16 new state senators (out of 39) and 36 new state representatives (out of 105). So there’s an off-chance that we’ll have a total of 52 new legislators in 2020.

Many termed-out House members are eligible, and indeed campaigning, to be elected to their corresponding districts in the Senate and vice versa. But many are looking to jobs back home or retirement as enticing alternatives after growing partisanship and the headaches of fiscal problems over the past few years at the Legislature.

Whether there are 30 new members or 52, any lobbyist will be hard pressed to build strong relationships with all of the freshmen in 2020. Among Louisiana’s most successful paid lobbyists are many sole proprietors, two-person partnerships, and small teams. Solo lobbyists and small firms are going to need to get creative to stay competitive starting next term.

That’s where digital strategy comes in.

Over the past few years, digital strategy has started to find a home at the Louisiana State Legislature. Many lobbyists have already started building out their digital toolbox, hiring consultants to push alerts to constituents in specific legislators’ districts to push them to make calls or send emails to their legislators’ offices. There’s the classic Gene Mills tactic of crafting click-to-send intimidation emails that members of Louisiana Family Forum’s audience use to send identical messages to legislators, clogging their inboxes with the same two sentences over the course of a couple of days. In 2018, this tactic is jurassic. With the new technologies of this decade, clients can now come to expect that a good digital consultant can create a true grassroots storm, with individualized messages and phone calls going into legislators’ offices, or even better, citizens showing up to a committee hearing to express their positions.

This means that any lobbyist who wants to retain their competitive edge in 2020 should strongly consider learning enough about digital strategies to know a good digital consultant from a bad one, and to get an idea of which tools they want to add to their own firm’s toolbox. The possibilities are endless!

Dylan Waguespack