Local Grassroots Primer
Washington State Auto Dealers Association advocates for franchised new car and truck dealers on issues affecting dealers statewide, both in the Legislature and with state regulatory agencies. The Association does not directly participate in local issues or campaigns.
This Grassroots Primer is intended to help dealers facing local issues organize their own local campaigns using the same grassroots strategies WSADA employs.
GET TO KNOW YOUR LOCAL GOVERNMENT LEADERS
It is critical to get to know your local mayors, city council members, county executive, and county council members/commissioners. The same rules apply locally as apply at the state and national levels: it is easier to ask a friend for help than to ask a stranger.
Getting started can be easy.
- Schedule an appointment with your local elected officials.
Call their office and ask them to join you for a cup of coffee, ideally in your dealership. However, be willing to meet them at their office or at a local coffee shop or restaurant. Introduce yourself and your dealership. You should assemble and arrange a short “1-pager” about your dealership. A template is included at the end of this guide.
- Support the election efforts of local candidates.
The hard truth is that most election campaigns, even local campaigns, require funding. Even small contributions make an impact and are appreciated, especially in local campaigns. Consider offering support to a local candidate and even attending their campaign kick-off. They will appreciate the support and remember your attendance.
- Involve local elected officials in your charitable/community activities.
Dealers are generous supporters of their communities, but are often reluctant to shine the spotlight on their efforts. That is a mistake. Dealers deserve recognition of their support for the community, including charities or local service clubs like Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions, and elected officials appreciate businesses that give back to their communities.
Your support for local events is a great opportunity to invite a local elected official to join you at one of these events. That gives the official an opportunity to recognize your support for the community and, in turn, be recognized for their leadership generating this community support.
TALKING TO LOCAL OFFICIALS ABOUT YOUR ISSUES
Local elected officials can’t be expected to “just know” about issues that are important to you. You need to educate them. If an issue of concern to your dealership comes up, schedule time to meet with your local official, and be persistent about the need to meet before the local government takes action.
- Know your facts.
Understand why the action is being considered, and the other impacts the official is likely to be concerned about or hoping will result. Think about questions you are likely to be asked.
- Be brief.
- Be appreciative.
Acknowledge and thank them for their service and any past support.
- Be specific.
Be specific about the issue and your position, and refer to the specific proposed ordinance, motion, or ballot number.
- Be informative.
Give clear examples of how their decision will impact your business and why they should support your position. Will it impact the number of jobs you are able to offer, impact your sales and associated tax revenues, increase your daily operations costs, or create challenges for your customers?
- Be courteous.
Ask for their support in a calm, respectful manner. Never demand, threaten, or attempt to intimidate.
- Know your “ask”.
Your need to have an “ask” – a request for whatever action you would like the official to take or not take. Understand and be able to clearly and concisely state your ask, and end your meeting by making a clear request.
- Follow up.
Send a card, email, or call the official to see if they have any additional questions, and to repeat your ask. Thank them for their time.
TALKING TO VOTERS ABOUT YOUR ISSUES
Some issues are decided by the local elected officials themselves, others must be approved by the public. A public vote on a measure, whether it is an increase in taxes or new workplace rules, can be incredibly expensive to influence. However, there may be a larger group that shares your perspective and is willing to join a coalition to help shoulder the cost of an effort to pass or defeat a proposal.
The following list is not a specific roadmap, but a menu of options. For example, a county-wide effort to oppose a sales tax increase may be a much bigger campaign than the same issue in a smaller community.
- Build a Coalition
Your local chamber of commerce is often a great place to start. Contact them immediately if an issue of significant concern to your dealership is likely to go to the ballot, especially if you think other businesses may be affected. Often, coalition efforts start because a small handful of motivated individuals bring the issue to everyone else’s attention. Like many things in life, 10% of the people often do 90% of the work on any project.Sometimes the issue may be more important to auto dealers than to anyone else. Reach out to the fellow dealers in your community to make them aware of an issue of concern and to gauge their willingness to organize a coalition with you.
- Form a Political Action Committee
Most campaigns are run through a formal political action committee, or PAC. Sometimes these committees continue for multiple years, like a PAC at a larger chamber of commerce. Other times, the committee is formed just to participate in a single ballot issue, with names like “People for Jobs” or “Committee to Protect our Community”.The rules surrounding the formation of political committees and the reports that must be filed to comply with state and local election laws can be confusing. Before you make any decisions to raise or spend money on a ballot issue, contact the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) at https://www.pdc.wa.gov or (877) 601-2828. The PDC is the state agency that governs political campaigns. When you call, be direct about your interest in participating in a ballot issue and ask for their help to understand the requirements. They are very willing to help and often have great resources to guide you through the process.
- Hire Professional Help
There are campaign consultants who work for candidates and groups with views everywhere on the political spectrum. It is not essential that you hire a consultant, but experienced consultants are familiar with both the tactics and the rules surrounding campaigns. They may also have some of the key contacts with specialized vendors, like mail houses that own identified voter lists, that are essential to get your message out to the right voters.WSADA does not endorse any particular consultant, but we are happy to provide you a list of names and contacts of consultants working in different parts of the state.
- Determine Public Opinion
Polling is conducted for two reasons: determining voters’ views on an issue at a specific point in time and identifying which points may be most effective in persuading voters to support a particular position. Both purposes can be important in winning a campaign.Generally, polling is more effective in larger campaigns with more voters. It is difficult to get accurate polling information when a smaller number of voters will be deciding the issue. In this instance, investing in polling may not make as much sense as spending the same funds to send additional messaging like direct mail or media buys.
- Persuading Voters
Many of the tools used to persuade voters are the same tools dealers use to promote their own business but, unlike selling cars where everyone is a potential customer, political campaigns may be more targeted at specific voter profiles.Numerous communication tools are available, and there is no “right” mix of these tools. Where a smaller campaign may benefit more from direct mail to voters, a larger campaign might see the strongest benefit from dedicating resources to radio or TV advertising. Selecting the right media tools is a place where the right campaign consultant can earn their fee by helping a campaign make the most economical and effective decisions.
Paid communication tools include:
- Direct mail
- Digital ads (Facebook, search engines, and display ads on media sites)
- Newspaper display ads
- Signage (roadside and billboard)
“Earned” media can also be important. This term is generally used to describe recognition or advocacy for your position in newspapers, but also potentially on radio or television. Media is “earned” through outreach to these news agencies with information about your position on an issue or a suggestion for a news story.
“Earned” media efforts include:
- Meetings with newspaper editorial boards
- Submission of Op-Eds to newspapers
- Submission of letters to the editors of newspapers
- Pitching stories to reporters on the issue/impacts of a particular measure
The earlier you begin planning, the better. The process from realizing you have an issue to launching your campaign can take weeks or months to come together. The more time you have to sway public opinion, the more options you have available.
A successful local grassroots strategy requires advanced planning. Ensure that you already have the relationships with local elected officals before an issue emerges. Quickly assess how an issue will impact your business and, more importantly, your customers. Use facts to support your “ask”. Regardless of whether it will be decided by local elected officials or voters, craft and deliver your message so it will resonate with your audience.
Your Dealership “1-pager”
Assemble a one page overview of your dealership and its impact on the community, including:
- A brief history and summary of the dealership
- Date founded
- Services offered (Sale of new and used vehicles, F&I, Service – including warranty and recall work)
- Owners & managers
- Jobs created
- Average value of wages & benefits per employee
- Annual sales tax generated, both state (6.5%) & local — if you can, determine the percentage of the local government budget that is generated by the sales tax
- Charitable and other community support with a specific description of one or two primary causes
- Your direct contact information
Click here to download the full primer here.