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We’ve just entered what is undoubtedly the most consequential Supreme Court term in recent memory. This term will see far-reaching rulings on abortion rights, gun safety, and the increasingly blurry line between government and religion (well, mostly Christianity). If your work involves one of these issues (or one of the many others on the docket!), you know just how crucial the months ahead will be. There are big moments like oral argument and Decision Day to plan for, media strategies to design and execute, spokespeople to find and train, and rallies to organize.
It’s a lot to juggle, and planning related to SCOTUS is never straightforward. That’s why we’ve pulled together a coalition communication checklist to help you navigate the months ahead. It’s a lot, so we’re breaking it down into two posts. Today, we’ll tackle how to start building out your communication plan once you know that your issue is going before SCOTUS.
Convene a working group of regular coalition partners to coordinate efforts and keep in touch.
This is no time for any organization—no matter the issue(s) on which they work—to simply go it alone. Establish a working group (it can be virtual because everything is on Zoom now) where you’re able to easily stay in touch with partners at other organizations on matters like legal strategy, messaging, and organizing. Consider holding weekly check-in calls where stakeholders can trade intel and coordinate, and think about other virtual channels that make it as easy as possible to share thinking in real time, like Slack.
Develop your fundamentals so that everyone is on the same page.
Alignment is easier said than done. But you’ll want to have some core materials that ensure everyone across your movement is echoing the same messages and is aligned around big media moments. Here are some things we like to have on-hand during SCOTUS season:
- A brief messaging overview—a one-pager that outlines what’s at stake and who is most impacted. This is the messaging that everyone in your movement or coalition should be using (and it should be focused on people—not getting into any deep legal weeds!).
- An editorial calendar—so you can keep track of and plan for big moments in advance, like oral argument and amicus brief deadlines. A calendar also will help you identify quieter moments where you’ll want to create some tactics that can keep the conversation going (rallies in communities across the country, a reporter roundtable, etc.). We recommend building the calendar out on a week-by-week basis so you can get as granular as possible. A week-by-week view also allows you to build out thematic weeks (for example, teachers in support of X, conservatives who stand for Y, and labor unions speaking out for Z).
- Social media toolkits and regularly updated talking points—so you can share content with partner organizations and other key stakeholders on a regular basis. Think big about the universe of people who should have your talking points (and plan a bit of guidance about how to use them). Consider ensuring board members, major donors, and other high-profile surrogates in your network are getting updated messaging regularly. As you approach big moments like oral argument or Decision Day, share updated messaging as regularly as possible—particularly if there are partners who are frequently going on cable TV or podcasts, or attending funder discussions.
- A roadmap of the various possible case outcomes and associated messaging—so you don’t lose valuable time on Decision Day parsing the ruling and trying to figure out what it all means. Work closely with your legal team to map out possible rulings and have a few brief bullet points for how you’d message each scenario.
Get in the media mix.
Once you have your communication strategy and messaging in place, one of the first things you’ll want to do is background key SCOTUS reporters. This is particularly important if there are nuanced implications for your issue space based on how the court may rule.
Aim to have these conversations as early as possible (like…now?) so you have the best shot of framing the coverage of your issue in the months ahead. If you’ve made it this far in the post, you’re probably a proud SCOTUS nerd and know the SCOTUS press corps by heart. But if you could use a little help, C-SPAN has this great Twitter list of court reporters.
A few other ideas to keep in mind as you’re planning and executing media moments:
- Develop a list of your most frequently pitched or quoted surrogates—not just in-house staff, but board members, elected officials who are champions for your cause, and other high-visibility figures who do media regularly. Make sure these individuals in your network have your talking points, and send out updated messaging frequently. This increases your chance of ensuring your messaging is getting deep pick-up—even if you and your coalition allies don’t have bandwidth to do all the pitching yourselves!
- Think about ways to demonstrate the broad support for your issue through things like a digital ad buy (that redirects visitors over to a coalition website, a video that tells a powerful and emotional story, a petition, a sign-on letter boasting numerous signatures, etc.) or sponsorship of a Beltway newsletter (like Playbook) or discussion/panel event (through an outlet like Punchbowl).
- Ensure you’re planning a visible presence at the court for both oral argument and Decision Day (whenever that may be). Now that SCOTUS is back to in-person arguments, the best place you can be at big moments, like when your case is being argued or when a decision is announced, is…right outside the court. The last thing you want is for your opposition to have a highly visible, well-branded presence outside, and for your movement to look small and scattershot by comparison.
Need some ideas on how to pull off that in-person court event? We have you covered…in Part Two of our SCOTUS Media Checklist.
Dan Rafter loves rolling up his sleeves to design big campaigns for causes that deserve the media spotlight. When he’s not working, he’s desperately attempting to make a dent in the growing backlog of books on his shelf (his success rate here is decidedly mixed.) You can find him at email@example.com.