Public Lands Council expands outreach, develops public relations campaign
The ranching industry is witnessing a big change in Washington, D.C. – and one of Wyoming’s own is on point to oversee it. The Public Lands Council (PLC) is vamping up its outreach on Capitol Hill, and Marci Schlup, a Douglas native, will be guiding the campaign in her new position as associate director of PLC.
Whether it’s about fixing the Endangered Species Act (ESA), preventing sweeping new special designations on federal lands, or promoting grazing’s role in controlling wildfires, PLC is of an aim to “influence the influencers” at our nation’s capital.
Taking the reins
“It’s an exciting time to be taking the reins,” Schlup told us in an interview.
Schlup, whose family runs cows and grows hay, took on the role of associate director of PLC this month after Executive Director Dustin Van Liew took a new job with the oil and gas industry in Texas.
A new public relations (PR) campaign started last year under Van Liew’s directorship, but much of the first year consisted of behind-the-scenes work with a PR firm, including message testing and developing a new website. Now, much of that groundwork is about to be unveiled.
“PLC has been around a long time – since 1968,” said Schlup, “but this is the first time in the organization’s history that we’ve had the resources to dramatically expand awareness of public land ranching issues on Capitol Hill.”
Thanks to a $15 million trust that was endowed to the public lands ranching industry by an energy pipeline company in 2012, PLC’s board of directors was able to approve funding for the new public relations campaign in the fall of 2014.
Last month, PLC’s board approved the second year of funding for the campaign.
PR firm Rubin Meyer Communications is carrying out the campaign. A committee of PLC members is overseeing the effort, along with Schlup.
“We have struck a balance between guiding Rubin Meyer’s team as to what messages we feel are important for influencers in Washington to get,” Schlup explained, “while at the same time allowing the firm’s message-testing and PR experience to help chart the path forward. It’s a constant balancing act, and it’s very eye-opening to see what messages resonate – or don’t – with the people we are trying to reach.”
Whom is PLC trying to reach?
“Our ultimate goal is to influence the influencers – that is, get the ear of policy makers in D.C.,” Schlup told us. “To do that, we have to take a multi-pronged approach. It means educating not just members of Congress and their staff, but also educating voters in key districts.”
Schlup explained that an uneducated public and electorate lead to policies that are completely unworkable for producers, which ultimately harms consumers and even national security.
“We have to be able to keep feeding ourselves as a nation,” she said. “So this campaign, in my eyes, is beyond important.”
Eventually, PLC, with the help of Rubin Meyer Communications, will be developing pitches and conducting outreach in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Boston.
The first step
But the first order of business is outreach right on Capitol Hill. Schlup told us that, within the month, the first of a quarterly electronic newsletter will be blasted out to House and Senate offices.
Also, PLC will hold a Hill staffer briefing next month, where a few key issues – including the ESA, national monuments and wildfire – will be brought to light. For many staffers, Schlup said, it may be their first encounter with PLC or public lands ranching issues.
“We have always been a two-man lobbying team at PLC,” she explained. “That is not to say we haven’t been able to achieve some important policy victories, but it does mean that we’ve had to be highly targeted in how we spend our time. With Rubin Meyer’s help, we are going to reach Hill staffers who work on ag and natural resources issues but who may have absolutely zero knowledge of our issues.”
Schlup acknowledged that there are certain congressional offices that won’t be receptive to PLC’s agenda but added that a great number of congressional members and their staff simply need to be told the truth about who and what the public land ranching industry is.
While the new outreach effort will provide the audience with PLC’s policy positions, concrete statistics and facts, an underlying messaging plan will also be put into play that should help encourage receptiveness amongst policy influencers.
Last year, Rubin Meyer conducted focus-group testing, bringing in “federal policy influencers who professionally focus on land use issues.” They tested both images and language for what was most appealing.
“Respondents reacted best to the concept of stewardship and supporting evidence about the impact on the food supply, the economy, and the local communities that thrive through ranching on public lands,” the firm wrote in a memo.
The image that tested strongest was a photo of two cowboys horseback, Border collie at heel, looking out over a herd of cows on a mountain meadow.
“That’s just an example of some of the testing we’re doing with Rubin Meyer,” Schlup told us. “Of course, there’s a lot more to their results, and there will be different focus groups depending on the project we’re working on.”
Rubin Meyer is in the process of finalizing PLC’s website redesign, Schlup told us. PLC will also boast a new logo, a new “e-newsletter” and attractive new issue-briefs for distribution on Capitol Hill.
“As much as we might not like to acknowledge it, how we present our material is half the battle,” Schlup said. “We may have all the facts and all the science on our side. But if we don’t speak or visually present ourselves in a way that wins the hearts of our audience, what have we gained?”
Other projects are on the horizon, including building rancher “hero” stories, conducting PLC spokesman training and initiating social media engagement and expanded press outreach.
“It’s unchartered territory, which makes it all the more exciting,” Schlup said, “and this is just the beginning.”
Theodora Johnson writes for Public Lands Council, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit representing ranchers with public land grazing rights. Email comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.