The dust is still settling on Amazon’s decision to pull out of their Queens HQ2, citing community opposition and other challenges.   It’s a great case study on why organizing and community engagement are important additions to a lobbying and PR strategy.

Here are six things that we can learn from Amazon’s New York campaign.

  1. Understand that no project is immune from local politics.  Even an international giant like Amazon needs to win local battles for zoning, labor contracts, and other local issues.  Nobody is immune to local politics and not investing in organizing and community engagement can put projects (of any size) at risk.
  2. Complement your PR and lobbying with community engagement and grassroots organizing.   Winning issue campaigns should include direct lobbying, public relations, and community engagement (organizing).   Ignoring anyone of those three leaves a campaign effort vulnerable.  Lobbying teams and PR professionals can find themselves in tough positions with some investment in a community engagement program.
  3. Start all projects with research to understand the community. Amazon selected a site in a left leaning, labor heavy, young, progressive community with a history of opposing large developments.  Being surprised by the opposition means not doing your homework.  Start each project with a community and political audit that looks at the make-up of the community, understand the decsion makers, and who influences them, and identify vulnerabilities.  Small investments in proactive strategy can help projects pass with less opposition.
  4. Respond in the venue where you were attacked.  Political campaign managers are taught to respond to attacks in the venue where you’re attacked.  Amazon lacked a community engagement program that could respond in the venue where they were attacked. PR and direct lobbying responses alone can’t solve community engagement problems.
  5. Ask project principals to spend time in the community.   The New York Times reported that the Amazon execs spent little to no time on the ground, commuting back and forth from Washington to New York for meetings and returning shortly after. Project principals are the “candidates” of an issue campaign.  Asking them to invest in personal touch and time in the community is important.
  6. Use community engagement to provide cover for your legislative champions.   Even friendly legislators and “champions” need positive reinforcement from a community engagement program.  Council chambers overflowing with opposition without a single supporter recruited to speak at council hearings.  Even legislative champions can falter without any signs of grassroots suport.

Amazon’s efforts focused exclusively on PR and direct lobbying and lacked a strong grassroots and community engagement  program.  When scores of angry opponents packed council chambers and spoke at hearings without a single supporters coming forward – that was enough to scare away Amazon’s champions, leaving them with little support.   If you’re looking to pass tough legislation at the state or local level, consider the importance of a well planned campaign and an effective community engagement program to supplement your PR and lobbying.

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