As the New York state budget season has finally come to a close, we’re looking back on our work with the New York State Restaurant Association (NYSRA) on one of the budget’s most high-profile issues, passing alcohol to-go, and shedding some light on the strategies and tactics of the groundbreaking and successful campaign.
Alcohol to-go was a revelation when it was allowed for 15 months at the beginning of the pandemic, but it expired when the Governor’s emergency powers lapsed in the summer of 2021. Then with the legislature adjourned for the year, attention turned to the upcoming 2022 legislative session.
Let’s explore how we got to this victory.
Storytelling has become paramount, and captivating storytelling is what a post-pandemic world is demanding. A simple, rational request of government needs to be woven into a compelling narrative. Alcohol to-go had overwhelming support from the public, but still, captivating arguments needed to be amplified to make headway and raise the issue’s profile.
We worked to capture the hearts and minds of the public and provide the cover for government officials to act. It was sharing how small business owners were able to keep employees on payroll and making clear the billion-dollar fiscal impact the restaurant industry has in New York State. Focus then shifted to how best to share that narrative and to cut through the noise. Reporters are being bombarded by countless pitches, especially during the legislative session. The public is over-stimulated, receiving news from whatever screen catches their eye. The question then becomes how your message and story stand out among the rest.
It is also important to understand that one story might not fit all. A statewide campaign speaks to very different audiences. The New York State Restaurant Association represents thousands of restaurant owners from Long Island to Buffalo. Lawmakers in Rochester have different priorities than their counterparts in Queens. What’s your plan to tell the different stories in the different regions that matter? Beyond effectively deploying a captivating story, it is essential to determine the right story for the right audience in the right medium at the right time. From the Spanish-speaking restaurant owners in Queens to the old-school Italian restaurant in Buffalo, an echo chamber was created in legislative districts throughout the state sounding off the same message, but in a way that resonated within each community.
The campaign for alcohol to-go displayed the effectiveness of consistent and persistent strategic messaging. It was not about shouting into the void hoping someone was listening, but a deliberate strategy of how, when, and where to turn up the volume. The team planned press conferences in key regions throughout New York State and leveraged statistics and survey data to strengthen a unified message. Understanding all the factors at play and the political and legislative landscapes, we created an echo chamber.
We released survey data from NYSRA members that showed how important alcohol to-go was to their bottom lines. When an extra push was needed, we coordinated five simultaneous press conferences in Buffalo, Albany, Westchester, Queens and Long Island. When the Assembly and Senate left the issue out of their one-house budgets, we had our counterpunch ready, claiming that alcohol to-go would clearly generate increased sales tax revenue from what was a $50-billion industry, underscoring the fiscal impact.
This multi-faceted campaign was successful because of a few key factors—a great client who understood what it took to win, a skilled and experience lobbying effort, and strategic communications that drove home a compelling narrative, elevating the issue and making the voices of the restaurant industry impossible to ignore or silence.