The moment U.S. Congresswoman Katie Porter whips out her whiteboard, her opposition breaks into a cold sweat. They’ve learned what’s ahead: a sharp, formidable, and meticulous inquisition from which there is no escape. Rep. Porter’s pointed questions and straightforward messaging cut through the nonsense, command attention, and light a fire.
The attorney, law professor, and single mom from California has come to be known as a relentless advocate for everyday people. Her targets in congressional hearings have been corrupt corporate CEOs, amoral lobbyists, and other such self-interested people in power.
Rep. Porter’s incisive questioning (backed by loads of uncompromising research) has routinely garnered eyebrow-raising results. For example, she famously wore down former CDC Director Robert Redfield to commit to free testing of COVID-19 in the U.S. Yes, you can thank her for your nasal swab test costing nothing but a little discomfort.
The new representative’s precise, branded way of communicating is a masterclass in messaging and communication. And it’s especially useful for advocacy-oriented social impact organizations whose demands for change are regularly met with resistance.
Concise, digestible, action-spurring messaging is easier said than done. But Rep. Porter continues to prove it’s possible — and it works.
Class is in session.
Why Representative Katie Porter’s Messages Go Viral
Whether she’s grilling Equifax over a customer data breach or challenging JP Morgan about pay disparities, Rep. Porter knows how to throw down the gauntlet. And when she’s done, you can bet those moments quickly go viral.
Perhaps it’s the way she spells out the plight of her constituents and demands justice for them. Or maybe it’s how she thinks on her feet, poised and ready with a searing rebuttal.
Her million Twitter followers and millions of views on various YouTube clips is proof that she is someone special. (And even more so because she doesn’t think she is.)
Child care policy, climate change, and Big Pharma — these are all weighty issues that affect all of us. Yet Rep. Porter takes these nuanced, complex issues and breaks them down into digestible information that’s easy enough for an 8th grader to comprehend. In fact, she has a policy that all messaging should be conveyed at a junior high comprehension level.
And though we’ve all been conditioned to shorten our messaging to fit into 840 characters or less on social media platforms, Rep. Porter goes one step further. Not only are her messages brief, but they also have an urgent, emotional hook that makes her message feel personal.
Make no mistake, Rep. Porter does extensive research before launching into her opponents or making a statement. Armed with a whiteboard and facts, she comes to the U.S. House of Representatives chamber determined to make change happen. Whether it’s a scrappy five minutes of questioning at any hearing or a quick Tweet, Rep. Porter makes every second — and character — count.
After all, there’s no time to waste.
Who is Your Organization Talking to?
To emulate the efficacy of Rep. Porter’s communication style, you have to start by thinking about your audience. Because she certainly does.
The Orange County Congresswoman is always focusing on speaking to the people she represents, and even those she doesn’t. Unlike most politicians, she doesn’t talk to hear her own voice or to advance her own self-interested agenda.
Take a recent interview with Elle, for example. Rep. Porter says, “Hearings are not conversations between two people in power… The audience is the American people.”
As your organization contemplates your messaging, think about who needs to hear that message. Who are they? What do their daily lives look like? What do they care about? And what will your message compel them to do? Aim to craft your story in a way that your intended audience will understand and care about. A way that inspires follow through and action.
Since Rep. Porter speaks to a broad audience, she knows she must distill her key points into a message that people of all backgrounds can understand and relate to.
As you create scroll-stopping content, send emails, and mobilize your supporters, always start by putting your audience first. Consider what knowledge they’re coming in with and what context they need to fully understand your message. And finally, make sure you communicate why your audience should care about what you have to say.