Adopt Rep. Katie Porter's Messaging Tactics to Light a Fire & Get Results
We studied Rep. Porter’s messaging & communication methods to find out how and why it works. Learn how your social impact organization can follow suit.
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.
Get to Know Your Supporters with these Target Audience Interview Questions
Use this helpful framework to understand your key supporters as well as Katie Porter does.
5 Tips to Hone Your Brand’s Messaging à la Rep. Katie Porter
To follow in Rep. Porter’s masterful messaging footsteps, language is key. So is clearly defining the objective of your message and laying bare the most convincing information — all in a concise format.
These are the tools Rep. Porter pulls out to make sure what she says hits home.
- 1.Language. “People are not impacted by the pandemic, okay?” Porter said to Elle. “They are sickened, they are laid off, they are hurt, they are scared, whatever. Impacting is what meteorites do when they land on a planet.” Your language matters. So cut the jargon and buzzwords. What is the reality of what’s happening? Using plain language may seem simple, but it’s not. It works.
- 2.Emotion. Without an emotional hook, your organization’s story sinks and people lose interest fast. Therefore, an emotional thread should be woven into every piece of content you pump out through your various digital channels. Emotion makes people care. And your cause needs people to care.
- 3.Brevity. Keep your message succinct. Always.
- 4.Forethought. Each message should have an objective. So what purpose does each message serve to advance your cause? Paint a picture of what it will look like when change happens and exactly what it’s going to take to get there.
- 5.Voice. When Rep. Porter pulls out her “Whiteboard of Justice,” everyone knows what’s coming. She has defined her voice and approach, and thus has defined her brand. If your brand hasn’t established a strong voice, start now. Keep it consistent as your brand gains recognition.
To Get Supporters in Your Corner, Form a Stand-Out Strategy
Rep. Porter stands out with her tried-and-true approach. She wears simple attire and wields a whiteboard and dry erase marker. She kicks things off by relating to her opposition on a human level, usually through a true story or topic-related question. Then it's cross examination time. She is a Harvard Law grad, after all.
Your organization will do things differently than she does because your brand is different from hers. But finding a way to be different is what matters if you want to capture attention for your cause.
Gaining support is not always easy, especially when your organization is based in advocacy work or campaigning. But this is exactly why you need to strategize how your organization’s efforts are going to stand out. Because if you don’t stand out, you won’t garner the engagement you need to get the work done.
Whatever your organization chooses to do to make a statement, be consistent about it. Whether it’s producing slick social media videos for a campaign or a series of blog posts for an event, your organization’s fingerprints should be all over it. And consistently making your message relatable? All the better.
Rep. Porter asked the CEO of Equifax to provide his name and social security number in a hearing about his company’s data breach. As predicted, he promptly declined. Immediately, she put him in the shoes of the people she was representing: the people whose sensitive information was leaked. How could he argue that his company should be held accountable after that?
Don’t Underestimate the Power of a Well-Researched Rebuttal
Lastly, part of Rep. Porter’s strategy is anticipating the rejoinder to her argument. If you have opponents of your cause, you need to expect the same. To handle it with poise and win respect, just be prepared.
Either you will react with a prepared response or you won’t react at all. Whatever you decide to do, prepare, prepare, prepare. Know your facts and know what you’re trying to change, and put that first. It’s hard to argue with facts as Rep. Porter proves time and again.
Words have the power to change minds and affect policies. When combined with the tenacity and wit of Rep. Katie Porter, you can see how words have the potential to shape the future for the better. As you work to advance your cause, choose those words wisely.
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