Who and What You Don’t Know… Yet

How actionable research is a gamechanger when everything is on the line

Perhaps no other city better epitomizes the saying “It’s about who you know, not what you know” than Washington. But while DC might be built on relationships, it also is an ever-expanding ecosystem and echo chamber that requires actionable intelligence and research to guide successful public affairs campaigns.

But in a city with multiple spheres of influence, the way to ensure client success is by providing insight into the “who” and “what” they don’t know along with a way to reach those levers of power.

Research and analytics tools can identify influencers, threats and opportunities around an individual, company or issue. More importantly, they can arm our public relations and government relations teams with the intelligence they need to craft and execute winning strategies. While we pride ourselves in being highly skilled and well-connected, leaning into research removes the guesswork to ensure we reach the right target with the right message when it matters most.   

Actionable research—understanding how a piece of information will help a client’s overall strategy—always is our goal. Clients should expect more than cookie-cutter research or flashy-but-thin dashboards. They need what we provide: quality research accompanied by a roadmap for how to counter or bolster the narrative.

Here are four quick examples:   

Influential Allies  

Research teams have long looked at data to better understand the sea of third-party organizations and stakeholder groups that can be mobilized on behalf of clients. But political donors often are absent from that mix. Researching who is donating and to whom will uncover potential individuals and companies that might yield influence over a candidate or elected official and should be part of any comprehensive government relations plan.

Media Engagement

We constantly dig into the social media feeds of elected officials. Top of our interest list? The news outlets, particularly local and regional ones, that they are retweeting or reposting. This research provides guidance to our PR team about the reporters and outlets they need to engage to get an issue or message before an elected official.

Congressional Outreach

This past year, a Cogent client needed help to find additional co-sponsors for a bill. While our government relations team tapped their network, we used the results of our research to develop a power-mapping system to synthesize and rank members based on a set of data points. This ranking system helped us identify several new members who, for jurisdictional reasons or otherwise, were not on our original outreach list. Our government relations team approached these members and helped many of them sign on to the bill. 

Crisis Mitigation

Any client suffering through a crisis wants to know what is being said about them and who is saying it. For a recent client in crisis, we gathered and sifted through social media posts to identify what was being said and who was driving the online conversation. Through this process, we identified one particular influencer who was dominating the airwaves and recommended to our client a strategy for outreach. Our team was able to take the conversation offline, facilitate a discussion with the influencer and address their concerns, all thanks to our findings and actionable insights.

At Cogent, our research team rejects the notion that it’s only about who and what you know. By pairing research with insights with strategy, it’s all about who and what you don’t know… yet. In today’s constantly shifting political and media environment, this approach gives our strategists—and our clients—the upper hand when it matters most.  


Ben Fischbein leads Cogent Strategies digital and research practice, where he lends his smarts to clients in need of digital, creative and social strategy. Whitney Gulvin supports Cogent’s digital, public relations and government relations teams with high-impact legislative research and analysis as well as digital analytics.