From healthcare to travel to the economy and daily life, nearly every facet of society has been altered by the novel coronavirus pandemic. This is a period of time when advocacy communications will be put to the test.
That’s because the advocacy toolbox has been severely limited: no live events, meetings, fly-ins, fundraisers, or even impromptu coffee chats for the foreseeable future.
Governments at the local, state, and federal level are taking drastic action to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. In this environment, new programs, increased spending, and swift legislative and regulatory action are being pushed through without the conventional input by trade groups, member associations, and grassroots activists.
Some corporations and larger trade organizations will have a direct seat at the recovery table, but many organizations that depend on an outpouring of direct person-to-person pressure must adapt. Most organizations won’t be hosting a fly-in for at least the next three months, or a convention or trade show. Your communications program is going to have to adapt quickly to fill the void of canceled advocacy initiatives as a result of the coronavirus.
Here are a few tips to ease this shift and maintain your organization as a resource and authority to both your membership and policymakers:
Provide frequent tailored updates.
Everyone is tuned into the coronavirus and there are countless news stories, social media posts, and communications going out on the topic. First and foremost, you need to filter the information and provide frequent updates to your audience.
At my trade group, we are sending out a daily email, posting social media updates, and doing a daily website post on the topic. Our staff is also hosting a series of conference calls and answering member inquiries during this challenging time.
In many cases, your lobbyist may not be able to get into Congress or a state Capitol to provide your talking points on economic relief measures or new regulations that are directly affecting your industry.
Sending staff letters on behalf of the association with key talking points can go along way in getting them to adopt substantive changes. It could be the difference from a forced shutdown of a business or the option of pickup only. It could be the difference from a new employee requirement for businesses under 500 employees or 50 employees.
Focused and open-minded.
We’re not operating in a normal government relations or advocacy environment. These negotiations are expedited, occurring at higher levels, and are best messaged by the association as a collection of ideas or suggested solutions.
You don’t want your organization to appear tone-deaf in this time of crisis. Moreover, you don’t want to outright support or oppose massive packages that’ll likely have things that your organization supports and other elements that it doesn’t.
You need to focus your efforts on the items that will affect your organization dramatically both from the positive and negative angle. Your organization should be careful not to come out too strong as to appear insensitive or personally motivated. Government and the private sector are faced with incredible challenges over the next weeks and months, your organization should present itself as a solutions-oriented entity from the very beginning.
Everything is two-tracked.
Your organization is hoping to shape policy in an expedited fashion without conventional tools. In order to do this effectively, you need to establish a two-track communications plan from the onset.
Policymakers should be hearing from your organization on your priorities and efforts that you are taking to mitigate the effects. You also need to communicate frequently to your target audience whether that is employees, advocates, or members. You may ask them to write to Congress quickly several times over the next few weeks to improve the results of the coronavirus policy.
They need to be informed and engaged. Many of these people are worried and wondering what’s going to happen next. As an advocacy professional, it’s your duty to provide accurate information, process it, and convert that into applicable actions. Approach most organization communications as two tracked with one going to the policy community and another going to your advocates.
Joshua Habursky is the Head of Federal Affairs at the Premium Cigar Association and Adjunct Professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.