Nine weeks into the COVID 19 pandemic, most advocacy and government relations professionals are working remotely and living on a constant diet of Zoom meetings and conference calls.
Corporate government affairs shops, trade association staff and nonprofit leaders are busier than ever rewriting plans or budgets, and charting a course through the “new normal.” No matter the mission of an organization, there is truly no playbook for this environment.
But there is a lesson to be taken from political campaigns, which exist in almost constant uncertainty: plan first for what you know is going to happen.
Build your 180 day advocacy game plan. Watch our InSESSION mini webinar featuring Dan Ekstein, partner and CBDO at Sagac Public Affairs, and Erik Rosedahl, head of alliances at Phone2Action to learn how
Here’s What We Know
What do we know is certain? What are the facts? As we discussed with Dan Ekstein, a partner at Sagac Public Affairs, at a recent Phone2Action InSESSION mini webinar, there’s actually quite a bit to draw upon. Here are some examples:
- There will be an election. The election will decide whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden leads America’s economic recovery following the pandemic. It will also decide which party controls the House and the Senate, as well as governorships and state legislatures nationwide.
- Voting Will Be Different. Social distancing requirements are making it hard for states to conduct traditional voting, which means that many states are shifting to vote-by-mail. Voters—meaning your audience—will need information. The change will also alter traditional turnout models, meaning the 2020 election will send everyone back to school on how U.S. voters behave in a post-pandemic world.
- Lobbying Has Changed. Access to our elected officials will be limited for the near future. For now, traditional “shoe leather,” in-person lobbying is limited to video and calls. It has not stopped, or even slowed. But professionals will not be able to “stop by” legislative offices in Washington or state capitals like they once did. And for some organizations, that’s a major change.
- Advocates Are Getting More Active. We know that citizens are advocating more than ever, increasing their digital interaction with elected officials at all levels. For a period during the vote in Congress on the CARES act, an advocate was sending an email, making a call, or Tweeting on the Phone2Action platform every two seconds, according to Phone2Action’s State of Advocacy data. Working from home and worried about the pandemic, many people are channeling their energy into advocacy as something they can do to make a difference.
Lean In on Digital—Now
What can you do with these facts? The plan at every organization will be different. But there is one strategy that belongs in every playbook: now is the time to invest in digital engagement. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to suggest that organizations should be doubling their current efforts.
There’s plenty of data to make the case. In a very real way, the health crisis has launched an advocacy boom. Every week, we are seeing more organizations shift to focus on their digital advocacy programs. Since mid-March there has been a historic level of outreach, with companies, associations and nonprofits targeting every level of government, from the White House to the local Mayor’s office.
For example, between March 17 and 24 (the week leading up to passage of the CARES Act vote), organizations launched roughly 1,000 campaigns, according to Phone2Action’s State of Advocacy data. Those campaigns activated more than 1 million people—many of them new to advocacy—who sent almost 2.4 million advocacy messages to Congress and elected officials, according to Phone2Action data.
The campaign action continued in the weeks afterward—and it will keep coming because, as we discussed with Ekstein, there is much ahead this year and well into 2021. For example:
- There’s a massive federal election.
- There’s the COVID response, both state and federal (and don’t forget the oversight and investigation sure to come).
- There are new policy debates over everything from consumer protection and drug prices to healthcare privacy and oil prices.
- There are state legislative sessions beginning next year.
- There will be turnaround associated with the start of a new administration, no matter who wins the presidency.
Ekstein’s primary point was a good one: now is the time for organizations to retool and focus on digital advocacy. We all agree that traditional lobbying is important. But the facts tell us that digital is the best tool for the job right now.
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