Considerations for Lobbying and Government Relations During COVID-19
March 25, 2020
By Kelly Memphis
The inability to have in-person meetings or attend events is anything but business as normal. As you navigate the COVID-19 crisis, here are a few tips to keep your lobbying and government relations efforts going strong from your home office, as well as some helpful resources from the Public Affairs Council.
Without the ability to gather information from in-person meetings and events, make sure you are utilizing other credible avenues of information. Subscribe to trustworthy publications and alerts. If you don’t already use a legislative tracking and analysis vendor, consider investing in one. Only take into account information that is verified.
Be sure to utilize (and support) your coalitions and stakeholders. Share relevant information as you receive it, and regularly check in to see what information and plans they can share with you. Phone and video calls are a great way to break up social isolation! Effective stakeholder engagement is more important than ever during these uncharted times.
Finally, make sure that all in the chaos you aren’t losing sight of fixed items on the calendar, such as the upcoming April 20th LD2 Filing Deadline or the fact that many legislators are still in the middle of an election year.
Focus your efforts on what’s currently on the agenda
Members of Congress and their staff are going to be overwhelmed by COVID-19 management for the foreseeable future. Don’t expect them to be focusing on niche or down-the-road issues for some time. Focus your advocacy efforts on managing how bills, nominations and other active initiatives impact your industry. If you wish to pursue amendments for current bills or sponsorships for new bills, proceed strategically. Many members of Congress have not and will not hesitate to call out specific groups, industries, or companies on social media if they feel these groups are trying to profit from this global crisis. This has also been true of K Street watchdog groups as well.
If your industry is in crisis because of COVID-19 and needs immediate action — for example, health care — try to coordinate lobbying efforts with grassroots actions. Elevating voices of constituents directly impacted by your issue is more important now than ever. This free-for-members Public Affairs Council webinar can help you learn more about how to hold Virtual Advocacy Days, and some vendors are offering free or amplified action alert services to make contacting Congress easier. Contact us for more information or resources.
Position yourself as a resource to Hill staffers — and don’t be afraid of phone calls!
While always an important part of lobbying and advocacy, setting yourself up as a helpful resource to Hill staffers is more important now than ever. Be prepared to send frequent, simple and persistent emails offering helpful information about how pending legislation or issues might impact constituencies and your industry. Consider creating easy-to-read policy papers breaking down the impact of pieces of pending legislation. Try setting up calls to provide the human interaction component. Most importantly, ask staffers how you can support them during these challenging times. Your biggest success right now might be simply creating or strengthening relationships to help you move your agenda forward later this year or even in 2021.
Invest in your internal infrastructure
Now is a good time to make sure your advocacy reach extends beyond Congress. States have been demonstrating their power throughout this COVID-19 crisis. Based on the trends of the past few years, states will also most likely take the lead on moving new legislation and regulation forward after this crisis has passed. If you don’t already have a strong state government relations program, start building one now. If you don’t have a robust PAC or grassroots program, start researching what it would take to start one (check out this free article for more info on PACs during COVID-19). Now is also a good time to benchmark your government relations programs against others and make sure you are prepared to be as effective as possible when normal activity resumes.
Manage expectations of internal stakeholders
We do not know how long this crisis will last, and it is very likely that our January 2020 playbook and goals will need to be modified. It is important to continually re-evaluate your goals and strategy, and make sure your leadership and internal stakeholders are invested in the process. Communicate frequently and speak their language; for example, put concepts in terms of business or member satisfaction. Prioritize measuring over counting, such as outlining how your lobbying efforts or actions from Congress impact your organization’s bottom line. To learn more, check out this upcoming Communicating the Value of Government Relations in Dollars and Cents workshop.
To learn more about creating issues management systems to achieve advocacy goals in times of crisis and change, check out this upcoming Issues Management Made Simple workshop.