State Lobbying in a Time of COVID-19: 5 Core Principles

21 Apr, 2020

State Lobbying in a Time of COVID-19:
5 Core Principles

April 21, 2020

By Kelly Memphis

While our day-to-day work has changed in response to COVID-19, the importance of core best practices for effective state lobbying have not. Below find five tips for success for keeping the advocacy wheels moving during quarantine.

Core Principle 1: Define Your Value Proposition

This is essential during COVID-19 as our economy and population are in crisis. Clarity about why your organization should get a seat at the table and working with the opportunities available will help you remain a relevant part of the conversation.  This may mean prioritizing alternative or second-tier policy goals.

How to Adapt: Answer these questions:

  • Why is addressing our industry’s needs critical during this crisis?
  • How is our industry or organization a part of the solution?
  • What specific policy change would allow us to make a meaningful contribution to COVID-19 recovery efforts, as well as benefit our industry down the road? (Know your ask!)

Getting it Done: The American College of Cardiology has focused much of its lobbying efforts on expanding telehealth regulation and reimbursement, which has the dual benefit of safeguarding both patients and providers, as well as clearing the way for more effective health care delivery after the crisis.

Bonus Tip: Don’t underestimate the importance of working within coalitions right now.

Core Principle 2: Give Back

Social responsibility programs and public policy advocacy goals are bedrock to any government relations strategy — and rise to the forefront during times of crisis. If possible, taking dollar or advocacy losses now to give back to local communities is not only socially responsible, but can build good will with state policymakers and the public. This good will is key for propelling the policy asks your industry needs to remain strong in the short term, and for achieving longer-term policy wins down the road.

How to Adapt: Answer these questions:

  • What COVID-19 fallout within a state or municipality is most relevant to our industry?
  • Do we have any special expertise, logistical capabilities, or existing charitable work that can be repurposed to aid the COVID-19 crisis response?
  • How can we share with the public and policymakers our contributions to the community? Can we utilize local media, social media or other forums to make sure our work is seen by relevant audiences? (If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it even make a sound)?

Getting it Done: One example is DoorDash Drive, a social impact service by DoorDash, which is providing at-cost or subsidized food deliveries from organizations that are feeding in-need communities, such as the elderly or students missing school-provided meals. This is a valuable service that also helps demonstrate their drivers are part of the essential workforce. Another example – GAP is making face masks and scrubs for healthcare workers, meeting a huge need while also demonstrating the value of the manufacturing industry.

Bonus Tip: Have a PAC? Consider adding a PAC charitable match program that donates to relief efforts.

Core Principle 3: Know the Rules

Navigating the unique procedures of each state — not to mention the federal-state-local authority breakdown — is complicated work on a regular day. Right now, this information is even more complex and vital. Some states have changed the rules and others have adopted creative approaches to move issues forward while social distancing. Interest has also grown in federal regulation changes that will allow states to address aspects of this crisis more freely. Be aware of what is on the table in your state.

How to Adapt: Before taking action in a state, create a list of questions to answer. Such as:

  • Does the authority to address my issue now reside at the federal, state or local level?
  • Are there stay-at-home orders in my state, and how do they impact my industry?
  • Are in-person hearings, meetings or physical signatures required for my legislative ask to move forward? Are there exceptions for virtual meetings or electronic signatures?

Getting it Done: State lobbyists are staying in the loop through calls and texts, but say the legislative process has become a lot less transparent.  Another example – states across the country are acting to address open meeting laws that could inhibit remote or electronic participation of public meetings.

Bonus Tip: Don’t forget that while there have been some changes, lobbying compliance rules still apply! 

Core Principle 4: Communicate Effectively

Policymakers are in crisis management mode, making it challenging to break through the noise. You’ll need to balance efficient communication with relationship-building. Be more personable during informal communications, and during formal communications, focus on your most critical objective: making a clear and relevant ask. Be prepared to over-communicate, and pay painstaking attention to tone – without face-to-face, misinterpretations can happen easily.

How to Adapt: Answer these questions:

  • Is my ask clear in what, why and how we want policymakers to act and have we communicated our message across as many forums as possible?
  • Could we create a state or local impact policy document to clearly and succinctly demonstrate why our ask matters?
  • Can we pair our ask with a virtual component via email or a video call?

Getting it Done: The American Hospitality and Lodging Association has made an easy to navigate state-by-state impact of COVID tool that is useful for members and legislators.

Bonus Tip: Measuring success may look different this year. Helping internal stakeholders (such as members, customers, or employees) navigate COVID-19 policies and impact provides value even if advocacy goals stall.

Core Principle 5: Invest in Multiple Advocacy Avenues

Ensuring your lobbying efforts are supported by a well-rounded government relations program is always an important goal in any year, but especially now. This includes developing the expertise and relationships to engage in regulatory advocacy with state or federal agencies.

Perhaps most important in this current environment is a strong grassroots advocacy function. Elevating the voices of constituents directly impacted by your issue is key to showing how important it is, especially during social distancing. Using this time to create a strong digital grassroots advocacy function and a grassroots advocate base will also help elevate your message with newly elected officials in 2021 and beyond.

How to Adapt: Answer these questions:

Getting it Done:  With the “Rise of Digital Advocacy,” public affairs teams take center stage.

Bonus Tip: One way to grow your grassroots advocate base is executing a Get Out the Vote program.

While 2020 may look different than other years, the valuable role state government relations plays in the mission of any organization is more vital than ever. With creativity, patience, and an appreciation for the relationship-building core of lobbying, you can demonstrate your value and move your advocacy work forward in 2020 and beyond.

To learn how to demonstrate the value of SGR, sign up for this Public Affairs Council virtual workshop