During this unprecedented time, every person and business is facing uncertainty. This has made it even more important to work with all levels of government to respond to this crisis. With important social distancing still in place, however, it has been hard to navigate the best way to do this. Over the last few weeks, the team at Ridge Policy Group has learned how to continue to be successful for our partners despite the current circumstances.
Pick Up the Phone!
We can’t take meetings with legislators in person, which is often a key component of our and other advocacy groups’ strategy to educate legislators and their staffs. Even when we are able to get back to the office, it is likely that capitol buildings will remain closed for longer.
Person to person outreach is not impossible, however. Members of Congress and their staffs are easily reachable through phone and video calls.
For example, we have had strategic conversations with multiple members of Congress and their teams. This has been on a myriad of issues, including how to support individuals with disabilities and to ensure that startups are not forgotten during this time. All of these conversations happened through phone calls.
As we all adapt to this new way of communication, this tip may seem like a no-brainer. However, we have been surprised by the number of government relations professionals who have relied solely on email during this time. While email is certainly an essential means of advocacy, phone calls allow for a personal touch that is welcome today.
Continue Grassroots Advocacy
Phone calls can be even better when they are between constituents and their members of Congress. Now more than ever, legislators need to know what is happening in their district and state. As grassroots members can clearly articulate how COVID-19 is affecting their health, business, and livelihoods, it is important for grassroots advocates to be engaged.
Traditionally, we would spend weeks or even months planning a day on the Hill for individuals to meet with their members of Congress. Today, we can easily coordinate grassroots calls to help connect constituents with their legislators, ensuring that Congress acts in a way that best helps the people they serve.
In addition to connecting constituents and legislators, government relations professionals rely on other types of advocacy to ultimately influence policy. This includes group events, such as Congressional briefings and forums. While these activities can’t occur as is, we are lucky to live in a world with a myriad of webinar platforms. Webinars can be a way to provide informational background to Congressional staff or grassroots memberships despite the current circumstances.
According to a study by Christian Ebner and Andreas Gegenfurtner, webinars have the same impact as face to face instruction. In my experience, webinars can be even better, because individuals can refer back to them as needed and watch them on their own time.
Amp Up Your Social Media Game
In addition to webinars, social media platforms can be used for advocacy. More people are on social media during this time. In fact, WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram saw a 40 percent mid-March usage increase as direct a result of the coronavirus.
Social media is an important public affairs and government relations tool. It can be used to get the message out to your grassroots members to encourage them to contact their legislators. It can be used to garner even more support for the important issues you advocate for. It can also be used to contact members of Congress directly through social media posts targeted towards them.
Focus on COVID-19 Related Priorities
Right now, Congress is, rightfully so, primarily focused on responding to the health and economic consequences of COVID-19. Because of this, some longer-term priorities have taken a back seat. It is important to focus your advocacy priorities on items that are related to COVID-19.
Almost every aspect of life has been impacted by this pandemic, so it is likely not difficult to make the case that your priorities need support from all levels of government. While legislators are thinking about the people dying and the increased reported case, you can help to connect the dots so that they understand the specific challenges you are facing.
At the same time, some issues, while incredibly important, are not directly impacted by COVID-19. It is important to be respectful of legislators and Administration officials’ times and focus on the impacts of this virus for now. However, now is a great time to rethink the long-term issues you have been working on and determine if a new strategy is appropriate once this crisis is over.
Be Kind and Patient
Finally, we must remember the human impact of this pandemic. Be patient with legislators and their teams, as we don’t know their entire story. They may be self-quarantined for 14 days, have children at home, or have family members with COVID-19. They are likely hearing from hundreds of constituents affected by this virus.
Allow for longer response times. Offer a helping hand as appropriate. Try to grant the understanding you’d ask for yourself during this time to them.
It is no doubt that our lives are different now. In this new normal, it may be difficult to adjust. Now more than ever, your voice is needed to help legislators understand how you have been affected by the outbreak.
I am grateful for the leadership of Ridge Policy Group to keep our team safe while also offering the best service to our clients. While we have changed the way we communicate, I am confident in our ability to continue influencing policy in a way that helps us overcome the challenges we face today.
This post was written for RPG by Zaida Ricker, who manages about half of the company‘s federal clients.