Everything has changed.
While governments at all levels work overtime to protect citizens from the spread of COVID-19 and its resulting economic shock, companies and organizations who require key decision-makers to engage with them are facing profound new realities.
Crucial meetings scheduled weeks in advance have been cancelled, policy priorities have radically shifted, and the tone of political dialogue has changed overnight.
Government is now operating at the closest thing to a war-time footing that most of us have ever seen, and that means proponents need to make three significant pivots in their public affairs strategy to be successful in the new era.
1. Re-align your efforts with new public priorities.
Unless you align your efforts with government’s immediate priorities, don’t be surprised if you find yourself at the end of the queue.
If you can offer “shovel in the ground” solutions, you are much more likely to get a hearing.
Projects or regulatory changes that would normally take years to get off the ground could now take months or even weeks.
Proposals related to health care, economic stimulation, direct job creation and infrastructure development, will make the top of the list.
2. Become hyper-aware of your tone, and how decision-makers and the public will hear you in the context of this crisis.
Online communications is more important than ever, but now is not necessarily the time to “shout from the rooftops.”
Stay on top of current sentiment and be nimble: with news changing rapidly, keep reframing your understanding of what’s happening to make sure that your message remains relevant and aligned.
The next few weeks are not the time for “self-promotion,” and if you have immediate plans for “negative campaigning” (ie. blasting governments) you may want to put them on pause, or, at minimum, ensure that you aren’t providing ammunition to your competitors or opponents.
It’s been very interesting to see our politicians’ change in tone across the country and across the spectrum.
For the most part, it’s refreshingly constructive, positive and respectful.
Ontario Conservative Premier Doug Ford is praising Justin Trudeau.
BC Opposition Leader Andrew Wilkinson is working constructively with Premier Horgan and health minister Adrian Dix.
The Conservative Party of Canada and its leadership candidates are struggling to find the right balance to satisfy the expectations of its on-line “red-meat” crowd — who have been driving the dialogue so far — with the broader Conservative movement that has much more respect for law-and-order. Even their outgoing leader has been calling for a different approach.
The public clearly isn’t interested in nasty polarized politics, at least for the time being.
3. Improve your digital footprint, now.
The ever-crucial “in-person” meetings with key decision-makers have all been canceled.
Even our Prime Minister is working from home.
At many homes right now, Zoom conference calls are competing with NetFlix and video games. Everyone is glued to a screen, even more than ever before.
It’s clearly time to sharpen your digital footprint.
Social media’s critical role in shaping our public conversation is intensifying and the power of digital storytelling is now stronger than ever.
Lobbyists must all now become better digital advocates, which is a difficult transition for many of them. Making up for lost in-person contact will be important.
Those with pre-established relationships with the decision-makers are definitely in a better position than those without, but everyone can benefit from a well-planned re-tooled digital strategy.
Think especially about how policymakers will receive your content in this new context.
Some may be only active on Twitter or LinkedIn. Others may log on periodically to check on their email and or make conference calls or scroll through their news outlets of choice. The rest of them will be checking their Facebook and Instagram like everyone else.
Put extra effort into humanizing your digital content by giving a platform to those whose lives are at stake, and are being impacted by the current crisis.
Anchor everything that you say with an appeal to shared values.
Recognize that everyone is doing the best they can in challenging circumstances.
This crisis will reset even more than we can imagine.
But most of all, please STAY SAFE!