Time to take….the advocacy road less traveled

By Chip Felkel

Trust that this note finds you and yours safe and well.

For a lot of groups tasked with advocacy right now there is a bit of a “deer in the headlights” thing going on in terms of what to do. I mean how can you push your issues when Congress isn’t meeting, staffs are working from home and states have varying degrees of social distancing restrictions?  Thirty years as an advocacy professional tells me that there is always opportunity during crisis, you just must think a little differently than perhaps you are accustomed. And recognize the groundwork you put in, despite the challenge, will go a long way in terms of your effectiveness when we see a more normal environment.

Personal Growth. First, let’s talk about you. It is time to shine. It’s time to show your value.  We are all a little frazzled but the advocacy professionals who accept this challenge, and find a way, will be better positioned going forward and are going to be recognized.

Unique Access. Six-foot distancing aside, we don’t know how long this is really going to last and while it is true that state legislatures and Congress are not meeting, it is also true that those very same members and their staffs are spending more time than ever in district. They are interacting more with constituents than they normally do. They are seeing and hearing from people they know, rekindling relationships, listening to people they view as authentic and credible messengers. Some of those people are your stakeholders and you need to be leveraging them, now. They can play a key role in helping your lobby team during this crisis.

Keeping things simple. The recent stimulus legislation provides funding but leaves a great deal to interpretation. There are the spending packages and then there are existing regulations that may be creating confusion.  The best way to explain those contradictions and challenges is to engage a stakeholder with direct, personal knowledge and impact. And the best chance of them being heard, is if they already have an existing relationship with the Member.

Analytics, Emails vs REAL Relationships. You are not the only one who needs help. Yours is not the only industry taking a beating. And you aren’t the only one using digital advocacy, emails and social media post. But to what end? Email blitzes are always a shot in the dark. And while, some groups are touting hundreds of thousands of emails being sent to the Hill as an effective advocacy effort, they fail to include a key point: There is no one there to receive them.  Can you afford that right now? As far as depending on analytics on who might support what, it is best suited when there isn’t a world pandemic and economic crash.  You need access and impact. And the best way to get those is using relationships that lead to dialogue, understanding and results.

Think (And act) Out of the Box. Your advocacy program might be dependent on a good lobby shop and monthly email alerts to fire up the troops. And maybe that has worked well for you in the past. But this is a new ballgame. You have got to be more creative, aggressive and proactive if you and your organization is going to weather this storm. In other words, try new things. Educate your members more. Offer insights on coping with the overall challenges of the pandemic, personally and professionally. And get your arms around who your people know, you are going need it.

Timing.  Your stakeholders want to help you, help them, save their jobs. If you are willing to take the (advocacy) road less traveled, it is a great time to find out which policymakers they know, how well and how they are willing to engage on behalf of the organization. There are less distractions and responsibilities, and everyone internally should be on board because this isn’t business as usual.

Reality Check. This crisis is not the time to play it safe or rely on click and pray advocacy. You probably will do some of that but it’s not the time to sit back and hope someone hits send, unless you are just so comfortable in your job, so confident that you aren’t expendable that you don’t feel the need to do more. Your organization has untapped advocacy potential simply waiting to be unleashed.  One path will make you yet another voice among thousands and the other will allow you rise above the noise.  So, which path will you take?

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