Advocacy in the time of pandemic…and beyond
High level meetings, high level panels, conferences, congresses, one-to-one policy briefings: all gone.
Lobbyists’ bread and butter is being postponed, cancelled or pushed back because of the Covid-19 pandemic. There are lots of questions, but two stand out:
- How can we ensure stakeholders can exercise the fundamental right of representation when in-person meetings are not allowed?
- What are the best ways of influencing policy-makers and policy processes? Perhaps it’s time for a rethink.
Actually, the debate about the most effective ways to influence policy makers has been going on for quite some time. For example, the pre-Covid preliminary results of our study among senior trade association and corporate representatives in Brussels showed that people spend a lot of time preparing and managing events. Yet their value for achieving advocacy goals was questioned.
Even if lobbyists wouldn’t admit it now, digital used to be seen as a nice add-on to the ‘important’ activities such as events, meetings and so on.
Not any more.
Suddenly, digital is the core, or the only activity we can do. Digital solutions come with a risk, though, because it’s all too tempting to think the rules about proper planning no longer apply.
Organisations that rush with their messaging and try to launch campaigns without properly mapping stakeholders and influencers can find themselves in an echo chamber. The organisations without proper social media capacity risk seeing their messages disappear in the plethora of content.
So, preparation is crucial.
And it is an opportune time to rethink and restart engagement strategies. The following considerations can guide the process and ensure the best results.
Rethink your engagement strategy
Ensuring your digital advocacy efforts fit well with your organisational agenda requires listening and preparation. Don’t assume that just because you’re not meeting people face to face you can take shortcuts:
- Map key stakeholders and influencers: knowing who are the real influencers on an issue is paramount to success. The right identification includes looking not only at the reach and relevance, but also resonance of their content – to what extent the content is engaging the audiences. This may lead to a realisation that actually the best way to achieve the advocacy goals is to work with micro- or even nano-influencers.
- Enhance your engagement strategy: the engagement strategy has to focus on both the content and campaigns, as well as engaging the right advocates to leverage their influence. Looking at digital holistically and in line with other channels delivers the best results.
- Gain insight to the stakeholder landscape agenda: understanding the discourse and how it resonates among the external stakeholders allows you to build more robust influence strategies. It means identifying what matters to whom and how to best connect the personal agenda of individuals with advocacy goals of the organisation.
- Upskill and empower your teams: people engage with people more than with organisations. Staff and experts therefore become the most effective digital spokespeople of any organisation. They need to be trained and empowered in order to be effective. This means not only equipping them with technical skills, but more importantly with the competency around building narratives and networks.
Restart your engagement strategy
Cutting through the noise and multitude of messages is not an easy task, particularly right now when everything is about Covid-19. It requires strong narratives and a high level of creativity to engage target audiences.
- Develop new types of assets: video, gamified web experiences, visual assets are just some examples of the assets that are underused in public affairs and advocacy strategies. Looking at the influence campaigns with marketing and advertising lenses can create better user experience for the advocacy targets.
- Embark on a campaign approach: often, digital approaches are very opportunistic and driven by an internal agenda of an organisation rather than systematic approach. Now, that no longer works. Applying campaign logic and thinking about the activities around the clusters of goals drives better results and makes it easier to measure and evaluate the efforts.
- Build strong community around your cause/industry: having groups of supporters and advocates is important, especially in the time of crisis. It is a job that takes time and requires concentrated effort. The temptation might be to go fast about it. Yet, it is important to take time as it will pay off in a long run.
Ultimately, how successful we are today will determine our success tomorrow.
Managing Director / Deputy CEO, based in Geneva
Łukasz is Managing Director of International Strategy and Client Service. He is based in Geneva and leads an international team across Geneva, Brussels and London.