I just checked my state senator’s website. As expected, there was a popup proclaiming that the senator’s office would be closed for constituent visits. Constituent concerns would be discussed by phone.
I then checked in with my US Senator’s office. Same thing. All staff are working remotely.
How Long Will This Last?
No one knows, of course, but the longer it lasts the longer the effects linger. People adjust to the new reality and eventually the new replaces the old.
Years ago, my lobbying was almost exclusively face-to-face. The relationships I had forged were built on personal conversations, occasional lunches, sharing stories and experiences. Phone calls and emails conveyed information but it was the personal contact that built relationships.
Over time, the personal gave way to the electronic. Legislative and agency staff preferred email over personal visits as their issue portfolios expanded from a couple issues to dozens. My relationships greased the way for personal meetings when my boss was in town, but information and requests were handled by email and phone conversations.
Now, there is little immediate opportunity for the personal relationship building face-to-face, so we have to use different tools to get the same results.
Digital Advocacy to the Rescue
I wasn’t the only lobbyist using email and phone calls. Legislative assistants and policy chiefs have overloaded inboxes and constantly overflowing voicemail boxes. If you don’t already have the personal relationship your chance of getting a response is pretty slim.
So, if you’re in the unenviable position of needing to persuade policymakers with whom you have no personal relationship, and you are unable to get a face-to-face meeting, how can you break through?
In this case, the tools and methods are less important than the strategy and content.
Digital tools like email, websites, blog posts, social media, video and the associated disciplines, such as search-engine optimization and lead generation are nearly free. The ability to marshal these tools to achieve your advocacy objective is a rare set of skills that will determine your success.
What Policymakers Care About
What do policymakers care about most?
If you’re a legislator, you care most about your constituents. If you’re work at a state or federal agency you care most about your constituents. For the legislator, the constituent is the person they represent. For an agency policymaker, your constituent is the group of people your agency serves.
Try this experiment. It’s now May, 2020. Do an Internet search for your state senator, state representative, congressman and US Senator. I can assure you that the homepage of each of these legislators will be devoted to COVID-19.
Go to CMS.gov and HHS.gov and take a look at the homepage. Again, the copy will be devoted to COVID-19. Try a non-health related agency (e.g, Federal Aviation Administration), and check out their homepage. Again, COVID-19 will dominate the first section of the homepage.
Why? Because in May 2020 the country is focused on this virus and its impact on its physical and economic health.
Success in advocacy depends on helping policymakers serve their constituents. Unless your company is among the largest employers in the state or congressional district, legislators don’t really care about whether your company succeeds or fails. They care about how your success or failure affects their constituents.
The folks at CMS who run Medicare and Medicaid do not care about your business (and many of them will tell you this). They care about how the programs for which they have responsibility serve the constituents that rely on these programs.
Breaking through the morass of advocacy noise begins with the mindset of helping policymakers serve their constituents. Make a sign and post this next to your computer monitor: “It’s not about me, it’s about the constituent”.
If your advocacy is focused on this, you have a good chance to succeed