After a Year of Remote, the Future of Advocacy Is Hybrid

driskell_after_a_year_of_remote_the_future_of_advocacy_is_hybrid June 28, 2021 By: Quardricos Driskell

The pandemic forced advocacy and political dealings to move from the in-person “room where it happens” to the online “Zoom where it happens.” As the pandemic subsides, government relations professionals are predicting a hybrid future for advocacy efforts.

So much of what government relations professionals do is about being in the room. Savvy lobbyists know how to schedule meetings armed with ample data about issues to advance or prevent bills from being propagated. We also know how to get preferred language included in a bill or regulation, get the government to provide additional funding for priority programs and activities, and ultimately pass legislation.

However, for more than a year, we have not been in the room. The pandemic put new meaning on the phrase popularized by Hamilton, “The room where it happens.” With some normalcy returning as localities reopen, a critical question for association GR professionals is how and when to include digital technology as part of a long-term advocacy strategy? Essentially, how can an association executive effectively implement a hybrid model of advocacy?

The Zoom Era of Advocacy

Tommy Goodwin, vice president of government affairs for the Exhibitions and Conferences Alliance, noted that most of us have become comfortable with remote work, including Capitol Hill staffers and state lawmakers. “Certain offices have staffers in the offices full-time, other staffers come in a few times a week, and some offices are still working remotely,” Goodwin said. “So how do government relations professionals contend with these undetermined and potential dynamics? How do lobbyists and associations know and navigate the new normal? How do we put the genie back in the bottle?”

In these new virtual environments, it is imperative for associations and their GR staff to leverage, lend, and depend on existing and new strategies.

According to a recent survey of government affairs professionals, videoconferencing for lobbying will become commonplace. Two-thirds (66 percent) of government affairs executives say their team can do their entire jobs well while working remotely, and 60 percent believe that it will remain difficult to meet with federal policymakers in person even after the pandemic is over.

Additionally, members of Congress who used to have teleconferences now have Zoom townhalls. And some advocacy teams in western states plan to web-in rather than fly-in.

The Hybrid Approach

While advocacy at the national level will rely heavily on video conferencing, in-person meetings are already returning in some states. This signifies that while traditional, in-person lobbying isn’t going away, associations need to increase their digital advocacy, including their online grassroots campaigns, issue advocacy via social media, and social media advocacy messaging.

In these new virtual environments, it is imperative for associations and their GR staff to leverage, lend, and depend on existing and new strategies. Associations will have to determine what aspects work best, as certain fights call for different tactics. For example, fly-ins work well in raising awareness and demonstrating ongoing or potential harm. However, they are less effective at securing positive legislative change, which is best achieved through a comprehensive pressure strategy that includes direct lobbying, PACs, and so forth.

Here are some considerations for the successful implementation of a hybrid government advocacy model:

  • What conditions and resources will require pivoting from online grassroots campaigning to online grasstops advocacy?
  • Consider a soft strategic plan for government relations that includes a hybrid strategic model within your larger strategic GR plan.
  • Utilize the power of launching or joining a coalition to combine digital and traditional advocacy.
  • How and when will you scale back on fly-ins/advocacy days in favor of more focused or targeted advocacy meetings inviting only key leaders, volunteers, board members, etc. to fly out to Washington, DC, while others Zoom-in?
  • How and when will you mobilize advocates for the hybrid model?
  • How will you train advocates who will consistently use the virtual tools?
  • What conditions will lend themselves to a full, in-person advocacy day in certain states, and which will lead you to conduct a hybrid model for advocacy days?
  • Will you encourage key PAC donors to continue to host Zoom fundraisers?
  • How will you determine which candidates prefer virtual versus in-person fundraisers, and how will this be communicated to your contributors?
  • When you conduct Zoom meetings with legislative staffers, how will you follow up with them?
  • What questions are you and your team asking of each other, your board, and the legislative staff and lawmakers you work with as you implement hybrid advocacy?
  • What does success look like?

We know the pandemic had a profound impact on legislative agendas. But I portend the effects of this public health crisis will continue. Thus, good advocates recognize there are many tools in their advocacy toolbox, including digital and virtual platforms. Using those tools with ease and at the right time with the right legislators is a sign of successful implementation.

Quardricos Driskell

Quardricos Driskell is legislative and political affairs manager at the American Urological Association in Linthicum, Maryland, and a member of ASAE’s Government Relations and Advocacy Professionals Advisory Council.