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Communications During a Pandemic

In just a few weeks, the global COVID-19 pandemic has had immeasurable impacts on our collective health, the economy and communications. Social distancing meant to flatten the curve of infections has led to across-the-board cancellations and postponements of in-person meetings and events that communicators and advocates rely on heavily. The pandemic has also spurred wholesale remote work environments and a refresh of planned message platforms on all communications channels.

The future scope and length of the crisis is uncertain, forcing us all to be flexible, patient and innovative in conducting and meeting our communications and advocacy goals.

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I have been consulting with my colleagues in the grassroots, government relations and public affairs space to compare notes and see what works best for our clients and organizations. I also recorded a podcast for West Virginia University Marketing Communications Today on “The New Normal: Virtual Advocacy Communications in the Midst of a Pandemic.”

We are all in this together and, from what I have seen these past several weeks, we are more collaborative than ever as we help create the “new normal.”

Fortunately, there are existing technologies, vendors and case studies for us to utilize to effectively advocate.

I am working remotely from my home office and using our agency’s shared drive for documents, collaboration and technology like Zoom, Skype, GoToMeeting and Google Docs to maintain the still-steady work flow. I have no commute and no fashion pressure. That provides more time to focus, write and be more strategic…and to learn some new communications techniques.

As you and your organization seek to transition to virtual advocacy communications, we wanted to share some advice on strategies you may want to employ:

  • Keep it simple. Phone calls, emails and tweets directed to lawmakers remain effective lines for communication. These messages help lawmakers and their staffs learn more about constituent priorities and take them into account for policy making. Phone calls can be directed to lawmakers’ in-district or Capitol offices during normal business hours, while constituents can send emails and tweets at any time. You can also attach a letter, petition, infographic, photos or fact sheet to your emails and social media posts.
  • In recent weeks, more lawmakers and their staff have turned to teleconference platforms, such as Zoom, Skype and Google Hangout, to meet with constituent stakeholders. Schedule a teleconference as you would an in-person meeting. Some offices may prefer using their own teleconference platforms, while others may defer to yours.
  • Recreate the fly-in experience—virtually. Instead of an in-person fly-in, consider a virtual fly-In event to educate, train and activate your participants from wherever they are. Start by conducting a webinar for your participants, during which you educate them on the policy issues and train them on how to authentically convey messages to elected officials. Schedule teleconference meetings for your participants to connect with their lawmakers. When teleconferencing is not an option, or to complement those meetings, encourage participants to leverage video tools, such as Countable and Storyvine, to record their advocacy message and share it with lawmakers. These videos also can be repurposed on social media. The National Association of Community Health Centers recently held a “day of unity” call-in/email campaign promoting its legislative call to action. This was a virtual way of leveraging its members and leaders to advocate after its annual Washington, D.C., fly-in had to be postponed.
  • Facebook Live sessions are well received and offer connectivity and interaction. A healthcare client of ours just held two sessions on March 22 and 25, taking questions on the coronavirus. We had 350 people participate in each session, and the questions and collaboration were outstanding.
  • Multiple vendors offer telephone town hall meetings that are a way to educate your grassroots advocates or hold an open forum for a controlled conversation that can be as interactive as you want it to be.
  • Use of coalitions and congressional caucuses (new or already formed) can offer a ready-made bipartisan group of supporters.  Working together with other like-minded groups is powerful. Finding third-party validators to share your messages and call to action is also critical to success.
  • I saw the effectiveness of a well-organized ThunderClap that was waged by an entire coalition to gain more co-sponsors for a palliative care bill.  The advance work to research and share all the congressional Twitter handles and use the same hashtag paid dividends, as this coalition gained new sponsors on the pending legislation.
  • Elected officials and their staff appreciate local, state and national information in one place. Building an interactive map of states or regions like the one on provides instant information and comparisons.

While traditional communications may return soon, they will be augmented by the valuable lessons we learn during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Written by Mike Fulton, Director of Public Affairs & Advocacy, Asher Agency

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