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5 Ways Public Affairs Has Changed. Possibly Forever

by Ann Dermody, FiscalNote

For those focused on the impact of policy the "new normal" is more than just working remotely.

There’s hardly a profession out there that hasn’t experienced some alteration in how they conduct their day-to-day work, but for public and government affairs folks, that change has been particularly pronounced.

For a job that depended on much face-to-face interaction, and knew for the most part the policy issues to work and advocate on from one year to the next, everything has been thrown into turmoil.

The term the “new normal” gets bandied about for just about everyone these days, but for those focused on the impact of policy and regulations it’s more than just coming to terms with working remotely.

The entire way you conduct your business with lawmakers, members, supporters and donors has changed.

The good news? Some of it’s for the better.

1. Your Job is Suddenly Essential to Your Organization’s Survival

Arguably it always was, but we often heard grumblings that some government relations departments have a hard time getting their work recognized as indispensable or that they struggle to show upwards how their ROI hits the bottom line. Well, that was before COVID-19. Suddenly, your organization depends on your doing your job well. Whether that’s to secure funding through the CARES Act, to tap into emergency grants or loan payment coverage, or through the Payment Protection Program, or to find creative ways to get your issues worked into developing legislation, your work is suddenly very much center stage.

Clients have noticed. Members have noticed. And maybe most important of all for your career the C-Suite, board or leadership team at your organization has noticed.

Bottom line: You’ve got a seat at the table and now need to focus on keeping it.

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2. Your Tech Stack is Now Your Lifeline

Your what? Chances are two months ago terminology about the combinations of software required to do your job would have meant little.

But then, just a few weeks ago none of us was fluent in the applications organizations needed to keep remote offices running.

For government and public affairs pros, technology that lets them do their jobs effectively, efficiently and virtually (and that talks to each other) is fundamental.

Missing something important in a bill or markup, was always important. Now it’s crucial. Plus as legislation and directives move away from the federal government it has to be done across multiple jurisdictions from globally to state and local (see #3 below).

You tech needs include everything from the right policy news and analysis to tracking tools, contact software to get those important virtual meetings, doing digital advocacy, and managing workflow and stakeholders.

Bottom line: Not missing a beat was always important. Now it’s crucial.

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3. State and Local Government Is Rising. And You Need to Watch it

Three months ago how many governors could you honestly name? Or mayors of even the biggest cities?

Chances are outside of the ones where you had to monitor statehouse action or local legislation, it was a pretty small number.

That’s all changed. As COVID-19 policies got swept down to the states, their leadership’s profiles, and arguably power, has risen inordinately. They won’t be trading that leverage back anytime soon.

That means more work for you in terms of monitoring what’s happening. And not just in policy, but in the general public sentiment that influences state and local politics, so you can access impact and find opportunities for your organization.

Bottom line: State governors won’t give up their newfound stage easily. Expect to hear more from them, more often.

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4. Building Relationships with Lawmakers Needs a New Approach

Depending on the sort of policy lobbying or advocacy work you do, chances are a lot of your time was spent building relationships through face-to-face meetings and events?

That’s all out the window for who knows how long now.

That makes it somewhat trickier to establish new relationships with lawmakers or staffers you didn’t already know. But, it’s also potentially deepened your dealings with those you did have face time with before all this.

The good news is lawmakers are still open for business and listening to their constituents, so with a good tool to help you find those meetings like Knowlegis, you can still get in front of them, even if it’s virtually.

Managing stakeholders and how they’re connected is becoming more important than ever. Government relations’ folks who work in corporate or trade associations are telling us that “member and client relations” has become a core part of their job function now as they scramble to find who their grasstops know, to help move the needle on issues.

Bottom Line: Lawmakers are still open for virtual business and eager to listen to constituents in an election year.


5. There’s Still Opportunity. If You Know Where to Look

While there’s not much legislation passing related to anything other than the pandemic right now, it doesn’t mean you can’t work on the issues that matter most to your organization.

When large sweeping bills and executive orders are created they still offer opportunities for leverage. Several organizations have already worked hard to get “carveouts” to regulations, or provisions to help their cause.

Others are tapping into the fact that they can’t hold events and fundraisers in person and are doing it virtually on a scaled down version. For some that has meant putting 15 or 20 members in front of a member of Congress for a generous contribution each.

Others are targeting specific districts to hold virtual Townhalls or webinars with state and federal lawmakers, elevating themselves as the central thought leader by hosting.

Several organizations we’ve talked to have established themselves as the “go to” resource on all things related to their industry and the pandemic, effectively making themselves an essential service, sure to be remembered come renewal time.

Bottom Line: Everything is up for reimagining. Don’t get left behind.

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