We have previously outlined the importance of engaging with Ministers as part of any advocacy initiative and how to get the most out of your written correspondence and briefs. We’ve also highlighted the need to engage early as part in budget processes. This advice has always been based on business as usual situations. When government is in crisis advocacy campaigns must respond. There are five key changes you should make to your campaign activity:
1. Target your efforts
Those in senior leadership positions and their offices will be focused on resolving the current crisis. Attempts to engage on anything that is not the same level of urgency or priority from a community perspective will at best be ignored, and at worst, demonstrate a lack of awareness of government needs. This also applies to public perceptions of your campaign, so if you are currently running a public campaign, now is the time to tone down your efforts and pause use of public profile aspects such as the use of hashtags.
But that doesn’t mean your efforts should stop. Instead, consider other stakeholders who may have more availability as other services as suspended as well as your local members and other representatives and advocates. Engagement doesn’t always have to be face to face and calls and information distribution can be effective for maintaining relationships.
If you are facing a critical challenge that requires government engagement to continue, now is the time to leverage your best developed relationships with those further away from the centre and mutual trust to progress these outcomes.
2. Use the time to prepare
Once the crisis is resolved, government stakeholders will be looking to get things back on track as quickly as possible and be open to practical and reasonable solutions that align with their own need to ‘catch-up’. Assess government areas of focus that align with your project or business and develop clear policy budget proposals to support this. Test these with your broader stakeholder groups including considering one or two alternatives that may be suitable to present. You can bypass a lot of the relationship building process by demonstrating that you have taken the time and effort to align to and consider stakeholders needs.
3. Communicate strategies to retain staff
Jobs are always a key priority of government and while organisations often invest heavily in strategies to retain staff, they often forget to communicate this to government. This communication is critical to demonstrate ongoing partnership with government, and to support ongoing relationships. It shows that you understand their needs and also gives them relief that you are not part of a broader problem that they are trying to solve. Developing and communicating your pathways to retain existing jobs through crisis periods takes pressure off broader government activities in recovery and demonstrates that you are committed to broader community outcomes and the welfare/needs of your employees. Public commitments to retaining staff numbers provides certainty for your staff as well as for government.
4. Provide an update
Track key statistics or other organisation impacts, as well as your own measures to address crisis and timelines throughout the crisis period and begin to prepare a brief as the crisis resolves. In the early stages of crisis recovery, as governments move from the immediate crisis to a restoration phase, they will seek information about where impacts have been felt so that they can prepare to respond. Prepare a clear, concise and evidence-based assessment of the crisis impact on your industry or organisation. Ensure this is focused solely on crisis impact, rather than your broader advocacy or other objectives. This should be your first point of reengagement with senior leadership as the crisis calms.
5. Upskill, develop capacity and prepare for the future
With a less active government engagement process running, there are opportunities to upskill new team members and the broader organisation, particularly in terms of the role and impact of government engagement activities, the need for the whole organisation to contribute to outcomes and for a reassessment of future needs and drivers. This can include aspects of professional development, a review of your current systems or broader staff communications. It is also a key time to assess your response to crisis, your ability to predict and prepare and areas where you can improve your response in the future.
Catriona McNaughton is Manager - Communications at FPL Advisory.
FPL Advisory is a team of specialists resolving risks and creating opportunities with respect to government. We work with public sector and corporate clients to execute strategies for owning and managing change