Last Friday, the Scottish Government put out a paper considering options for an eventual relaxing of the nation’s lockdown restrictions. At that day’s daily press conference, Nicola Sturgeon acknowledged what has become increasingly obvious, that without a vaccine or treatment for Covid-19, a return to normal life won’t happen anytime soon. Instead, a new normal of remote working and social distancing is going to be the order of the day for some time to come. Similar noises are now coming from UK ministers in London.
The initial lockdown and response to the coronavirus pandemic has meant much public affairs activity has ground to a halt. However, now is the time for organisations to adjust to new ways of working and adapt their public affairs strategies to this new normal.
Holyrood and Westminster continue to be consumed by Covid responses, but a semblance of normal politics will return eventually. Urgent issues will need to be dealt with (like Brexit, remember that?) and both parliaments have implemented new, virtual ways of working to progress through a backlog of business. Slowly but surely, government officials seconded into coronavirus response teams will head back to their day jobs, albeit with a dramatically different operating environment.
Here are some ways to ensure you can start or resume your public affairs activity with confidence and impact.
Remote meetings are now de rigueur. Apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams are easy and effective ways to maintain contact with stakeholders. Don’t be put off by the lack of direct human contact – remote meetings are still effective. Here are some general tips to remember:
- Dress as you would for an in-person meeting
- Maintain ‘eye contact’ by looking at your camera when speaking
- Test, test, test – make sure your computer and software are working beforehand to avoid any embarrassing hiccups
- Record your meetings for referencing later (with permission)
For larger events, there are easy tweaks that can be made to encourage greater participation without becoming unwieldy, like the use of virtual breakout rooms. Just remember that video calls are still subject to lobbying legislation and must be logged with Holyrood’s Lobbying Register.
Virtual public consultations
Public engagement for planning applications are now allowed to take place online, rather than in in-person. Development plans, newsletters, leaflets and additional communications material can easily be moved to the web to encourage robust public engagement. Digital access to planning documents were in fact likely already a key component of public outreach in the pre-Covid world, so this should just be an extension of normal practice. Attractive virtual exhibitions can be easily created to give proceedings a professional look.
There are a number of other excellent tools for canvassing for views from the public on any sort of issue. An excellent run-down of the best options has been pulled together by Nesta.
With traditional media channels, like newspapers, disrupted by the pandemic, it is more important than ever to establish, strengthen and grow your organisational digital footprint. Now is the time to ensure your organisation or campaign is front of mind by applying traditional digital tools like SEO, digital advertising and robust social media strategies. Ensuring your voice is heard in a crowded digital environment will be ever more crucial going forward.
The new normal
There’s no question the response to Covid-19 has brought considerable disruptions to organisations of all stripes. Now is the time to fully adjust to these new ways of working. Serious issues have not suddenly disappeared, in fact they’ve probably magnified in importance which makes it ever more vital to pick up your public affairs activity with new confidence.
If you would like to speak to 3x1 about how we can lend our award-winning public affairs expertise to help you achieve your objectives in this new environment, please get in touch.