|Robert L. Dilenschneider|
Sometime later this year, the COVID pandemic will come to an end, or at least will be under control. When that happens, organizations of all kinds—from corporations to foundations, from municipalities to museums—will start anew to address the future.
Communications will be the key. Those who handle it well will create enormous opportunities for their enterprises. Those who don’t? Well, enough said.
The challenge will be to get it right. This will be the time to be strong-minded, to eliminate wishful thinking and self-deception, to make the hard decisions that will bring value to your clients.
There will be many factors clients will need to consider: customer service, employee morale, supply chains, investor relations and so forth. But the one I want to look at right now is government relations. It’s a certainty that a lot of decisions are going to be made and policies set in city halls, state capitals and the corridors of Washington. The organizations that get the most skillful advice for communicating with those power centers will be among those that are best positioned for the future.
One key will be advancing your clients’ ideas, not waiting for legislators, mayors and governors to put their ideas out there and forcing everyone to react. We know, for instance, that Washington is going to consider a multi-billion-dollar infrastructure bill. If that passes, it’s going to mean a lot of contracts will be negotiated and a lot of government regulations will be proposed, debated and put into effect.
So, among the big questions right now is first, will any of your clients be affected by this initiative? If so, how can you help them? Will it be important to ensure, for example, that the contracting process is open and transparent? Or will they be concerned about the regulatory process? Whatever their needs, your goal will be to make sure their voices are heard in the right places.
This may be, in fact, a good moment for your clients to reach out to important members of Congress and to local and state executives and legislators with ideas and suggestions for how the future should unfold. Waiting could be a big mistake. You and your clients don’t want to let the politicians and career officials advance their ideas without any input.
A good recent example of how inaction and hesitancy can have real costs: Not every business applied for a Paycheck Protection Program loan even when they were qualified and could have gotten one. Many renters did not take advantage of the moratorium on paying rent put in place by some states, and still fewer applied for government assistance.
So, if we know there are likely to be many public initiatives in the future as America remakes itself, how can you ensure your clients are heard in the rooms where the decisions are made?
First, develop a detailed communications plan that outlines the benefits your organization can provide and the places where you have contacts and can get clients’ viewpoints presented.
Even though the media focus will be mainly on Washington, don’t overlook state and municipal officials. We can expect all kinds of recovery projects to take place on those levels in the months ahead. So, take a look at what makes the most sense for your clients and give advice on how to advance their interests.
Speaking of the media, they must be, as always, a big part of any communications strategy. Journalists will be busy reporting on the progress—or lack of it—of government initiatives. A big part of their coverage should be the reactions of the organizations that will be affected, and so if you have clients that are in that basket, you need to be pro-active on their behalf. You’ll need to stay on top of events so that you know when something Senator Doe or Secretary Roe has done affects Client XYZ. Then you’ll need to get a reaction statement drafted, approved and into reporters’ hands on a timely basis. I don’t have to tell you that timing is everything in media relations. Miss the deadline, and the best-prepared statement never gets in the papers or on the air.
Don’t forget about your clients’ internal communications challenges. Their employees may be shellshocked at what has happened to them in the COVID period. Some may have had to go on unemployment lines to get through the hard times, for example, and all of them are bound to be anxious about their futures. So, ask yourself how you can help clients build new levels of support and trust.
We know that the pandemic restrictions have caused many people to build up savings. Much of that money is going to get loosened up when the all-clear sounds, with a whole lot of consumer spending. If you’ve got clients who stand to benefit from this pent-up demand, now is the time to develop communications plans for them that put every tool in the kit—public relations, media contacts, marketing, advertising—into full effect.
Now is the moment to look at all the communications demands your clients are going to have and to think through what you need to do for a future that will take a very different shape from the past.
Robert L. Dilenschneider is the Founder and CEO of The Dilenschneider Group, an international communications firm that provides strategic advice and counsel to Fortune 500 companies and leading families and individuals in fields ranging from mergers and acquisitions, to crisis communications, to marketing, government affairs and foreign media.