World War II General Ike Eisenhower, when assigned to London, made quick friends with Winston Churchill and one day the two were discussing a strategic war move and General Eisenhower insisted on a traditional maneuver only to be rebuffed by Churchill.
General Eisenhower demurred to Churchill's insistence and in doing so commented, "I guess we're not in Kansas anymore."
Now who knows if it's really a true story but that's the one I've heard as the roots for this everyday phrase for things are about to change. And don't we all know how true that is today.
This past week the Washington-based non-profit Public Affairs Council (PAC) released the results of an online poll of almost 300 senior level government relations professionals who overwhelmingly recognized that social distancing, zoom calls and self-isolation will have a HUGE impact on how lobbyists conduct business, both in D.C. as well as the state level.
According to the poll, 73% believe the changes will be ongoing even if the health experts declare the pandemic over. They all felt connecting directly with federal policy makers in person will be like mining for gold. At the state level, 53% many felt the challenges will also increase and 13% believed it may be next to impossible for someone not located in state to connect through the traditional face to face discussion.
The handshake, slap on the back and chance to "bond by looking into someone eyes" during an in-person meeting (more than likely in D.C.) will be left to the dreaded video conference call. Yikes!
Call me old fashion but zoom calls just aren't the same as being in a room together and connecting through in-person discussions. At the state level the same government relations folks also believe, for the short term, that video conferences will be the routine. However, even once state legislators figure out the protocol for opening up the legislative process, many corporate entities will still encourage their employees to go the video conference route, rather than jumping on a plane, train or automobile to attend in-person meetings.
Traditional lobbying will take a back seat and the foray into digital advocacy, especially at the federal level will increase dramatically according to the poll responses. 61% believe new ways of influencing federal policy makers are desperately needed as many elected officials will be concerned with large group events, rallies or conferences. These strategies would include grassroots campaigns conducted on social media, digital advertising coupled with specialized technology solutions, such as "geo-fencing," and specially-developed branded media to promote awareness and engagement in policy issues.
What wasn't part of the poll was how organizations will think outside of the box to engage those working from home.
As many fear, the disconnect may cause team culture to slowly deteriorate and impact corporations and large organizations trying to engage their employees and advocate for policy initiatives
The poll asked about elections too. 92% are concerned about the profound impact on the outcomes. 81% believe voting by mail will be the new norm and the days of door knocking, kissing babies and large election rallies are over. When asked about the outcome of the 2020 Presidential Race, it's almost split three ways. Either Trump wins, Trump loses, and the last third say it's a proverbial "jump ball."
When asked what policy changes they see coming: 67% believe federal and state governments will keep new initiatives closely aligned with the pandemic. This was well before the recent nationwide call to take on civil justice and inequality issues, but I'd wager that those topics will also be a focus during the 2020 and 2021 sessions.
Interestingly, while respondents were all over the map on budget expectations, the majority responded that government relations departments during this healthcare emergency had a higher value placed on their role and contributions, thanks to the need to quickly react to sudden changes in the political landscape.
I guess the good news is government relations will survive the pandemic but who knows what it will look like after. Those of us in the trenches have already made a pivot and found ways to stay in touch, engage legislators and take part in administrative activities. It's different - sometimes it's a challenge and responses are a bit slower, but once government returns from the work-at-home environment, it will be interesting to see what structural and fundamental changes in chamber rules and office protocols will provide opportunities and challenges.
Stand by...we're not there yet, but the team at Sullivan & LeShane have been engaged with folks, so we'll be ready to roll when life finds its new normal.