Advocacy communications moves into the sunlight

Political campaigning plans for 2021 are slowly shaping up across organisations in Brussels. After all, it is only 12 weeks to Christmas. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has not disappeared, and organisations are struggling to influence key topics within their remit.

Due to the cross sectoral nature of the von der Leyen Commission, organisations must broaden their topic areas into sustainability, EU Green Deal and the promotion of increased digitalisation. Moving away from sector specific areas is difficult for some well-known organisations who have traditionally been very focused on niche regulatory topics, rather than broader politically focused, for the entirety of their representation in Brussels.

Outsourcing such relationships is also not an easy task due to the sectoral split often present within large consultancies. Such consultancies can often have deep knowledge within topics such as Agriculture, Health and Tech – but these can be kept within specialist teams, who rarely work across topics.

Reverting to the core issue at hand, organisations are facing the hurdle of needing a position on an increased range of issues if they are to influence policy. Due to COVID-19, 2020 plans have been put on hold with strategies needing brainstorm after brainstorm to amend into an uncomfortable virtual field for many organisations. In short, COVID-19 has fractured traditional lobbying in Brussels.

As you may expect in a more virtual world, we have seen a transformational shift away from traditional public affairs to ‘Advocacy Communications’; a specialist form of communications where the focus is on influencing policy audiences to affect change.

While this is not a new field in Brussels, COVID-19 has meant that Advocacy Communications has moved up the agenda, playing a more central role in influencing policy today.

Key components of this approach include:

  • Social Media & Creative – new channels of engagement complimenting direct advocacy – and more critical than ever due to COVID
  • Building a politically relevant Narrative and Messaging – key for the transition to a green and digital enabled recovery, sensitive to the ‘new normal’ COVID political priorities and landscape
  • Thought Leadership – allowing for positioning and amplification of advocacy asks and goals
  • Policy focused communication activations – be they ‘Letters of Intent’, virtual roundtables, Parliamentary questions, video stories and other visual communications.

The above techniques are central to pushing the agenda of an organisation, with the main objective influencing policy debates and – ultimately – outcomes.

At a time of virtual meetings and a crowded online space, the understanding and background of a small team with cross sectoral policy, media and statistical insights ensures the client stands out of the crowd.

The challenge of thinking, and working more cross-sectorally isn’t limited to the private sector: the question is being asked whether the Commission itself is ready for the transformative vision of the President? Taking a simple example, when a technology organisation wants to engage effectively on digital agriculture in the Commission (to support delivery of the Green Deal), they will need to ensure their input is understood by DG CONNECT, DG AGRI, DG EMPL, DG SANTE and DG MOVE.

This is just one of many examples of where organisations will need to ensure their voice (messages, narrative and positions) are heard by a broader range of stakeholders than ever before.

So when looking ahead to an uncertain 2021, it will be important to ensure your organisation has a strategy for advocacy communications.