The Transformation of Activism

Here’s what you need to know…

Coronavirus has changed a lot about the way we live our lives. What hasn’t changed is the desire to organize ourselves to advocate for the things that matter to us.

While you may think coronavirus has quashed traditional in-person protests and picket lines, activists are still making their cases for their causes online or in person with creative social distancing. Their campaigns, whether six feet apart or virtual, are as vociferous as ever, rallying their troops, many of whom, thanks to widespread lockdowns, have found themselves with more time on their hands than ever. Unfortunately, some are spending that bountiful time disseminating message-tested tropes and unfounded conspiracy theories, often aimed at destroying their targets at a time when organizations and industries feel most vulnerable due to the global pandemic and the economic destruction it has wrought.

The team of analysts here at Delve are monitoring many of these efforts every day, and we are seeing key strategies, themes, and messages emerge as activism in the new normal takes shape – all of which will have consequences for companies and industries navigating toward recovery. Here are some ways that activists have exploited the coronavirus, adapted their tactics in pursuit of their agenda, and recalibrated for the fights that lie ahead.

Activists haven’t stopped advocating, they’ve just gotten creative…

  • Earth Day Goes Online: Environmental activists had long relied upon large-scale demonstrations boosted by star power and grants from big foundation to draw attention to their cause. With Earth Day gatherings canceled due to coronavirus lockdowns, activists were forced to turn to online alternatives like digital presentations, film screenings, and “teach-ins.” They coordinated social media messaging, urging fans to share digital posters and collaborate virtually to “demand #climateaction,” while celebrities like Joaquim Phoenix and Mark Ruffalo lectured the world on video chat panels. Predictably, the media fawned over their campaign and its ability to adapt to coronavirus lockdowns. However, supporters lamented that 2020 Earth Day celebrations, which were meant to organize hundreds of thousands of protesters in honor of the movement’s 50th anniversary, attracted less interest in the midst of the pandemic.
     
  • Virtual Campaigning and Campaign Schools: While many of us are on lockdown, campaigning continues from inside the house. The Verge reports that activists are once again embracing the long-dreaded phone banking system of outreach to complement their online efforts to elect their preferred candidates and promote their favorite causes. Meanwhile, virtual rallies are being held to “fix our health system,” targeting Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar to “demand tests and immediate production of ventilators and universal access to healthcare” through “Twitter live protesting” and speeches from activists. Over at the Sunrise School, the online activity academy of the environmentalist organization Sunrise Movement, activists are “seizing this moment to become the leaders [the green energy movement] needs,” hosting online courses to “build connections with other young people who are freaked out about climate change, the coronavirus, and the state of our world” and teaching activists how to confront “crises gripping our society.”
     
  • Social Distancing for a Cause: Even as most activism has moved online, Americans have gotten creative about how they can express themselves without breaking social distancing regulations. In Pennsylvania, criminal justice advocates held a “drive-by-protest” to demand a mass release of inmates, while their Mississippi counterparts held a “Care-a-Van” in Jackson.  Angry Michiganders attracted international media attention when they descended upon Lansing to plea with the Democratic governor to ease what they felt was a draconian stay-at-home order. The Louisiana Bucket Brigade, which opposes the state’s petrochemical industry, hosted a socially distant protest in front of a Denka/DuPont facility they livestreamed on Facebook and held its “Stop the Money Pipeline” demonstration standing six feet apart in COVID-19 hotspot of New Orleans.
     
  • The New Advocacy Frontier: Video Games There is already evidence that these changes are not just temporary solutions for this unusual period of time. Newsweek reports that beyond social media, activists are now looking at less traditional platforms, like gaming, as sustainable, permanent organizing tools. They point out that Hong Kong’s freedom-fighting efforts, which had been all-but-eliminated due to China’s public health catastrophe, had moved to Nintendo, where advocates used the game “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” to speak freely without the communist party’s censorship.

… And they are using COVID-19 as an opportunity to promote their long-term policy goals.

  • Never Let a Crisis Go to Waste: Progressive activists have apparently learned from Rahm Emanuel’s famous quote and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn’s (D-SC) call to revive it: now is the time for big change. In POLITICO Magazine, senior writer Michael Grunwald argues that while it is “horrible” the economy has collapsed due to the coronavirus, there is value in how it has shown that human beings’ day-to-day living – eating beef, flying in airplanes, driving to work – can harm the Earth. Greta Thunberg, who commands an army of young activists and who enjoys legitimacy from admiring world leaders and celebrities, says the shutdowns prove that when science calls for it, we can make major lifestyle changes – like those required for her green agenda. Meanwhile, social justice activists claims the virus proves the dangers of income inequality and racial disparities. UNAIDS, meant to eliminate “AIDS as a public health threat by 2030” as a part of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, is demanding an “increase in health spending and social protection” become an “essential part of the economic response to COVID-19,” claiming the pandemic’s consequences are the “man-made” impacts of “extreme inequality that is hardwired into our global economy.”
     
  • ‘Keep It In The Ground’ Becomes ‘Put Them In The Ground’: Green activists are pushing for stimulus bills to provide financial backing for their preferred products while pressuring policymakers to divest from fossil fuels. 350.org founder Bill McKibben writes in The New Yorker that lawmakers should use coronavirus as an excuse to “distance ourselves” from fossil fuels all together, arguing they must do so immediately to take advantage of the crisis to achieve lasting policy changes. He points to Congress passing financial relief bills as the perfect opportunity to use “corporate bailouts to advance green energy.” Activists in academia agree, with Ivy League students and boards of trustees candidates demanding divestment from fossil fuels, as others muse about a potential government takeover of the oil industry and “wind down their operations.”
     
  • Criminal Justice Reform as Public Health Concern: Bipartisan criminal justice reform proponents claim the highly virulent COVID-19 shows just how dangerous overcrowding in prisons can be. Josh Spickler of Right on Crime, a national initiative affiliated with the free market-oriented Texas Public Policy Foundation, told The Tennessean that coronavirus brought about the “hyper-acceleration” of long-term policy goals, as lawmakers across the country released inmates due to fears of infection spread. If they can demonstrate that released inmates posed few or no problems to society, they may be able to bolster their case for future systemic reforms. Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union has demanded prisoner releases from prisons in several jurisdictions the group has long fought against to protect inmates from the disease.
     
  • Punishing or Rewarding Corporate Behavior: As Morgan Stanley’s Head of Sustainability Research warns, “Corporate behavior in a time of crisis … can have lasting implications, both positive and negative … These factors can be linked to long-term performance and returns.” Activists are building on their success connecting such environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors with market expectations and ramping up efforts to hold corporations responsible for the way they (are perceived to) conduct business in the current crisis. A new study by Nuveen anticipates an uptick in ESG scrutiny by protestors, the media, and investors, and we are already seeing evidence of such pressures. In the health care sector, for example, British activists want the government to guarantee that “any COVID-19 medicines or technologies created with public funds are available to all, patent-free,” while in America, activists are tracking which utility companies suspend customers’ service over unpaid bills. Companies need to consider their risks from this scrutiny, but also the opportunities. A recent Harvard Business Review article details ways they can turn their talk of “social purpose and … values” into action during the COVID-19 crisis, noting the effects of how well they do so will be felt long after the pandemic concludes.

So be prepared to defend your brand and reputation.

Coronavirus might have caused activism to change, but it certainly hasn’t stopped it. In spite of the realignments necessary to successfully employ new tactics, activism has in some ways intensified, in large part due to an abundance of time and energy on the part of those who might otherwise by occupied by work or social engagements.

Corporations and industries must not mistake social distancing as a lack of disturbance for their industries. Instead, they must be prepared to confront new forms of activism that brings consequences with staying power. If you need help understanding the challenges, we are happy to chat.

Delving In Together: Government Keeps Governing, Even in a Crisis

In public affairs, what you don’t know can hurt you. As we are bombarded with so much information during the coronavirus pandemic, it can be hard to keep track of it all. That is why, now more than ever, Delve is committed to helping government relations professionals maintain an information advantage, even as COVID-19 overshadows other developments that would typically be front page news.

Because the analysts here at Delve are dedicated to ensuring you don’t miss anything that matters to your interests, we wanted to fill you in on what is been happening inside governments – outside of their COVID-19 response. While we might all be stuck inside for a few weeks more, at every level and in every jurisdiction, governments are still governing, courts are still ruling, and advocates are still making their cases. One need look no further than the energy and environmental policy arena to see just how much governments have continued to do even in the midst of a global pandemic.

We have been tracking these under the radar issues to understand the changes governments have made that affect energy and other companies so that you, too, may anticipate what could lay ahead for your industry.

  • Keystone XL Pipeline Court Drama Continues: Last week, a federal judge invalidated a critical permit for construction of the long-awaited Keystone XL Pipeline. Chief Judge Brian Morris of U.S. District Court for Montana ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers “failed to consult the Fish and Wildlife Service to see if the updated nationwide permit would endanger animals and plants protected by the Endangered Species Act,” Politico reports. The permit, which the Corps had renewed in 2017, would have allowed pipelines, cables, and other utility lines to make multiple crossings of federally protected waters without a lengthy individual review of each maneuver.

    Environmental activists are celebrating this ruling as yet another obstacle they’ve successfully imposed on TransCanada in its 15-year battle to construct an oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada to southeast Texas. Jared Margolis, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said the ruling “makes it clear that the Trump administration can’t continue to push dirty fossil fuel pipelines while ignoring the devastating impacts they have on the environment,” but project backers say they’re as determined as ever to take it across the finish line.
  • Energy & Utility Regulatory Changes on the Horizon: Federal regulators at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) announced last week that they plan to scale back some inspection and reporting rules for oil pipelines in efforts to alleviate the regulatory burden on oil companies. PHMSA says their rule changes would “clarify reporting requirements for pipeline inspections, streamline rules for oil spill response plans, and relieve some accident reporting requirements,” Morning Energy reports. Environmental activists aren’t happy with PHMSA’s plan, and they have until the public commenting period closes on June 15th to rally their forces in opposition to the proposed regulatory reform.

    Meanwhile, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) announced in mid-March that it has opened a new rulemaking docket to improve how it sets incentives for building transmission lines. In its announcement, FERC explained it wants to establish a new cost-benefit analysis that would help the commission quantify the return on equity (ROE) given to transmission builders. FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee says this new system will transition the commission from its “risks and challenges” approach to one “based upon benefits to consumers: ensuring reliability and reducing the cost of delivered power by reducing the cost of congestion.” Comments are due 90 days after the proposal was published in the Federal Register.
  • Back to Frack … Or Not? In March, a federal judge upheld the Trump Administration’s repeal of an Obama Administration rule that regulated hydraulic fracturing on public lands. According to Politico, Judge Haywood Gilliam of the U.S. District for Northern California accepted the argument from the Trump Administration, which “argued that the fracking rule unnecessarily duplicated state regulations and burdened the oil and gas industry with ‘unjustified’ costs.” This ruling is a major blow to environmental activists who had received support from California and other states in their never-ending quest to stop hydraulic fracturing. However, activists saw a win in Michigan, where their nearly two-year-long fight to put a fracking ban on the November 2020 ballot won the latest round in an ongoing court battle.
     
  • More than Hot Air On April 1, 2020, the EPA confirmed it plans to allocate $22 million in funding to the study of “carbon capture.” The agency endeavors to discover a way to remove carbon dioxide directly from ambient air. The project is a collaboration between the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science and DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy, and it will “span the spectrum from fundamental research in materials and chemical sciences to field testing of prototypes,” according to Daily Energy Insider.
  • EPA Advances Changes to Air and Water Rules: The EPA announced last week that it has changed its Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule to provide relief for four struggling Rust Belt coal plants. The modification will help coal production facilities in Pennsylvania and West Virginia by allowing them to burn low-quality coal refuse, “waste abandoned from years of mining and burning coal in their states.” According to Utility Dive, “these plants did not meet acid gas and hazardous air pollutant emissions standards” set by the Obama Administration, “but on April 9, the [Trump Administration] EPA issued a final rule creating a subcategory for those plants.”

    Meanwhile, the Trump Administration published its Navigable Waters Protection rule to the Federal Register, so the 60-day clock is well underway for public commenting on the proposed measure. The proposed changes, which narrow the number of streams and wetlands protected under the Clean Water Act, is expected to draw widespread criticism and even lawsuits from blue state governors and environmental activists.
     
  • States Advance Climate Goals: Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued a “cap and reduce” executive order to fight climate change after Republicans in the legislature successfully prevented passage of a “cap and trade program.” Oregon Public Broadcasting noted the order “contains ambitions that are at once equal to and much broader than that bill.”

    On the solar front, Massachusetts enacted new rules to help the state “meet its climate goals and help the solar industry as it deals with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.” The new regulations for the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program will “double its capacity, expand eligibility criteria for low-income solar projects, and encourage the adoption of energy storage technology,” WBUR reports. 

    And in Virginia, the new Democratic majority in the legislature “narrowly passed sweeping legislation designed to overhaul how the state’s utilities generate electricity.” The Clean Economy Act codified the “100 percent carbon-dioxide-free energy goals outlined in an executive order from Gov. Ralph Northam in September 2019” and effectively eliminates the oversight authority of the state’s corporate commission over the regulation and approval of electric utilities and directs the state to rely exclusively upon renewable energy by 2050.

This small sampling demonstrates how government’s constant stream of activity never stops affecting industries. Leaders in the energy and utilities fields, especially those dedicated to public affairs and government relations, must remain vigilant as the ever-changing landscape morphs even in the midst of lockdowns during a global health crisis — and so, too, must professionals representing all industries, as no sector is immune to the kinds of judicial, legislative, and regulatory actions detailed above.

Need help navigating these uncertain times? We’re here for you. Simply reply to this email, and we’ll be happy to help you think through how best to tackle current challenges while preparing for future ones, too.

Delving In Together: Regulatory Relief Will Lead The Recovery

Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young fame once wrote, “Rules and regulations, who needs them? Open up the door. We can change the world.” While the hippie crooner likely had other ideas in mind, he wasn’t wrong in his claim that excessive regulatory burdens stifle innovations for our country, our communities, and our lives.

Never before has this struggle been clearer than in the coronavirus crisis. We have seen federal, state, and local governments roll back rules that stalled the delivery of medical services or blocked access to important products. We have also discovered that rules governing particular industries might do more harm than good. And we have learned that many day-to-day regulations meant to direct human behavior are perhaps unnecessary after all.

While the country of course needs some degree of regulation to safeguard our people and our economy, the pandemic pause of regulations offers the promise of sanity and simplification in the future. As policymakers take a closer look at which of these rules are actually useful in serving American interests and which stand in the way of meeting America’s needs, we’ve compiled a greatest hits album of pandemic-related regulatory relief.

The federal government has reversed dozens of rules since the coronavirus pandemic began.

  • Freeing health care workers to cross boundaries – online and IRL (in real life): As the deadly reality of COVID-19 became apparent, the federal government acted swiftly to ease rules on the health care industry, hoping to extend more options for patients and providers. To provide support for coronavirus hotspots in dire need of qualified medical personnel, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) waived state licensure requirements for health care providers wishing to serve where they were most needed. Meanwhile, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that seniors could now take advantage of a wide range of telehealth services, irrespective of where they lived. HHS also encouraged the use of telehealth options, permitting health care providers to use video platforms like FaceTime and Zoom to safely serve their patients.
     
  • Getting supplies and technology to those who need it: In mid-March, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began allowing private companies to advertise COVID-19 tests directly to the general public in efforts to address test kit scarcity. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also granted permission for Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and other U.S. territories to purchase personal protective equipment from foreign suppliers, a reversal of a nearly century-old regulation enacted by the Hoover Administration.
     
  • Flexibility in flight and on the open road: In the midst of an unprecedented public health crisis, the reliable transportation of vital goods has become especially important. As a result, the Department of Transportation has lifted hours of service regulations that will create greater flexibility for truck drivers delivering medical supplies, equipment, or food. Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has eased liquid limitations to allow passengers to travel with up to 12 ounces of liquid hand sanitizers in their carry-on bags until further notice.
     
  • Educational flexibility works: Widespread closures of college campuses have caused the Department of Education to rethink its rules governing higher education. They announced in mid-March that they had granted “broad approval” to schools wishing to be exempt from federal standards on calendars and course schedules as they enacted “distance learning” programs to open virtual classroom alternatives. Acknowledging the unique financial pressures on students, the Department of Education also permitted colleges and universities to extend current financial aid eligibility for students who qualify for federal work-study and Pell grants, even if they aren’t on campus.

States and cities led by both Republicans and Democrats also embraced regulatory relief.

  • It turns out adults are responsible enough to buy alcohol and takeout: With hundreds of millions of Americans stuck at home, the restaurant industry stood ready to provide meals – if only they could. In many places, regulations on delivery, takeout, and the sale of alcohol made it difficult. So, governors and mayors stepped in. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that bars, restaurants, distilleries, and wineries could offer alcohol for takeout orders. In New York City, City Hall waived a rule that prevented delivery workers from using e-bikes to transport orders. And in Boston, city officials waived existing regulations to allow all restaurants to offer takeout, even if they did not have a license to provide the service.
     
  • Trucks that deliver booze are also capable of delivering food: In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott reversed a longstanding rule that prevented alcohol delivery trucks from delivering supplies to grocery stores. In doing so, he provided another way for grocery stores to keep their shelves stocked. In another move to ease transportation regulations, Governor Abbott waived certain commercial trucking regulations to “expedite commercial vehicle delivery of more supplies.”
     
  • Expanding patient access to health care providers: Echoing efforts from the federal government to loosen the regulatory stranglehold on the health care industry, state governments also offered relief to the medical field. In New York, Governor Cuomo expanded “scope-of-practice” rules to permit physician assistants, nurse anesthetists, and nurse practitioners to perform jobs they’ve trained to do without additional supervision. In Washington, the government is allowing out-of-state health practitioners to practice without a license from their state. To deal with increased pressure on pharmacies, Pennsylvania now permits out-of-state pharmacies to ship goods into the state, while they also allowed pharmacy supervision to be conducted by phone or computer. While patients cannot see their providers, the Alabama Board of Pharmacy is temporarily allowing pharmacies to process emergency refills on essential medications. And in North Carolina, their Department of Health and Human Services temporarily lifted a rule requiring hospitals to receive permission from the state government to add more beds, the first reversal of the state’s “Certificate of Need” laws in decades.

With political will, some of the sound policy solutions detailed above could become more than short-term remedies, cutting red tape that has long delayed or prevented the delivery of patient-centered care. However, more common-sense regulatory rollbacks are needed for the recovery, most immediately to fortify our health care industry. For example:

  • Reform regulations to expand access to care: A number of scholars have pointed to further regulatory strangleholds that limit access to care by restricting medical professionals’ ability to practice. Competitive Enterprise Institute experts suggest states expand their “scope of practice” laws, which would allow qualified health care workers to perform functions that will be curtailed due to an anticipated physician shortage. Cato Institute is even more ambitious, arguing that licensure laws should be reformed to the point that they’re eliminated all-together. On the technology front, Cato Institute calls for the FDA to expedite its emergency use authorization of a new ventilator, as bureaucratic delays have stymied innovation and can cost lives.
     
  • New lifesaving drugs need a streamlined regulatory process: Hoover Institute scholars Charles L. Cooper and David R. Henderson argued in The Wall Street Journal the FDA should revoke its efficacy requirement for new drugs to speed up the delivery of vital therapeutics. They point to a regulation enacted in 1962 that forces companies to prove both the safety and efficacy of new drugs. Before, companies had only been required to provide assurance that new drugs were safe for patients. Now, this two-hurdle system delays the availability of medicine as researchers await clinical trials that confirm new medicine is not only safe but also conclusively effective at treating an illness. Experts say that if individual patients and their providers feel that proposed regimens are safe for use, they should be allowed to try them.
     
  • Loosen rules on diagnostic tests so professionals can perform more of them: If coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s the value of widespread testing to control the outbreak of a virus. With testing, health care professionals can treat and isolate infected people, protecting the general public as the sick patient recovers. That’s why the Competitive Enterprise Institute says FDA regulators should stop requiring premarket approval for laboratory-developed diagnostic tests. “The FDA has used its enforcement discretion to waive the premarket review requirement for tests developed and used exclusively within a single laboratory, known as ‘laboratory developed tests’ (LDTs). However, when the Secretary of Health and Human Services declares an official public health emergency, the agency does require premarket approval for LDTs, though it will grant an expedited Emergency Use Authorization for LDTs that meet the necessary criteria…The FDA should permanently waive the premarket approval requirement for LDTs, and Congress should write the exemption into the statute.”

All of this regulatory relief did not happen in a vacuum. These positive steps were made possible in part by industry representatives passionately making the case to decisionmakers that, if unhindered by superfluous rules, the companies they represent could better contribute to our country’s public health and economic security. Policymakers agreed.

By removing regulatory barriers, government officials are implicitly acknowledging that a number of regulations on the books are not necessary to safeguard the American public. Instead, cumbersome rules can inhibit progress, especially at times when it is needed most. In the weeks ahead, policymakers will make further regulatory adjustments to meet the immediate needs of those they serve. And after this crisis is over, they should thoughtfully examine which rules can be permanently revised or repealed so that our country and our states are never in this position again.

While policy experts have largely focused on reducing unnecessary regulations in health care, expect rules governing a variety of industries to be reviewed in the months ahead to aid in the economic recovery. As policymakers develop new regulations and update current rules, informed and trustworthy public affairs professionals have an opportunity to make the case for responsible reforms to help revitalize their companies, coalitions, and industries. Those who have consistently invested in such efforts are best poised to shape these reforms and thwart unnecessary regulatory overreaches to this pandemic.

Delving In Together: Government Affairs on the Frontlines

Making A Difference For Your Industry

If anyone questioned the power and importance of effective advocacy, the past few weeks should put that doubt to rest. As The Associated Press declared this week, “in the Washington lobbying world, business is booming,” noting their “analysis of federal lobbying filings shows the number of companies and organizations hiring lobbyists shot up dramatically across the months of February, March, and early April.”

Many of those increasing their presence in Washington are focused on the pandemic, and while some see the rush as a “potent example of the power and sway Washington’s permanent influence industry can hold during times of crisis,” we saw something of greater note: the clear return on investment provided by informed, savvy, and proactive public affairs and government relations efforts. While the day-to-day impact of these efforts may seem hard to quantify, the response to the coronavirus pandemic has provided meaningful, tangible examples of how, now more than ever, companies’ investment in advocacy is a necessity for survival.

In past crises, such as the Great Recession, government relations took a hit, with companies cutting back or even zeroing out their Washington offices. In this pandemic, however, there is hope that companies and industries will instead recognize the critical importance of building and maintaining meaningful relationships with policymakers over the long term. So to help bring about this recognition, below are what we think are some of the key lessons about public and government affairs highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic.  

 

Government Relations Is Relational, Not Transactional.

Despite the misconceptions promoted by the media and certain “watchdogs,” government relations is about building long-term relationships, not about transactions. History shows that companies and coalitions who invest in advocacy on a long-term basis are better poised to achieve their policy goals than those who don’t.

One such example is Wells Fargo, who faced intense public backlash and scrutiny from policymarkers over the past several years as a result of controversies surrounding some of its past banking practices. In 2018, the federal government responded by imposing a lending cap on the bank until policymakers could determine they had improved their corporate governance and established controls to protect consumers. In response, Wells Fargo bulked up its efforts, focusing on broad community engagement while dedicating more than $5 million last year alone to rebuilding trust with lawmakers in Washington.

These strong connections proved vital when the bank, which now finds itself along with other banks across the nation serving as a critical lending partner for small business loans under the Paycheck Protection Program, quickly reached its lending cap. Thanks to its investment in external affairs infrastructure, Wells Fargo was in a position to quickly petition the federal government for regulatory relief to keep desperately needed funds flowing to its small business customers, even as the financial services industry struggles to manage the critical needs of consumers and issuing new loans under the program.

 

Smart advocacy Is Constant.

There is often temptation in the corporate world to see government relations as a cost center rather than an investment. Often, lobbying and advocacy teams are called upon to deliver desired legislative or regulatory changes or address a particular issue, but then see efforts reduced and stopped entirely when there are no imminent threats or critical needs. However, some companies and coalitions choose instead to maintain their efforts for the long-haul, and they find themselves in a better position to mobilize when crisis strikes unexpectedly.

One such example is the craft beverage and distilling community. Geared up to fight for tax breaks in the Craft Beverage Modernization Act and its extension in 2019, these entrepreneurs were well-equipped to advocate for additional tax relief as America’s craft beverage companies and distillers provided the critical public service of transitioning their production to the creation of needed hand sanitizers.

The Distilled Spirits Council, which dedicated $4.23 million to federal lobbying in 2019, pushed lawmakers to waive typical federal excise taxes on alcohol for distillers who shifted their facilities to produce hand sanitizer during the coronavirus shortage. For brewers and distillers grappling with diminished demand for their products due to coronavirus restrictions, this reprieve from excise taxes, which amounted to nearly $10 billion in 2017, will be a huge help.

 

Anticipate Vulnerabilities Before You Seek Help.

In the coronavirus pandemic, we have also learned that even the most effective government affairs and public relations efforts can’t solve policy problems if an organization is fundamentally at-odds with lawmakers on important issues. And worse, if they’re unprepared or unable to remedy those differences, they can be caught flat-footed in an emergency.

We saw this clearly with the federal response to the cruise industry, whose executives had been among the most outspoken about their desire for aid in the coronavirus legislative package. While President Donald Trump heaped praise upon the industry in his daily coronavirus press conferences, bipartisan opposition emerged, with lawmakers from both parties expressing frustration that cruise companies were demanding a bailout from American taxpayers while maintaining their headquarters in countries like Panama, Liberia, and Bermuda to avoid U.S. taxes and regulations. Many lawmakers felt that extending relief to organizations with such practices would be unfair to industries who paid U.S. taxes and lived under U.S. laws and regulations. This skepticism left cruise companies seemingly unprepared to make the case for support in the stimulus package.

The denial of aid stood in stark contrast to the airlines, who faced demands from House Democrats to accept aggressive carbon emission reductions if they wanted aid. Airlines had launched large-scale awareness campaigns prior to the coronavirus about their efforts to cut emissions. Anticipating this vulnerability helped them keep these demands from becoming a part of the recovery legislation. cruise companies have made no such promises to the public.

 

The Bottom Line

Consistent investments in government relations matter. Companies and coalitions who prioritize these efforts not only accomplish long-term policy aims but also remain poised to tackle new challenges as they arise. And public affairs professionals must anticipate potential roadblocks to policy goals and find ways to navigate around them, especially in times of crisis.

Delving in Together – Look for the Helpers

Welcome To The Recovery

Welcome to our revamped, focused TL;DR weekly newsletter to help you navigate forward towards the recovery. We hope in the coming weeks this newsletter offers insights you can leverage to help your companies and industries to survive and thrive.

As Fred Rogers (a/k/a Mr. Rogers) has said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” So to kick off our revamped newsletter, our research team went looking for the helpers among companies and industries that are making a positive difference in their communities.

Meet The Helpers

Across America, companies big and small are finding ways to make a difference during the coronavirus pandemic. For some, this effort means retooling their manufacturing to create desperately needed supplies. For others, it means continuing to deliver vital services, even as many customers can’t pay for them. Meanwhile, some companies have offered their goods and services for free, providing support to weary frontline workers and assistance to the general public navigating these uncertain times.

Even as they are concerned about their own financial future and the wellbeing of their employees, these companies are still seeking out ways to use their resources to help those in need. In doing so, all of these organizations have positioned themselves not only as good corporate citizens but also as creative problem solvers rising to the extraordinary challenges facing our country and our world.

Policymakers and the public are likely to remember these contributions after this crisis has ended, and there are already lessons to be learned. For one, in order for a lot of these charitable acts to occur, governments were forced to loosen or end regulations that had previously slowed companies’ ability to act. This recognition inevitably frames the debate for future reforms.

In addition, the pandemic has taught us the value of skilled government relations and public affairs operations. As many businesses and industries are seeking or have already received government support in this crisis, it will be important to show their helping efforts to underscore that this financial relief has been directed toward tangible public good.

We hope the below examples give you some ideas for how your teams, clients, and coalitions can make a difference during this challenging time.

Supporting Frontline Workers

  • Some of America’s largest travel and hospitality companies are helping frontline workers get to the places where they’re needed most. Delta Airlines is covering the fare of eligible medical professionals as they travel to work in in COVID-19 hotspots, while Hertz is offering free vehicle rentals to health care workers traveling to the New York City area to serve patients during the pandemic. Once they arrive in New York, several area hotels will provide free rooms to health care workers to allow them to rest comfortably while protecting their families at home, including The Four Seasons, St. Regis, Yotel, Room Mate Grace, and The Wythe. Oxford Hotels & Resorts Group is offering free hotel stays and meals to medical professionals in Chicago and San Francisco, as well.
     
  • Textile companies have quickly transitioned their day-to-day manufacturing to meet the urgent needs of medical personnel. Fanatics, which produces uniforms for Major League Baseball, is now using their Easton, Penn. plant to create masks and gowns for hospital personnel. New Balance, one of the nation’s largest athletic apparel retailers, has directed a portion of their U.S. manufacturing to produce prototypes for face masks at their Lawrence, Mass. plant and hopes to scale production at their other New England manufacturing centers soon. Meanwhile, Washington-based Eddie Bauer is also mass producing N95 and surgical masks for health care personnel, and Barco, which manufacturers uniforms, is donating 10,000 scrubs.
     
  • Because medical personnel spend their days and nights on their feet, safe and comfortable footwear are in high demand. That’s why Crocs will donate 10,000 pairs of shoes to frontline medical workers daily. They have already made arrangements for a donation of 100,000 pairs.
     
  • Frontline staff are reporting little time to cook for themselves after long, exhausting shifts. Now, hungry medical professionals can enjoy special complimentary treats from companies like Chipotle, Krispy Kreme, Starbucks, and Sweetgreen.

Meeting Critical Medical Needs

  • As coronavirus patients flood health care systems across the U.S., businesses are using their existing products and capacities to ensure patients have what they need. In efforts to curb a potential hospital bed shortage, Serta has donated 10,000 mattresses to New York City hospitals, and they stand ready to produce 20,000 additional beds daily. In addition to their $10 million donation of equipment, Lowe’s is working with health care supply distributors to deliver essential items to hospitals most in need.
     
  • Biomedical and pharmaceutical companies are foregoing profits to deliver life-saving technology and medicine for COVID-19 patients. Medtronic has released their patents, allowing their competitors to mass produce ventilators based off their blueprints. Meanwhile, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Novartis have pledged to donate a combined 136 million tablets of hydroxychloroquine to COVID-19 patients who consent to receive therapy regimens that contain the drug as a part of the Trump Administration’s “Right to Try” initiative.
     
  • Throughout the country, companies are combining technology and expertise to deliver critically needed supplies. SmileDirect Club is now using their industrial 3D printers, typically dedicated to creating teeth-straightening devices, to print in-demand face shields and masks. With more than 47,000 industrial 3D printers on the market, other companies are likely to do the same.

Providing Relief for American Families

  • As a result of the government-directed COVID-19 shutdown, nearly 10 million Americans have filed for unemployment. Millions more worry about their financial futures as bills begin to pile up and they’re uncertain when and if they’ll be able to go back to work. Financial service providers are working to relieve at least some of the stress associated with making ends meet during the coronavirus pandemic. For example, Wells Fargo has suspended residential property foreclosure sales, evictions, and involuntary auto repossessions. They are also donating $175 million to public health organizations and other non-profits addressing food, shelter, small business and housing stability needs. Bank of America will also give American families similar breathing room to pay their bills. Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs will give their online banking, Marcus, and Apple credit card customers an extra month to make payments without penalty or additional interest.
     
  • In addition to concerns about paying their car notes and mortgages, many Americans fear being unable to keep on their lights. That’s why Duke Energy and Piedmont Gas have stopped all disconnections for unpaid bills. They will also waive late payment fees and fees for returned payments. Dayton Power & Light will do the same. These companies serve a combined 8 million households and businesses nationwide. To support similar efforts from utility companies across the U.S., Tennessee Valley Authority will make up to $1 billion in credit available to help local power companies keep the electricity on for customers unable to pay their electric bills during this time.
     
  • For families and small businesses alike, the coronavirus pandemic has brought distinct organizational and administrative challenges. So, law firms across the U.S., like Arizona-based HKM, are providing free counsel via advice hotlines. Meanwhile, several business and accounting platforms are offering free help to small businesses dealing with COVID-19.

Is your company working hard to make a difference, and if so, how are you highlighting the good work you’re doing to policymakers, stakeholders and the public? Please drop us a line and let us know. And as always, we’re here to help.

Delving in Together – Trends we’re seeing

We reached out to clients and partners earlier this month to offer our support. The result has been productive feedback and insightful conversations with industries grappling with the implications of the current crisis. As we listened, we heard common themes emerge among public affairs professionals across the country:

  • Information overload has increased exponentially, yet it’s more difficult than before to stay “in the know” from behind your laptop at home.
     
  • It has become more difficult to determine what’s real and actionable – and what isn’t.
     
  • Governments are still governing – there is plenty of action outside of Coronavirus response happening below the radar with legislation, regulation, and policy discussions.
     
  • Some issues have been paused, others accelerated, but none are going away, so now is the time to sharpen your ability to shape the debate.
     
  • Many firms are reassessing their operating landscape, and what will change and what will be the same.

You are juggling a lot right now, and Delve is committed to serving as a trusted source of insights that helps you make more informed decisions. That’s why, as industries and companies work to endure through the current crisis, we are building on your feedback to highlight what is important on the path to progress. 

In the coming days, we will launch a revamped TL;DR newsletter that will now publish weekly and focus on the forthcoming recovery. The first edition will showcase ways that companies and industries are making a positive community impact in the midst of the coronavirus. We hope it provides you with some ideas for how your teams, clients, and coalitions can make a difference during this challenging time. 

As we continue forward towards the recovery, Delve is here to provide you and your organization with support in meeting these challenges. Please keep in touch and let us know how we can help. We are happy to schedule a call about your needs at no cost or no obligation.

In the meantime, we hope you, your teams, and your families remain safe and healthy.

Delving In Together – How Can We Help?

Dear friends,

We find ourselves in uncertain times. While that can sometimes be a good thing for public and government affairs professionals who help create order out of chaos, the evolving landscape today feels different as we’re social distancing, caring for children unable to attend school, looking out for elderly loved ones, and grappling with an unprecedented world pandemic.

Our team here at Delve wants to do our part to help you navigate these uncharted waters because that’s what we do every day. If your organization is facing or anticipating a public affairs challenge, we’re here to help with no cost or obligation. Please contact us to schedule a time to talk through your issue and we can provide you with a short risk snapshot to help you as you begin to plan for the days, weeks, and months ahead.

We are passionate about leveraging our research and analysis expertise to help you prepare your organization for the challenges ahead. Together, we will get through it.

Wishing health, prosperity, and hope,

 

Jeff Berkowitz
Founder & CEO

TL;DR: State Of The Race, Net Nitro, And Impossible Until Done

Here’s what you need to know…

Now that Joe Biden appears likely to be the Democratic nominee for president, the prevailing narrative is that Democratic voters rejected the more extreme, “democratic” socialism of Bernie Sanders and his political revolution in favor of a more moderate, centrist Democratic party represented by Biden. However, a closer examination reveals that assessment may not be true, and while Sanders may not ultimately win the nomination, his mark has been made indelibly on the policies and positions espoused by the Democratic party.

At Delve, we specialize in identifying challenges and opportunities for companies and organizations facing political and reputational risks. The policy and regulatory discussions dependent upon what happens in November could not be starker, so here is what you need to know about Sanders’ impact on the Democratic party, the key vulnerabilities of Biden as the nominee, and how it should change the way your organization prepares for this campaign season and beyond:

  • He May Not Be The Nominee, But Bernie Sanders Has Won The Ideological Debate For His Party’s Present And (At Least Near Term) Future: The U.S. Senate’s only socialist has shown himself to be the most impactful changemaker in the Democratic party – even though he is not actually a member of the party. That reality is clear from the party’s 2020 presidential primary, which has been less of a contest between moderates and progressives than between the establishment and the crusaders. Every candidate – supposedly spread across the ideological spectrum – has advocated or accepted policies long part of Sanders’ platform, such as Elizabeth Warren’s free college and Medicare for All plans, Tom Steyer’s $22 federal minimum wage (the others have settled for $15), and Pete Buttigieg’s and Michael Bloomberg’s endorsement of a financial transactions tax that would discourage investment in U.S. public companies and impact Americans’ investment and retirement accounts. Even Biden has not resisted the leftward lurch of Sanders’ party, going so far as to join Sanders as the only two candidates to call for jailing fossil fuel company executives over their firms’ contributions to climate change. Policies once unique to Sanders’ brand of “democratic” socialism have gone mainstream throughout the party, no matter whose names are up and down the ballot.
     
  • Biden’s Nomination Sets The Table For Trump To Run The 2016 Playbook All Over Again: In 2016, Trump was able to successfully leverage Hillary Clinton’s private email server and her and Bill Clinton’s entanglement of their private interests and foundation with her public service as Secretary of State to convince many Americans it was time to disrupt the way business is done in Washington. With Biden as the nominee, expect a repeat performance from Trump. Whether undermining Biden’s “Middle Class Joe” claim given the millions he’s made in and after serving in office; to the lucrative government contracts and access enjoyed by his brother and son-in-law; to his son Hunter’s shady business dealsconflicts of interest, and messy personal life, Trump is unlikely to hold back on the Biden brood in the way a different kind of candidate might try to shy away from attacking their opponent’s family.
     
  • If It Is 2016 All Over Again, Will Sanders’ Supporters Again Hurt Democrats’ Chances? In some ways, the 2020 Democratic primary campaign had the potential for a similar realignment in the Democratic voting base that Republicans saw with Donald Trump in 2016. And as with 2016, this realignment had the potential to throw out all of our assumed and conventional wisdom on who is likely going to vote and for whom they are likely to vote – if Bernie Sanders were to become the nominee. Now that such a scenario is unlikely, does Sanders’ base get excited and turn out to vote for Joe Biden or do they stay home and not vote – or maybe even vote for Donald Trump? In 2016, as many as 12% of Sanders’ supporters voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton. In Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, “Trump’s margin of victory over Clinton was smaller than the number of Sanders voters who” voted for Trump. Sanders’ voters’ dissatisfaction with the establishment victory in the primary may once again provide an opportunity for Trump and Republicans in the general election.

As we warned in Spring of 2016, any prognosticator or pundit who claims to know what will happen in November is being less than truthful. For companies and organizations seeking to mitigate the political risks stemming from the 2020 campaign, the best way to prepare for whatever happens next is to gain a deeper understanding of the operating landscape that provides analysis of key trends and insights that separate the signal from the deluge of campaign season noise. Conventional wisdom must be scrutinized, because as the post-2016 environment has shown, the challenges and opportunities of today’s public arena are anything but conventional.

News You Can Use

NET NITRO

We can thank Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai for a little trip down memory lane to one of the most high-profile and bitter public policy fights in recent memory. The hysteria surrounding net neutrality was perfectly captured when Pai shared a tweet from Senate Democrats’ two years prior that promised slower internet if net neutrality was repealed. But as Pai notes, the reality is that the “average U.S. fixed broadband speeds are UP over 76% according to [internet metrics company] Ookla.”

Contrary to the partisan doomsday predictions of the “end of the internet,” the internet is alive and thriving, surviving an exaggerated death that would even perhaps make Mark Twain blush. The lesson for interests engaging in public policy fights two years out from net neutrality is this: public affairs campaigns that aren’t built on a foundation of facts are futile, no matter how loud, noisy, and persistent they may be.

 IMPOSSIBLE UNTIL DONE 

As speculated in an edition of TL;DR last summer, it was only a matter of time before meat companies entered the burgeoning plant-based “meat” alternatives space. One of the world’s largest private companies, Cargill, announced that it’ll be launching its alternatives in April. Meat companies such as Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods already sell plant-based products.

For those monitoring developments related to food, agriculture, and the regulation of meat alternatives, the launch of new products from large, legacy companies marks a key change in the public policy landscape. These established and influential companies can be expected to leverage their lobbying muscle, and rather than simply frustrate the designs of pioneering competitors such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, they also may find themselves working together to enable a positive regulatory framework and further the success of their plant-based products.

GREENS’ WAY OR THE HIGHWAY

Did you think you were doing a good thing for the environment by conserving energy and water during a recent hotel stay? Well, the Sierra Club doesn’t think so. In an article criticizing Marriott hotels’ “Make A Green Choice” program that allows guests to receive loyalty points and perks by choosing to forgo housekeeping and reuse their sheets and towels, the group attacks the program and says the company isn’t doing enough to combat climate change.

The program has resulted in Marriott reducing its energy and water usage by 13.2% and 8% respectively, and greenhouse gas emissions by 16%, but the Sierra Club ignores these facts because they’re incompatible with the activist group’s desire to bully the company into submitting to its demands. Such an episode exposes the true nature of environmental activist groups, who spurn meaningful and reasonable change in the name of extreme and unreasonable demands, ultimately at the expense of the cause they supposedly seek.

NEXT GEN TEXT-FAKES

With the recent arrival of AI computer programs that can generate coherent passages of text, the field of Natural Language Processing (NLP) is setting the stage for a transformation in communications, business, and more. These strides in language modeling mean chatbots and voice assistants that can do advanced tasks, as well as an infinite number of applications for businesses such as analyzing vast amounts of documents.

However, the promise of NLP is paired with the perils of similar programs in the hands of nefarious actors be they bots, trolls, scammers, state actors, and the like. Therefore, analyzing the veracity of information flows will be more important than ever as a component of mitigating the subsequent political and reputational risks.

TL;DR: The Real Misinformation Challenge, Sharpening Edge Of Advocacy, And Al Gore’s Internet Mishap

Here’s what you need to know…

Fake newsDisinformationRussian bots trolling on social media. The common narrative being echoed throughout the media is that this year and beyond, consumers of information are going to have to scrutinize stories and sources to make sure that the news they’re viewing is a true representation of events – rather than a made-up or entirely obfuscated piece of clickbait. But what if seemingly well-intentioned reporters at reputable organizations run stories misreporting events, stating opinions as facts, or otherwise misrepresenting developments?

The answer may well be a key paradox of 2020: the real challenge is not how widespread the fake news is, but rather how fake the real news can be. For public and government affairs professionals who need to stay on top of information flows and leverage insights gleaned from news items on behalf of their companies and organizations, the struggle of dealing with fake news is real. How can you process developments and create and execute strategies to further your priorities if you cannot be certain that data used to make decisions is accurate?

Particularly over the last few years, there have been examples where the conventional thinking and widely reported narrative in the media has been incorrect on consequential issues including trade, taxes, and geopolitics. Here are a few story lines of interest to the private sector where the media largely got it wrong:

  • America First In Trade Leaves America Alone. The Administration’s approach to trade policy has been a notable departure from its predecessors in both parties, of which the President’s criticism of NAFTA, rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and use of tariffs and trade wars are prominent features. However, if the news led some to assume that this approach would “assault the global trading system,” spur a market correction, and isolate the U.S. on the world stage, the reality appears different. Irrespective of the substance of specific policies, the U.S. remains engaged, signing a new trade agreement with Japan, negotiating the USMCA with its continental partners (which won strong bipartisan backing in the Democrat-controlled House just hours after the chamber voted to impeach the president), and last week signed a phase one trade agreement with China. Particularly on the latter, the Administration’s policy has been widely criticized, with heightened tensions between the two countries possibly leading to what Henry Kissinger called a “catastrophic outcome.” Yet, a purportedly “impressed” Kissinger was in the front row of the signing ceremony and earned a special mention from President Trump, the president’s tough stance against China is credited by some to have forced China to make a deal, and the higher costs for consumers the media kept warning us about largely haven’t materialized.
     
  • Tax Reform Will Suffer The Same Fate As Replacing Obamacare. Having failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act in early 2017, the united Republican majority was expected to run into the same challenges when undertaking tax reform later that year. Whether for lack of clear policy goals or obscure Senate rules, tax reform was given little chance to succeed. When tax reform became law, it was then widely reported that the plan would benefit the rich at the expense of others, although the overwhelming majority of filers got tax relief. Today, the effects of the law continue to enable strong economic growth, with recent data now indicating that wages are growing fastest among workers currently employed in low-wage jobs. For those of us involved early in the process of Trump’s tax reform efforts, there were clear distinctions between the two fights and their likely outcomes. But in the media, no such distinctions were made, making it that much harder for those relying on media reporting to understand what would really happen.
     
  • Peace Through Strength Or World War III. The removal of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani by U.S. forces immediately set off fears of an impending third world war, representing “a serious threat of increased violence” in the Middle East, as outlets as varied as Teen Vogue noted. Such stories, though, assume that tensions between the U.S. and Iran (to say nothing of broader diplomatic and kinetic tensions between other countries in the region) are lower before the strike than after, and the U.S. and Iran are not currently engaged in all-out war. Interestingly, the strike appears to have inspired Iranians who have been protesting the regime, and rather than eliminate dialogue, has opened up new avenues for the U.S. to engage with the country, appeal to moderate elements, and even propose negotiations to create a new nuclear agreement with the country. The overdone media predictions were similar to early media predictions regarding Trump’s pressure on North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, and those predictions met a similar fate.

The narratives above are just three examples of recent, consequential policy issues that were the subject of much conjecture by the news media and that turned out quite different in reality. Yet this phenomenon is not limited to Trump – remember when the media was overwhelmingly certain Beto O’Rourke would be the Democratic nominee in 2020? Nor is it a distinctly American challenge – remember when Brexit would devastate the U.K.’s financial sector?

Sadly, this phenomenon will not abate even if Trump were to lose the election this coming November because it is a symptom of our current media age, and a symptom that must be addressed in a serious and meaningful way if the press is to regain its footing as a crucial institution underpinning democracy. If not, the result could have dire implications. As Axios(unironically and seemingly without self-awareness) noted recently, “If the 2020 presidential election is close enough to trigger a fight over the results,” which is a real possibility, “the public’s confidence is so low in key people and institutions [including the news media] that no one is likely to be a trusted referee…”

In the meantime, while the merits of the specific policies and decisions will continue to be debated from all parts of the political spectrum, the disconnect between today’s media assessments and tomorrow’s reality clarifies the challenge facing policy professionals. In addition to facing information overload, tracking more policy issues than ever, and being crunched for time, government relations and public affairs professionals have to identify the real signal from the fake noise in the news media. This “fakeness” of real news means companies and trade associations will need to rely on a range of primary and secondary sources when monitoring developments in order to gain a more complete and accurate picture of their operating environments and the key trends impacting their interests.

Better insights lead to better strategies, better decisions, and a competitive information advantage in achieving your policy objectives. To learn more about how Delve is helping companies and trade associations navigate their public affairs challenges at a time of fake news and suspect real news, contact us.

News You Can Use

THE SHARPENING EDGE OF ADVOCACY

In case a breakdown of civility wasn’t making life difficult enough for public affairs and advocacy professionals already, a new blurring of the personal and the professional means new risks for companies and organizations engaging on public policy issues. This month, a European strategic communications professional who is undergoing treatment for cancer was attacked by a public health advocate through Twitter direct message. The reason? Because the communications professional’s firm has worked on behalf of tobacco companies.

The episode illustrates the impact today’s toxic partisanship and zero-sum nature of professionalized and energized issue activism are having on the policy and advocacy climate. As more public policy fights get personal, individuals at companies and industries – whether they work on policy issues or not – are at greater risk for political and reputational challenges, creating the need for a new approach by the employers to protect not only their brand’s and industry’s reputations, but their employees’ as well. It also means more employees asking tougher questions about their firms’ political and policy positions.

K STREET’S ACTIVISM ADAPTION

With presidential candidates voicing proposals that could become policies, K Street is already buzzing to influence policy outcomes and minimize risks for their clients. One instructive way they are doing this is by conducting “deeper outreach to think tanks, academia and other institutions that can lend policy gravitas to shape major discussions” over key issues. Such institutions offer an “alternative voice” that serve as the basis for legislation and that “candidates, lawmakers and voters alike may be willing to hear rather than corporate interests,” largely due to the anti-business messaging from professionalized, digitized, and nationalized activists.

This outreach and other “workarounds” highlight the increased risks facing corporate interests as issue activism becomes more prominent, and showcases the changed nature of today’s operating environment for government affairs professionals. Rather than simply traditional outreach and advocacy to contacts on the Hill, understanding and examining the range of stakeholders outside of government influencing the policy discussion on your issue set has become more important than ever.

LENDING A(I) HUMAN HAND

The “robot revolution” could impact more than just blue-collar workers and include “knowledge workers” as well, according to a new study by Stanford University economist Michael Webb. But, perhaps more interesting is what the study says about the nature of the potential displacement caused by artificial intelligence (AI).

While the study warns that white collar jobs could be displaced by automation, some experts point to factors that might mitigate that possibility. Some AI patents, for example, “might never be used,” while others “might not be used for their initial intentions.” Notably, these technologies might also be used to “augment jobs rather than supplant them.”

One hedge fund investment analyst explained, “There’s a reason there’s not more unemployed hedge fund analysts: Because you do still need that human hand,” he added, “at least for the time being.” When it comes to competitive intelligence for public affairs, our clients echo this sentiment: trained analysts using sophisticated technology provides an information advantage.

AL GORE’S INTERNET MISHAP

If Al Gore really invented the internet, there may be an inconvenient truth he’ll have to face. According to The New Republic, the internet is “inextricably tied to the coming horrors of the climate crisis” and is “the largest coal-fired machine on the entire planet, accounting for 10 percent of global electricity demand.” It’s not simply the attention toward the web’s electricity usage that makes this assault against modernity concerning however, but that companies running ads on the internet – from news outlets to small businesses – risk getting caught up in the political and reputational challenges stemming from environmental activism’s focus on the electricity required to run such ads.

With Bernie Sanders’s proposed plan treating the internet as a “utility that will very much be affected by the climate crisis” and in-house experts at activist groups such as Greenpeace already shaping what the future of a greener internet may look like, the internet as the next climate change culprit has begun. Not only does this trend risk commerce, communication, and promising advancements in innovative frontiers such as telemedicine, but demonstrates the unrelenting and unreasonable nature of today’s environmental activism that can focus its attention and scrutiny anywhere.

How To Fight FOMO

Here’s the bad news: the fear of missing out (FOMO) is real, and it’s even more pronounced for public affairs professionals. That’s according to yet another industry survey, this one by FiscalNote and CQ Roll Call of “600+ public affairs, government relations, public policy, corporate and external affairs, and grassroots and advocacy professionals across the country, — representing every industry in the global economy.”

The survey found that “being a leader in the public affairs space has become more challenging than ever before,” with “almost two thirds of” of respondents saying their “job was stressful or very stressful.” A deeper dive into the data illustrates exactly why:

  • 76% of participants work on teams of less than six, requiring small teams to do more with less.
  • 52% of those team members are located outside of Washington, and with more venues come more pertinent policy and regulatory issues at the international, federal, state, and local levels.
  • Nearly 60% of organizations follow more than six policy issues (and half of that 60% is covering more than 10 issues), making it difficult for small teams to “discover, monitor, and report on to internal and external stakeholders.”
  • 50% of respondents’ number one challenge in their role is “not enough time” to accomplish all their priorities, even as they expect those priorities to expand wider to cover more jurisdictions and deeper to cover more issues.
  • More than 40% fear “missing something important in legislation or regulations,” one of the top stressors identified in the survey. That fear is not surprising given that nearly 80% of respondents said they missed an occasional or significant amount of critical policy developments in the past year.

Now for the good news: you’re not alone in the operational challenges you face. Here at Delve we’re helping busy public affairs professionals do more under the constraints of today’s policy and business landscape.

From keeping executives informed of key trends and developments relating to their issue sets at the local, state, national, and international levels, to helping them cut down their time researching and tracking events so that they can invest it in critical functions that move the needle such as outreach and engagement with internal and external stakeholders, our analyst teams serve as a force multiplier for public affairs professionals at companies and trade associations who seek to both better leverage key developments in the news to their organization’s advantage and reduce their stress.