Even before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and President Trump imposed travel restrictions to Europe, the 2020 presidential candidates were already grappling with how to respond to this novel virus.
The remaining likely hopeful candidates are all over 70, and their campaigns – by their very existence – are now violating the Centers for Disease Control’s advice that all people over 60 should avoid crowds and stay home. Some in the media have argued that voters may be putting themselves at risk simply by fulfilling their civic duty and participating in primaries. In response, at least two states have announced they are delaying their primaries.
Response from the campaign trails around COVID-19 has been inconsistent, as we’ve noted on our 2020 Election Scorecard. However, as the country rethinks election season and political influence as we know it, there is a new set of considerations for policy and health care communicators to keep in mind:
- Regardless of audience, recognize that COVID-19 is the main story, for now. While some aspects of communications remain business as usual, this is not the best time to announce major policy or business initiatives.
- For companies involved in R&D and innovation, it’s not just about COVID-19. Companies need to balance meaningful engagement with the perception of opportunism. Companies directly engaged in relevant research and development, testing or biosecurity should talk about what they are doing, how they are contributing, and how they are partnering with the government to benefit society. Companies without a direct connection to the pandemic should not try to create artificial relevance.
- To engage policymakers and voters, leverage new media to forge connections. Policymakers may not be listening to podcasts or checking Instagram, but their staffs are. Over a quarter of Americans listen to podcasts, which are a diverse medium, covering everything from news to storytelling, to in-depth paid promotion. For social channels, analyzing target audience trends, lexicon and key influencers can help optimize a paid or organic strategy, making it more likely to reach the desired voter group or type of policy influencer.
- To connect policy or health care thought leaders, look to (or be) a digital convener. In-person conferences/meetings may be falling by the wayside, but that leaves an opportunity for organizations that are natural conveners, such as trade organizations, think tanks and alliances. Organizations can seek out conveners to partner with, or serve as the convener themselves, on webinars, Facebook lives, LinkedIn lives, Twitter chats, etc.
Every four years, we think we are living through a historic election, and 2020 is shaping up to be no exception. While the campaign itself may indeed look different, political discourse does not have to be diminished.
W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage