Adapting to Virtual Lobby Days on Parliament Hill

2020 has been a whirlwind – and Parliament was no exception. At the beginning of the pandemic, Members were flying back to their constituencies, minister’s offices were deserted, and no one knew how long this was going to last. The landscape for government relations professionals was also constantly changing. In person meetings were being cancelled, clients were moving to crisis mode, and asks were changing.

With the one-year mark on the horizon, we are seeing a new normal for government relations professionals. Virtual meetings with elected officials are no longer a foreign concept and zoom meetings are consuming hours per a day. Amid this, there has been much debate around the idea of lobby days, and if a virtual event would even compare.

Lobby days are an important advocacy opportunity for organizations during the Parliamentary session. They are pivotal moments to ensure clients asks are articulated directly to the relevant elected officials. Ensight has been preparing clients for virtual meetings since the onset of the pandemic and recently wrapped up a virtual lobby week for a client and we wanted to share some best practices with you.

The first difference we noticed is how generous Members of Parliament have been with their time. Members are no longer rushing between committees and unscheduled votes. They, too are stationed in front of their computers and are able to accommodate and reschedule faster.

Without these rigid timelines, we’ve been able to expand our client’s lobby day into a lobby week. Keep in mind that since organizations no longer needed to fly delegates into Ottawa, we had the flexibility to organize meetings within a five-day period. This also gave options for members to choose from when they wanted to have a meeting.

The pros are substantial, but it is important to consider the role of a government relations professional. Without a playbook, the transition can be difficult, but here are some tips we learned by hosting a successful virtual lobby week:

  1. Unlimited Zoom: First, use an unlimited zoom account when setting up meetings. Although this may seem like an obvious recommendation, it is very common for participants to go over a scheduled 30-minute meeting to get more information or to just keep a pleasant conversation going. It is important to note that multiple zoom accounts might be needed to allow for more scheduled meetings around popular times, particularly if you have multiple separate attendees.
  2. Confirm: Next, it is important to confirm zoom links with members’ offices a few days before the meeting. Wires may get crossed when dealing with twenty-plus zoom links on various accounts. This is also an opportunity to remind staffers of the upcoming meeting and for them to flag if their member would need to reschedule.
  3. Be Prepared: Confirming meetings is one thing, but delegates need to be well prepared on how to advocate in a virtual forum. Holding a pre-briefing with delegates is useful to ensure everyone knows their role. Advise them that these meetings may be less personable, but they need to stay engaged. Show them how to use zoom and how to take screenshots so they can post photos on their social media accounts. Although meetings are virtual, and timelines less strict, work in Parliament is constantly evolving, and rescheduling meetings should be expected. A quick tip is to organize meetings and zoom links on a master sheet, so delegates have information on hand to substitute in on calls as needed.

While a few glitches are to be expected, ultimately lobby days, virtual or not, are supposed to be fun! Reshaping advocacy plans to an online forum does not have to be a daunting task, especially since delegates are still able to have genuine conversations with MPs. Having unlimited zoom accounts, organizing and confirming meeting links, and prepping delegates to lobby virtually are just some tips. At the end of the day, if delegates are ready to engage with a simple message, there should be no doubts that a virtual lobby day can deliver real results.

 

Nivitha Jeyakumar, Consultant at Ensight Canada