COVID Impact: Communicating to Coalitions.

Communicating effectively in the midst of a global pandemic is hard enough, but communicating on behalf of dozens, or even hundreds, of associated organizations is another challenge altogether. The leaders of trade associations, coalition organizations, and task forces know this problem all too well. Regardless of the issue area, achieving widespread understanding and buy-in through your desired public relations efforts may seem impossible during COVID-19. Considerations Stakeholder-based organizations—associations, coalitions, or any other group of organizations united by a common mission—all face similar challenges in communicating. Of course, no two organizations are exactly alike, so these challenges can look different for each group based on a membership’s voting power, responsibilities to the overall umbrella group, and levels of engagement. With this in mind, there are a few key aspects of coalition work to consider when communicating during a crisis, regardless of your structure:
  • Capacity: Many of your associated groups won’t have nearly as much communications bandwidth as other organizations in the coalition. This leaves them with little internal support and reduced media relations or content creation capabilities.
  • Competing Priorities: Although your associated groups may agree on the coalition’s main objectives, they could disagree on how to respond to a crisis. Successfully navigating these disagreements is crucial—internal divisions in the time of a crisis can slow down your response at a moment when speed and decisiveness are essential.
  • Time: Crises change on the turn of a dime. Communicating on behalf of a coalition amidst shifting circumstances can require quick decision making among a large number of leaders—and groups of this size and structure can struggle to be nimble while still garnering feedback and buy-in from every organization.
With these sensitivities in mind, here are a few tips for successfully communicating with a coalition. Keep your members informed In the midst of a crisis, it is important to keep your associated groups updated on how your message—and, by extension, theirs—is changing as the situation develops.
  • Set up an email alert for daily updates on all things COVID-19.
  • Personally reach out to the leaders of groups that may be disproportionately affected.
  • Ensure all internal communications to your members are consistent, immediate, and empathetic.
Support your members Your membership may have limited communications resources, so equip them with what they need to respond to a rapidly shifting crisis. This could include:
  • Pre-planned responses for media inquiries
  • Social media copy and graphics
  • Sample press kits
  • Webinars and/or long-form content on how to navigate the media landscape during COVID-19
Make sure all of these materials leave room for each organization to easily tailor them to their voice and needs.This support will be appreciated and can go a long way toward helping them succeed. Engage your members It is easy to fall into tunnel vision when a crisis hits and only focus on your organization’s reputation and visibility. However, it is in your best interest to convene your members as early as possible to both establish clear communications channels and also safeguard against any unexpected mistakes members make during their own attempts to respond to the crisis. Your members are closer to the front lines of any crisis, so listening to their challenges and needs will lead to more effective communications strategies. Establish a feedback mechanism for members to share best practices, operational challenges, and questions or concerns to maintain transparency, accountability, and trust. This could be something as simple as providing a point of contact to direct their concerns to, or something more structured like a weekly standing call for members to raise any issues. The Takeaway Coalition politics are real and must be taken into account when responding to crises. Remember that as the leader of a large group, no matter what the topic, those groups will look to your organization for guidance and leadership. Taking these tips into consideration will strengthen your ability to serve your members and achieve your communications goals.


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