“What is it like working in a corporate government relations environment as compared to working in a government relations consulting capacity?” I am often asked this question. Well, I will let you in on a secret: things are different but in some ways very similar.
Enclosed are some observations:
- Internal and external politics must be taken into account when communicating with an internal or external client.
There is no difference between the GR consulting world and corporate GR world in regard to the necessity for effectively managing your politics (whether internal or external). A GR professional should be honest, forthright and efficient. Communication should be timely, of interest, and relevant.
However, there is somewhat of a juxtaposition.
Whereas one might have several internal constituencies to serve in an internal corporate environment (multiple business units, PR teams, Investor Relations teams, federal and state GR teams, government procurement teams, etc.), that GR professional still should be operating from the same set of goals: the business goals as set by the company.
In contrast a GR consultant has to serve multiple clients but really just one constituency, the GR, Legal, or regulatory team that hired them. This of course does not mean the consultant should not have a working knowledge of each client’s business goals to be effective. As a matter of fact knowing these goals will assist in setting the agenda and strategy on how to advocate effectively for each individual client.
For instance, in order for a consultant to give exemplary service in advocating with elected, appointed, or agency officials that consultant better know a client’s business model well enough to answer questions when asked by any of the aforementioned entities. If not the consultant’s AND the client’s credibility is called into question. A consultant must obtain a working knowledge for all of his or her businesses. Conversely, the “in-house” GR professional in most cases essentially has to be concerned with one company’s operations and/or industry.
- In a corporate setting there is a lot of truth in the statement that it is good to be present and participate in the informal communication chain (i.e. “water cooler” conversation).
Let’s be frank here. A lot of projects are started, ended, or altered by conversation in the hall between colleagues. The same can be said for a consulting team or firm. It is possible to serve in the corporate and consultant worlds remotely working from the “home office,” but one should absolutely establish a plan for regular communication whether it be recurring conference calls, regularly scheduled travel to the home office for meetings with leadership, and/or scheduled one-on-one conversations with your supervisor. Missing out on the benefits of the informal “water cooler” talk will more than likely lend one to becoming “all wet and out in the cold” with regard to important matters.
Although there could be some perceived benefit in avoiding inevitable unpleasant internal politics, being miles away could potentially be a “negative” for you.
- Budgeting and expense evaluation is an essential part of a GR professional’s responsibilities (whether it be in the confines of a corporate setting or a consultant setting).
True, however, I would be willing to state that it in some ways is easier for the “in-house” GR professional to fund her or his projects if the business units deem them important. As a consultant the scrutiny on how the client’s money is being spent is an even greater responsibility. That is the way it should be since consultants need to set high standards serving as a steward of their clients’ dollars. Ignore this fact, and it is possible the consultant won’t have any dollars to spend….period. Both “in-house” GR professionals and consultants should be able to demonstrate return on the dollars that are being spent for a successful GR program and/or project. Oh, and this is a lot easier said than done so one should devote adequate time and thinking to this type of exercise.
- In a corporate setting the brand must be preserved. However, at times offense must be played.
Any “in-house” corporate GR professional has faced the question of whether it is better to play defense or offense in the public policy arena with regard to specific campaigns or situations. A corporate “in-house” GR professional should be coordinating with their “in-house” Public Relations colleagues to ensure consistency in external messaging. However in the GR world sometimes “offense” must be played when advocating and attempting to win the hearts and minds of others. This applies not only in government circles but in the court of public opinion. This approach can potentially cause “heartburn” with PR colleagues when there is risk to the “image” of the company associated with the recommended political tactics and messaging. As I am now on the consulting side of the ledger I am often encouraged to “win” as an independent third party. I can provide political cover in doing so.
Having now served in both the corporate and consulting worlds I am enjoying watching the different strategies that multiple organizations implement to meet their public policy goals. Many businesses utilize diverse methods of public policy advocacy, but every organization’s expected goal is the same: prove your worth and win.