By Steve Arthur, Vice President
I recently participated in a client’s government relations off-site retreat, and part of that meeting was devoted to developing the key issues on which the government relations team should be working. But unlike many companies where a team might kick issues around and decide what was most important, this team was working on an outreach plan to meet individually with many of the company’s senior management to discuss what was important to each business unit.
This is an excellent approach to corporate government relations for two reasons. As Stateside President Connie Campanella proffered in her blog post on the subject, “No Client, No Issue,” if you do not have an internal business unit that cares about an issue, you have no business working on that issue. That doesn’t mean you should wait for them to ask you to work on an issue. Quite the contrary: It is YOUR job to understand their business well enough to identify emerging issues and take them to your internal customers for evaluation and development of a business case for political engagement.
Second, simply building internal relationships is a critical component to the long-term success of your government relations program. If you do not want to be perceived as simply a “cost center” for your company, you need to invest time in internal relationship building. Just as you spend time building relationships with state and local officials at Groups meetings and statehouse visits, you need to do so internally to be seen as a partner and someone who can be trusted to support the business. If you are not, your program will always be at risk.
The meetings our “retreat” client is scheduling with senior corporate executives will afford the government relations team an opportunity to brief about current government relations activities while learning more about the business unit issues. The discussion could include explaining the assets that government relations brings to the table, such as how Groups are used to extend the reach of the program and spotlight emerging issues.
As we all know, corporate leadership has a fiduciary responsibility to the shareholders, so you need to make sure they see that the government relations team understands and appreciates that obligation. While it is not always possible for every policy, if you can assign a dollar value to any issue you work on, you can demonstrate that you speak their language. It also has the benefit of giving you an additional data point when you are prioritizing the issues. Again, the key is aligning your work to the goals of the business.
Finally, now is the time that most of our corporate and association clients begin working on next year’s budget in earnest. While it might be nice to decompress after a summer of Groups meetings, this is the time to talk to those with profit and loss responsibility in your company and make sure you are working on the issues important to them. As they see the value you bring, it becomes easier to get budget increases when you can clearly demonstrate the P/L impact of your work.
So make sure you have an internal plan to reach out to your internal customers. You’re spending the summer (and the rest of year) attending Groups meetings to build and maintain relationships with elected officials across the country to advance your company’s agenda. Make sure you actually know what that agenda needs to be.