By Steve Arthur, Vice President
My recent trip to the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) Summer Meeting reminded me that state government relations professionals deal not only with weighty public policy issues, but also with the choices we make about whether to attend a conference and how we get there.
We sometimes do take for granted the nice places we enjoy while attending Groups meetings. However, for anyone who has ever attended a meeting on Mackinac Island, Michigan you know that getting there can be a challenge even when everything goes well. And last week, everything did not go well getting to the NAAG Summer Meeting.
My day began with a 3:00 AM wake-up call to be on the road from Santa Fe to Albuquerque at 4:00 for the 6:00 AM flight to Minneapolis to catch the flight to Detroit to catch the flight to Pellston, Michigan to catch the bus to the dock to catch the ferry to island to get on the horse drawn taxi to the hotel. Just in time for a 7:30 dinner. At least that was the plan.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas. Due to severe weather, the Detroit to Pellston flight was cancelled, and some on the flight were told the first available seat would be two days later. In fact some meeting attendees seriously considered asking the airline to simply fly them back home. To their credit, NAAG staff quickly arranged a charter bus to make sure the Attorneys General, staff and the rest of us could arrive in time for the next day’s opening session.
So a 45 minute flight became a 360 minute bus ride after a two hour delay in leaving Detroit. That 7:30 dinner became an order of chicken fingers at the airport and a refreshment stop at a grocery store in Flint. Of course, the bus can only take you so far when your final destination is an ISLAND. Again, NAAG staff came through with a chartered ferry 5 hours later than the last regularly scheduled ferry.
Once the meeting started the next day, a couple of things became clear. First, while the number of Attorneys General and staff were down from previous meetings, over 30 states were still represented. The big change was the number of private sector attendees, which was well below normal. This made it much easier for those of us who were there to talk with everyone we needed to for business, and also allowed more casual discussions at the social events.
Second, the bus trip became the talk of the conference. While it was definitely not the best of travel days, it was a bit of a bonding experience for those on the bus, and it will likely be mentioned at future NAAG meetings for years to come. And this brings me to my point about how travel can impact our jobs. We all know that building relationships is an important aspect of our profession and when you spend six hours with people on an unscheduled bus ride, that can definitely be a long term relationship builder. We might even start a Facebook page.
The second, and just as important, lesson from this trip is to always attend the meetings that may be difficult to get to because your competitors might not be there. You persevered – they did not – you win. Imagine how you would feel if your competitor followed this advice and you did not?
State government relations is comprised of so many elements from Legislative Monitoring to Strategic Planning, Groups issue management and Lobbying. Until this meeting, I did not fully appreciate the value of the shared travel nightmare for building relationships.