By Steve Arthur, Vice President
As we approach Labor Day and the last of the summer Groups meetings are wrapping up (just in time to start the fall schedule), I was thinking about several colleagues who said they are unable to attend a particular meeting they might routinely attend due to its location. At least one of the Groups host a meeting in Hawaii each year and Alaska, Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands also appear regularly on schedules along with Miami, Scottsdale and Aspen in the winter. These locations are nice to visit, but they can create internal “optics” challenges for the state government relations professional.
Of course we all have friends (and maybe even family – Mom) who do not travel for business and hear about our Groups meetings in resort destinations and simply think “junket.” That is understandable. Much more problematic is when that thought is coming from your boss, who questions why you need to travel to that meeting in Hawaii.
We, as government affairs professionals, do not have any control over where these Groups meetings are being held, so what do we do when a Groups meeting is being held at a location that raises internal eyebrows?
If the meeting is important to attend in Dallas, then it is important for you to attend in Hawaii. The cost for a trip to Florida, Alaska, the Caribbean or Hawaii may not be much (or any) more than a trip to the Midwest, but you may have to do some additional work to justify the trip. First, does your organization see the value of the Groups meetings you attend more generally? My colleague Michael Behm recently revisited this topic in a blog earlier this summer and in another blog wrote about seven questions to ask about your Groups participation.
The core question in the earlier blog was, “Does the Groups participation advance my program objectives?” If you cannot map your participation with a particular Group back to your government relations program objectives, then you probably should not be attending any of those Group’s meetings, let alone one at a resort destination.
However, assuming that a Group does map back directly to your program’s objectives, you should be able to lay out a plan for each meeting to your boss and demonstrate the value to your business. If you are doing this on a regular basis for each meeting you attend, it should not matter where the meeting is held. You should also consider the following questions after you return from the meeting:
- Which officials now have a better understanding of my organization and its products or services?
- Which officials provided insights into their state’s policymaking or government processes that my organization will find helpful to achieve its business objectives?
- What relationships did I develop or strengthen with officials that will be useful to my organization in the future?
- How do I work with the staff or Group members in-between meetings to further advance my objectives?
Whether you participate on a panel at the meeting, speak to a small group informally at a reception or dinner, or hold one-on-one meetings is something only you can determine. The key is to be able to quantify what you accomplished at each meeting and its return on investment to your organization.
Some readers may be thinking, “I already do this, but my boss still thinks of a Hawaii trip as a junket, and does not think missing a single meeting will make a difference to our long-term government relations effectiveness.” Maybe, or maybe not.
Relationship building is not just about those conversations you had, it can also be about shared experiences. See my blog from last year about the difficulties in getting to Mackinac Island for a NAAG meeting. The meeting and that bus trip continue to be a topic of conversation and a bonding experience for those of us who experienced it.
While not every trip will involve an experience like that (and I sincerely hope it does not), every meeting usually provides an opportunity to build a new relationship based on some unforeseen event. Since many organizations hold only one or two big meetings a year, skipping one of them means you could be missing out on 12%-25% of the opportunities to build a relationship at that organization over an elected official’s four year term. For those with two year terms, you are potentially abandoning 50% of the opportunities to make a connection that could benefit your organization. Would your organization give up 25% or 50% of the opportunities to talk with potential clients?
To compensate for the location, many organizations make sure they pack plenty of substance into these meetings. At the CWAG meeting in Hawaii I attended earlier this summer, breakfast started at 6:30 AM, meetings ran until 4:00 PM and the evening receptions and dinners started at 6:00. Needless to say, little of the sunscreen I packed was ever put to use.
So as you look at the Groups Schedules over the next year, here are some questions to think about, not only for the exotic destinations, but all Groups meetings:
- Have I done my work internally to make sure management understands the value of the Group meeting?
- What specific benefits have I brought to my organization from my participation in previous Groups meeting to demonstrate their value?
- What are my specific goals for the meeting and how do they map back to my program’s objectives?
- Will I be able to secure a pre-registration list, so I will know who is attending?
- Are there more (or less) attendees than usual attending the meeting, providing more opportunities for connections?
- Will your competitors be there?
If you have solid answers to the above questions, you can make a strong case to your boss that no matter where the meeting is, it is important for your organization to be there. Since the relationships we build at Groups meetings play a critical role in our state government relations programs, not attending makes you less effective – it’s that simple. As Woody Allen said years ago, “80% of success is showing up.”