“Government relations” is one of those terms that means different things to different people. But the best definition is this one: the process of influencing all areas and levels of governance as they relate to public policy, programs, and budgetary priorities. So it follows that coming up with effective strategies for government relations is crucial for a company or organization’s success.
A few basic strategies have stood the test of time. The best way to study those strategies at various governance levels is to take a close look at examples and, if possible, tailor them to your own needs. Below are several tips and examples demonstrating how companies and organizations can employ effective government relations as part of their day-to-day operations.
Targeting State and Local Policies
In recent years, as impasses in the U.S. Congress have slowed down the implementation of new federal laws, productivity at the state level has been on the rise. This means there are many more opportunities to affect change in favor of your organization or to oppose legislation that could impede your organization’s progress at the local and state levels. With an effective government relations strategy in place—employing a range of tactics, including advocacy software and management—your organization can begin to navigate and influence legislation effectively.
Cutting-edge advocacy software, for example, can provide public affairs and government relations professionals with technological tools that are forward-focused and easy to use. They can enable professionals to actively increase their target audience’s engagement and reward participation, while also bypassing confusing analytics and bad legislative data. This helps organizations connect with decision-makers who are most likely to deliver advantageous results.
Providing a Bird’s-Eye Legislative View
The state-focused approach has broader implications as well. Any company or organization with a nationwide reach should have a vested interest in tracking the regulatory changes being implemented across all 50 state legislatures. This means monitoring bills, press releases, and social media posts relevant to your organization’s interests. And while it’s important to be aware of the discussions taking place between legislators and others at official meetings and events, organizations impacted by state-level legislation also need a government relations strategy that helps follow what has become increasingly important: online discussions.
This is the perfect storm: an increase in legislation at the state and local levels; policy issues crossing state lines; and, via social media, citizens being hyper-aware of government actions. Surviving the “storm” demands a government relations team that can deal with the overwhelming volume of legislation and policy issues organizations face today.
Finding the Best State & Local Lobbyists
Oftentimes, professional lobbyists need to be brought into the picture, seeing as they specialize in specific issues or causes. So it behooves a company or organization, if resources allow, to hire a lobbyist specializing in relevant state and local policy issues. Aligning with an expert in this area, a firm that can connect you with the best state and local lobbyists, is a great way to go.
Any firm with extensive relationships with lobbyists in all 50 states can make recommendations based on a number of factors, including lawmaker relationships, issue areas of expertise, region of influence, and depth of political connections.
Establish, Build and Sustain Relationships with Elected Officials
Leveraging local relations to establish federal-level influence is also paramount. Take, for example, a retail company opening a new store or plant, a project that will no doubt have a huge impact on a particular community. The savviest companies make sure that the legislator or legislators representing the affected districts are made aware of the project and all of its ramifications. Not only is this the right thing to do; it establishes an open line of communication between the company and the legislators, which is a crucial step in building relationships and ensuring that legislators have that company in mind while enacting new legislation.
Some companies take their relationships with legislators a step further, by hosting on-site visits to their facilities. This provides lawmakers with up-close views of a company’s operations, while also sharing the ways in which a company directly impacts a community and its members.
Engaging with elected officials is also a significant aspect of trade associations’ work. Whether at an event in Washington, D.C., or at the association’s trade shows, the events include meetings and site visits with legislators and their staff members. Solid advocacy software or management programs can help keep track of meetings and their participants at legislative offices. It’s a great way to solidify connections and establish channels of communication between significant parties.
Leveraging Analytics to Drive Decision-Making
The U.S. Congress, of course, still wields tremendous power via the bills it introduces, debates and, eventually, passes into law. One daunting challenge of running an effective government relations strategy is monitoring thousands of Congressional bills and prioritizing those that affect your organization. Once this task is accomplished, however, it enables a company or organization to reach out to relevant lawmakers and champion those issues beneficial to an organization.
The first step is to determine exactly what kind of data will allow your team to make the proper outreach decisions and facilitate change. With the right technology and/or management practices, a company or organization can assess the effectiveness of a legislator, tracking, specifically, vote count and their effectiveness in advancing legislation. By analyzing these trends closely, the organization can develop new, more effective strategies.
Government relations are a key component in any organization’s advocacy efforts. It is also a multi-layered one, demanding vigilance at the local, state, and federal levels while keeping an eye on all relevant forms of media. A successful government relations team, whether in-house or hired for the specific role, must be deft at educating lawmakers about issues, appraising an organization’s leaders about legislative opportunities, and ensuring that the organization’s views are reflected in policy debates and outcomes. Not an easy task, but for all the reasons covered above, an absolutely necessary one.