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“Back to school” For Government Relations

It’s back to school for students, parents and teachers soon. It is also a time when governments will roll up their sleeves after a summer hiatus and get back down to serious work. Is your Government Relations (GR) plan ready for “back to school”?

By
Hande Bilhan
,
on
August 31, 2015

It’s back to school for students, parents and teachers soon. It is also a time when governments will roll up their sleeves after a summer hiatus and get back down to serious work. Is your Government Relations (GR) plan ready for “back to school”?

 

More and more companies and organizations understand that they need to work with government officials and regulators to shape a public policy environment in which they can conduct business. It is not the old days of “winning” and “losing” anymore but rather a strategy game of creating “win-win” solutions that provide palatable public policy solutions while affording you an environment to run a successful business or organization.

 Customers, employees and investors are not your only stakeholders. Increasingly, governments and regulators are becoming one of the most important stakeholders for many sectors and organizations. For example, for complex and vital industries such as financial services, regulatory authorities often eclipse any other important stakeholder.

 Furthermore, regulations are becoming more complex and are driven not just by local concerns but often also by international trends and standards. Similarly, government policies are increasingly shaped by international developments along with domestic ones. There is a push and pull between more government intervention and less government funding. Staying on top of these developments is vital.

 Aside from the usual unintended consequences of public policy initiatives that may disadvantage your particular organization versus a competing entity, there may also be government proposals and initiatives that are threatening to compete with you in the private sector. It is therefore crucial to be GR savvy these days, even if you think that government does not have a direct impact on your business today.

Here are some tips to get your government relations plan ready for “back to school”:

  • Evaluate: Conduct a thorough screening of upcoming legislation, regulations and consultations as well as public policy trends that are likely to impact your sector and/or your organization. Don’t just look for the negative. Keep an eye out for initiatives that you can become a cheerleader for such as new funding proposals or even new rules or regulations that may give you a competitive advantage over others. A thorough threats and opportunities analysis can go a long way to securing your organizations’ future. Also take the time to review your memberships, associations and affiliations. Assess if you are getting value out of each group and how you can either improve the value in return for your involvement or whether you need to focus resources and energy elsewhere. There is strength in numbers and having a group or groups behind you when it comes to advocacy efforts is invaluable. Therefore you want to make sure you are aligned with the right groups and associations, ideally well in advance of when the need for a campaign arises.
  • Organize: Ensure that you have a system set up to monitor and respond to government and regulatory developments on an ongoing basis. Review any legal impediments your organization may have to engaging in lobbying and advocacy. For example, certain charitable organizations could lose their status as a registered charity for tax purposes if they engage in political activism. Review and update all your necessary lobbyist registrations. Getting publicly shamed or fined for neglecting to register is something that will haunt you well past the few weeks of negative publicity. Set up a system to monitor your political activities and contributions to ensure you stay within legal limits. Put together a list of potential foes and allies, dividing this list by issue category if need be. Consider putting together an advocacy tool kit that can be tweaked by issue. Remember - getting organized is half the battle.
  • Prioritize: While you may have a whole laundry list of issues that have some relevance to your work or your services, you will not have the resources to tackle them all. Neither do you need to do so. Rather, prioritize issues you must tackle based on the potential impact on your company. Pick your battles. Your list should be divided into issues to be taken up through associations or alliances and those that you ought to take on yourself. Associations can have real impact on government policy but by necessity must speak to the common issues of their memberships, not necessarily your unique circumstances or interests. You should also consider your probability of impacting a government or regulatory initiative before you use up a lot of resources. Some issues may be a done deal or you may be too late at the table to influence the outcome. That being said, don’t dismiss anything off-hand without due consideration.
  • Mobilize: Put together a team with clear roles and responsibilities to act as your GR team, ready to move when you need to start a GR campaign. Your team need not all have GR backgrounds nor be professionals within this field. If structured carefully, a diverse team that can work with a dedicated GR professional can be just as powerful as a full-scale professional GR team.

 Governments and regulators rarely wait for everyone to be onboard. So this fall get ready to be involved and be heard. The downside risk of sitting on the sidelines may be greater than you can afford whereas the reward for being proactive may be higher than you anticipate. Happy back to school for all!

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