On-Demand: Government Affairs During a Global Crisis: How to Prepare for the Unknown
Hear experts discuss how to mitigate risk, find opportunities, and future-proof your organization against a global crisis.
As the world moves rapidly between global crises, it is more imperative than ever that organizations nimbly manage issues in ever-changing geopolitical and economic environments that inevitably affect public policy. Even amid the chaos of a global crisis, there are concrete steps government affairs can take to mitigate risk and identify opportunities, regardless of the changing landscape and the upheaval it may bring to your organization.
FiscalNote held a virtual discussion on how to mitigate risk, find opportunities, and future-proof your organization against a global crisis, featuring professionals in global affairs. Joining the conversation were Jennifer Storipan, vice president at Lot Sixteen; Adam Miller, head of policy and government affairs for international markets at Astellas; Ann Davison, director of strategic communications at Guidehouse; and Brittany Bolen, senior policy advisor at Sidley. Moderating the discussion was Martina Bozadzhieva, chief research officer at FrontierView.
The conversation focused on building a proactive government affairs strategy to face global crises head-on. Here are the highlights from the discussion:
What are the biggest challenges government affairs teams face when confronted with unexpected crises?
Davison: Elected officials and policymakers in a crisis want answers, and they want them fast. The media wants to know what did you know, when did you know it, and what are you doing about it?
There's not a lot of time, but getting sharable information from inside your organization to respond to that barrage of questions isn't always easy — particularly in a crisis. So it's really important that you hit the right tone in communications with the Hill and other stakeholders coming out of the gate.
It's not just what you do in a crisis, it's what you say and how you say it. It's very important for the government affairs team to keep that top of mind in the rush to be responsive to the questions that they inevitably get in a crisis situation.
Miller: Whether a crisis directly envelops your organization (such as a natural disaster) or is one that's tertiary, it unfortunately creates a stream of necessary actions to preserve your operations. I think every company feels they're ready for “black swan” crises, but until it actually occurs, the processes that you have in place, especially in government affairs, can be tested.
If you think you have all of it answered, go back again. There's probably a question that you wouldn't have thought of until you're actually in that situation. If there's one certainty about crises, there will always be another one to navigate. What we can learn from this one is going to help inform us to be able to respond in an even more able manner moving into the future.
It's really important to make sure that you communicate clearly what you’re looking for and the questions you really need to answer. That helps figure out how to best communicate back to lawmakers in D.C.Jennifer Storipan, Vice President
How do you communicate with Congress and other stakeholders about complex global issues?
Storipan: It's really important to communicate exactly what Congress or the federal government may be looking for to your colleagues who are managing the crisis in real-time and working directly with the people who are affected. They may have the information that you're looking for, but they may have gotten that a few hours ago or they may be dealing with something that they think is more pressing.
It's really important to make sure that you communicate clearly what you’re looking for and the questions you really need to answer. That helps figure out how to best communicate back to lawmakers in D.C.
When you are open and you're honest and say “I know this right now, I'm working to get you this, I hope to have it to you soon,” that makes a real difference and people are very understanding that it might be a little bit chaotic and you need that extra time to get the full picture of what's going on.
What lessons have you learned from handling the fast-moving global crisis COVID-19?
Bolen: A lot of it is contingency planning. A lot of organizations have now created those that allow them to work in a virtual setting.
This is one area that many did not account for in those initial plans. It’s important to have those contingency plans in place for some sort of event like this that could allow you to have a remote workforce.
Miller: I think most organizations have a very robust risk mitigation planning process — you put all of your risks assessed in a grid as to the likelihood, impact, and other factors. But what I find interesting is that not every organization does a dry run of that plan.
You have the plan, but it's very different in practice. It's like going out on NFL Sunday and I've got the playbook, but I've never actually run the play. You're not going to be successful reading from a PowerPoint template, an Excel sheet, and then executing unless you already know what those potential roadblocks in the plan are.
Dry runs show you what works and what doesn't. You can also bring in a third party who can give you a different perspective of the audience you would be communicating to. Because, obviously, you have your own biases, your past experience predicates what you think is going to work, and the external environment is always changing.
One of the biggest value-adds we can do as government affairs officers is to take the cacophony of noise during a crisis and distill it for the leadership into what's important and what's relevant.Adam Miller, Head of Policy and Government Affairs, International Markets
What type of systems do organizations need to have in place for when a crisis hits?
Bolen: It’s important to consider your external footprint and who your constituents are. It's not just your customers or your providers, but also insurers and your lenders and your board and shareholders. It's identifying all those different constituencies and also thinking about how they may react.
In addition to internal plans, having a good team of government affairs professionals is key. Because when that crisis hits, you still are going to be expected to continue to do your job every day. You really do need somebody else to be able to come in and help you manage that process, and government affairs professionals play a critical role in that.
Being able to retain them earlier is important so they're better immersed in your company and they've got those relationships and rapport built. Then you have that relationship retained so you can make that phone call in the middle of the night and know that somebody is there to help you respond.
Storipan: It's important to know what your organization stands for and what the organization's priorities are. Priorities may shift during a crisis, but having a clear objective of what you're trying to achieve will guide the advocacy or outreach efforts that you need to communicate with outside entities or stakeholders.
One other thing that I think is helpful in the corporate setting is to think about having an employee engagement program in place. Your employees are really your most compelling advocates. If you have the opportunity where you have people working in multiple states or across the country, you can figure out how to use them in an effective way. If there is a crisis that hits the industry, you already have that in place where they can send an email, let their elected officials know, pick up a phone call, or go to D.C.
Miller: One of the biggest value-adds we can do as government affairs officers is to take the cacophony of noise during a crisis and distill it for the leadership into what's important and what's relevant.
Being able to do that is absolutely critical whenever we face a challenge like that. There is a lot of information coming in, a lot of data. Not all of it is as important or relevant, so being able to translate that into what's most critical at that moment to make that decision in an advisory capacity is one of the biggest value-adds we can lend during a crisis.
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