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Developing Effective Government Relations Strategies to Advance Your Issues

by Veronica Magan, FiscalNote

Government relations plays a vital role in the success of any organization. Learn how to build an effective strategy with real-life examples!

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Policy can have a significant negative or positive impact on organizations worldwide. Being able to successfully conduct business depends on the laws and regulations in place. This is why a well-thought-out, 360-degree government relations strategy is vital to enable your organization to conduct business, protect its interests, and prove the value of your government affairs team.

What is Government Relations?

Government relations is how organizations communicate with governments to educate lawmakers on how proposed legislation or regulations could affect the organization’s business or the lawmaker’s constituents.

According to McKinsey’s Global Survey on external affairs, more than 40 percent of respondents say government actions and regulations will hurt their organizations’ future operating income. And only 11 percent say their organizations “frequently succeed at shaping government and regulatory decisions.” In today’s increasingly complex business and political environments, effective government relations strategies are more consequential than ever.

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Strategies for Effective Government Relations

From defining and organizing your issues and identifying the key lawmakers you need to influence, to mobilizing your advocates and reporting on your success, an effective government affairs strategy has a big impact on corporate or association business goals. Here are a few tips for developing a successful strategy:

1. Establish Legislative Priorities

To build a successful government relations strategy, you have to start by deciding what your policy or legislative priorities will be. Setting solid legislative goals is one of the building blocks for your government affairs team.

“What is it that you want to accomplish in the space? And how does that sync up with your organization's mission?” says Will Krebs, vice president of policy and government relations at Project Lead The Way, a non-profit organization in the PreK-12 education space.

While the execution of the strategy will mostly rest on your government affairs team, setting these legislative goals goes beyond. “We don't make legislative strategy in a bubble,” says Chris Spence, managing director of federal government relations at TIAA, a Fortune 100 financial services organization. You have to marry your business needs with your clients’ or members’, as well as your key legislators’ priorities to set your strategy up for success.

For example, if one of your organization’s key goals is to increase sales, you should collaborate with your sales team “to understand their barriers and their opportunities so that those are reflected on your policy framework,” Krebs says.

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2. Track Legislation Around Key Issues 

In the first 15 weeks of 2021 alone there were already more than 120,000 bills introduced at the state and federal levels in the United States. It’s never been more important for you to stay on top of your priority policy issues.

To do this, many government affairs professionals rely on legislative tracking and policy monitoring technology to stay on top of any legislation relevant to your issues at the local, state, federal, and global levels, and never miss any updates relevant to their legislative priorities. 

3. Educate Government Officials About Your Company and Issues

Building relationships is one of the biggest parts of the government affairs and advocacy world. Being able to educate key lawmakers who can help you pass or defeat legislation in Congress and statehouses is vital to move your government relations strategy forward.

“I think the best case is to be able to influence policymakers in such a way that they build legislation to incorporate your objective,” says Krebs, instead of waiting for legislation to come around and then try to add your demands to it. 

To do that, you need to identify those key lawmakers who could be champions for your issues. The best way is to start with committees of jurisdiction related to your issues and then building relationships based on open communication and authenticity.

“Good lawmakers are very mindful and receptive to conversations with people who have a genuine, well-thought solution to their issues,” Krebs says. “Really seeking to understand, listen, and identify those points of alignment, and then building on them is pretty crucial.”

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4. Don’t Neglect Grassroots Engagement 

“There is a lot of noise in Washington, and it takes a lot to break through the barrier. Your grassroots network can help you do that through the sheer volume of emails and calls, but also by sharing their own personal stories,” says Lindsey Miller, manager of grassroots advocacy at the National Restaurant Association. “Lawmakers really do listen when their constituents make it clear what’s important to them. “

Engaging your grassroots supporters is another way of educating key government officials. It helps surface an issue in front of lawmakers to get them to take a particular stance for or against it. Whether you’re talking to state and local leaders that have just entered the political space for the first time or seasoned members of Congress, the right grassroots strategy can help make your policy agenda top of mind for lawmakers and allow you to build strong relationships.

5. Measure and Evaluate Your Government Affairs Strategy

Measuring and evaluating is one of the best ways to understand what is working and what is not so you can adjust your strategy and optimize for success. Also, building an informed, fully up-to-date, briefing or report on your progress that is likely to get shared around your organization, is one of the most visible parts of your job to higher-ups and peers. An effective report helps show your department’s value and the ROI behind your team’s work.

But government relations strategies can take a long time to complete as the life of a particular legislative issue can span several years. This makes it difficult to attribute success to certain efforts maybe at the beginning of a years-long effort, and a lot can change in that timeframe, which means your strategy must change accordingly.

While measuring and evaluating your government relations strategy can be difficult, the best approach is focusing on the journey rather than just the destination. Besides helping you demonstrate progress, this approach reduces the risk of deeming your whole effort as a failure if goals are not achieved within the report’s time frame due to sometimes unpredictable political forces.

Government affairs professionals leverage reporting tools that allow them to keep track of every action, every bill, and every relationship in one place. This makes it easy to quickly pull together a report showing the entire ecosystem around a specific issue and showing the effectiveness of your efforts over time.

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Examples of Effective Government Relations Strategies

3M Builds Global Government Affairs Center of Excellence

Manufacturing leader 3M operates in more than 70 countries around the globe. This means the government affairs team must keep track of myriad legislative and regulatory priorities, make sure they help clear the way for market access, and maintain healthy relationships with government officials all in one place.

To do this, 3M has set up a Global Government Affairs Center of Excellence led by Dr. John Pournoor and Brittany Masalosalo. They focus on a data-driven approach to align teams across the organization and to do this, they migrated prior structured approaches they had developed for government affairs portfolio management into one solution.

Learn more about how 3M built its Global Government Affairs Center of Excellence.

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How PCMA Shows the Value and ROI of Government Affairs

As the leading association representing pharmacy benefit managers in the United States, the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA) seeks to influence policy developments that could impact its member companies and the industry at large. Pharmacy benefit managers administer prescription drug plans for over 266 million Americans

The PCMA team uses technology to monitor the thousands of bills developing across the U.S., to keep teams aligned on priority issues, and to highlight and report their efforts. “I can say ‘1,600 bills were introduced, this percentage of them are high or medium priority, and we did this percentage of advocacy work on those,’” says Melodie Shrader, vice president of state affairs at PCMA.

Discover how PCMA powers its successful government affairs strategy.

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AUVSI’s Small But Mighty Government Affairs Team

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) boasts 7,000 members from 60 countries spanning across the private and public sectors. The small government relations team led by Jacqueline Beckwith uses technology to grow their public policy footprint and create a unified communication and public policy strategy all in one place. 

AUVSI has been able to create a robust grassroots advocacy and bill monitoring strategy that has shifted how their communications and public policy work can be done. Before, they were using disparate technology tools for different functions: track bills, launch grassroots advocacy campaigns, and manage internal knowledge and external communications. Now, they’ve streamlined the government affairs strategy by automating and bringing these separate functions all under one solution.

Read more about how AUVSI’s built a successful global government affair strategy with a small team and a small budget.

Develop Successful Government Relations Strategies with FiscalNote

To build and execute a successful government relations strategy, you need to stay on top of the relevant legislation, deep dive into the news and analysis, and know who your key stakeholders are. FiscalNote’s 360-degree approach to issues management gives you all the tools you need to successfully plan and execute your government affairs strategy.

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