One of the most important and challenging jobs of a government affairs professional is to engage and communicate with stakeholders effectively. Building or updating your stakeholder management strategy is the perfect way to make sure you’re ready for the fall season. Creating a coherent game plan to manage the people and data that can help move your issues forward can ensure an organized, successful strategy for the rest of the year and well into the future.
Industry experts — Chris Mleczko, political engagement manager at Sentry; Jackie Beckwith, manager of advocacy and government relations at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI); and Megan Villarreal, manager of policy and public affairs at Nestle — sat down with FiscalNote to discuss best practices for maintaining stakeholder relationships. Here, we bring you the key takeaways from their conversation:
Know Which Issues Are Important to Stakeholders
Perhaps the most important way to connect with stakeholders is to stay on top of the issues that matter most to them. This isn’t necessarily a constant — issues can change rapidly, so it’s vital to have a system to organize information and stay up-to-date on stakeholder issues.
“With how often things are changing in legislatures across the country, it's so important to keep refreshing that list of priority issues,” Mleczko shares. At Sentry, he revisits these priorities on a yearly or seasonal basis.
With so many issues in constant shift, it can be challenging to keep track of what matters to stakeholders and effectively engage with them. That’s why having an organizational system in place is critical, Villarreal said.
“We really rely on FiscalNote to do a lot of our state outreach and state tracking,” she said. “When you're looking at covering a lot of states, a lot of ground, and a lot of legislation — especially if you throw a state like California into the mix, which has thousands of bills every year — it's kind of a behemoth to be able to tackle that sheer volume of stakeholders and legislation.”
FiscalNote is also a “huge piece of the puzzle” for Sentry in sorting out what matters to stakeholders, Mleczko shared. “One of the things we do is we put together issue briefs for our key contacts and we give them access to be able to view those whenever we want,” he said. “I’ll add things like issue summaries, positions, what’s some of our trade organizations’ positions on an issue, and that’s another line of communication that we can have with them to refine those positions over time.”
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Don’t be afraid to ask questions as you establish contacts and learn what your stakeholders care about. Your stakeholders are subject matter experts, so let them guide you as you discover what matters to them.
“Usually if somebody doesn't have the answers, they'll know somebody else that does within the organization,” Mleczko said. “Once you've figured out who those key contacts are and the issues that they're most concerned with, it's just a matter of keeping up that engagement — whether it's biweekly or monthly check-ins — just so that everybody is staying up to speed on the challenging, shifting nature of political and legislative environments.”
One of Mleczko’s go-tos is to inquire of the experts in the room, “What are your top three to four issues that we can try to tackle?” He walks through stakeholder’s pain points, political realities, and where opportunities lie. Mleczko describes this as a collaborative effort to form relationships. Rather than assuming what stakeholders are excited or concerned about, ask the questions directly to them.
With how often things are changing in legislatures across the country, it's so important to keep refreshing that list of priority issues.Chris Mleczko, Political Engagement Manager
Leverage Non-Legislative Stakeholders, Too
Engaging non-legislative stakeholders and having diverse relationships is crucial. Beckwith says “legislative-adjacent” stakeholders are key for her company when it comes to “socializing our ideas, getting them understood, and creating an environment to where our chapter advocates or our folks on the ground can go in without having to do all of the work from the bottom up.”
Ally building, or establishing non-traditional stakeholder relationships, is a key part of Beckwith’s strategy at AUVSI. She looks outside of typical stakeholders to corporations, trade associations, unions, nonprofits, and beyond. “In our kind of world, we're looking for those interesting coalition partners, which get a lot more attention from the media and from legislators,” she said.
Mleczko added that diversifying stakeholders is a benefit to Sentry’s customers. “These are all people that see these issues up close every day,” he said. “To not be engaged with them, talking to them, going to meetings with them, bringing them to the hill, for example — to not do that I think would be a disservice to our customers. Keeping them as a really important group to engage with is huge and something that is a little bit non-traditional for us, but I think it's becoming something that will become more of the norm as time goes on.”
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Building and maintaining relationships with the right stakeholders is key, and having the tools in place to guarantee your meetings with them are as productive as possible is critical.
Divide And Conquer Stakeholder Relations
A company may have multiple stakeholders with varying needs and interests, which can make it a challenge to effectively communicate with all of them on all the policy issues that matter.
Villarreal has had success dividing up the team so each person staffs one portion of the business and has their own set of issues to manage. “We really divide across those issue lines rather than some more traditional government affairs teams which focus on federal affairs and state affairs very separately,” she said.
There is no shortage of issues, that’s for sure, but Villareal says this is what keeps the job interesting. “Today could be a very climate-focused day for me because I do all of our climate net-zero and regenerative agriculture policy,” she said. “Then tomorrow, I could be entirely focused on our Purina business. So it’s exciting and it keeps every day fresh and new.”
To stay informed about the issues, many associates at Sentry sit on various committees of trade associations the company is a part of, Mleczko shared. “They’re right there involved in those conversations on key legislation,” he said. “Oftentimes, one of our government affairs staff people will be on a call with that person and will have a follow-up after to talk about a particular bill that is of concern.”
I love sending Christmas cards and I love getting Christmas cards. And so, I figured, why not expand that practice to when a member company or a chapter advocate really goes out on a limb and helps me out? In the pandemic, I think that adds a personal touch.Jackie Beckwith, Manager of Advocacy and Government Relations
Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International
Get Creative With Relationship-Building During a Pandemic
The global pandemic has forced everyone to get creative when managing relationships. The last 18 months have offered limited opportunities to organically create stakeholder relationships at networking events or happy hours. However, building and maintaining relationships is absolutely possible with creativity and persistence.
Beckwith’s strategy during the pandemic was to use old-fashioned snail mail to add a personal touch to her connections. “I love sending Christmas cards and I love getting Christmas cards,” she said. “And so, I figured, why not expand that practice to when a member company or a chapter advocate really goes out on a limb and helps me out? In the pandemic, I think that adds a personal touch.”
For Mleczko’s part, he doubled down on his commitment to maintaining relationships during the pandemic. “It really meant going out of our way to schedule virtual meetings,” he said. “As an example, we had a virtual meet and greet with a member of Congress and we invited associates from our organization who resided in his district to attend virtually.”
While the so-called “Zoom fatigue” is real, don’t underestimate the importance of these meetings. Even though many moved to a virtual format, “those conversations are still happening and they’re still meaningful,” Mleczko said.
The pandemic also presents an opportunity to engage with stakeholders on new issues that are especially pressing. This opens the door to many new opportunities for building relationships with your stakeholders.
Villarreal found this to be true at Nestle. “[The pandemic] allowed our team to engage with new internal key stakeholders particularly on different things that happened during the pandemic like mask mandates or food manufacturing mandates,” she said. “So, it did give us a platform to engage with a lot of teams and ways that we hadn't in the past, which was great. It kind of opened a new avenue of opportunity for us.”
[The pandemic] allowed our team to engage with new internal key stakeholders... It kind of opened a new avenue of opportunity for us.Megan Villarreal, Manager of Policy and Public Affairs
Step Up Your Stakeholder Management Strategy with FiscalNote
With so many stakeholder relationships and issues to manage, it’s important to stay organized and have the most up-to-date information at your fingertips. FiscalNote has all the tools you need to manage and align your team and supporters.
Collaboration tools, global policy monitoring, and legislative tracking make sure you don’t miss a beat, and you’ll have access to the most innovative tools in digital advocacy management. Our comprehensive approach to managing advocacy and policy issues can help you promote action, manage risk, assess your impact, and drive results.
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