With more legislation and regulations at state and local level, public policy issues expanding across continents, and an endless news cycle of public perception to deal with, covering more ground faster with smaller teams has become the norm of public affairs in 2020.
Yet despite the increasing demand for managing that risk, few teams have updated their approach.
The time to modernize your government and public affairs teams is now. To help do that we’ve put together seven strategic tips and tricks to bring your team into the next chapter of innovation.
As you work toward upgrading your government and public affairs strategy, keep the following seven best practices in mind to help you prepare for your most important legislative year yet:
1. Use Reliable Big Data for Analysis
The most difficult part about managing a robust government affairs program is prioritizing efforts within the tens of thousands of bills on Capitol Hill, in legislatures around the country, and now internationally. While big data can’t address backroom deals, it can help you target the most strategic lawmakers with whom to engage or figure out who should sponsor or amend a bill. It can also give you insights into a legislature you’ve never worked with, and even tell you how likely a bill is to pass if it gets a floor vote.
The solution for innovative government affairs teams has been to leverage legislative and regulatory analytics to drive more effective decision-making. In the past, advocacy teams had to rely on the qualitative understanding of relationships in Congress, trust an external consultant,, or rely on news reporting.
All of these are largely inefficient, risky, and costly. Turning to reliable analytics platforms to more efficiently supplement qualitative expertise with data-driven insights is proving much more effective. With the right technology, you can quantify relationships by vote count, predict the probability of passage, analyze the effectiveness of legislators at moving legislation, and draw upon trends to devise strategies to move forward.
2. Tie Results to Actions With Stakeholder Management
Metrics is the language of executives, and policy teams are finding it hard to validate their impact without them. Since advocacy efforts don’t always translate easily to the bottom line, your team should prioritize looking for ways to quantify your performance and directly tie it to what the C-suite cares about.
We recommend a post-mortem analysis or checklist after state sessions on how many bills their team got into consideration, passed, or even blocked across the country, and the financial estimate of what that saved the organization is a great place to start. Grassroots and PAC managers can also look at political contributions and measure the development of strategic relationships with lawmakers.
In addition, for regulatory and larger legislative teams, creating an economic impact analysis on pending legislation and regulation can also be used to quantify efforts to push or block new laws. And don’t forget to add what using a platform has saved in terms of research and staffing hours.
Grassroots and grasstops advocates should start to record granular details like meetings with legislators, actions taken on high versus low priority bills, and virtually keep track of the votes they’ve whipped. All of these items create new data points that help you chart the effectiveness of your team’s strategy, individual performance, quantify the value of outside consultants, and even quantify relationships with members of Congress or state legislatures.
3. Invest in State and Local Politics
With congressional activity low and no signs of that changing, state and local governments have become increasingly important to your organizations. Let’s put it this way: the states are already where your opposition is focusing.
The necessity of a state and local strategy is obvious. The 2019 legislative sessions saw the combined statehouses having introduced almost 160,000 bills, and signing and enacting almost 40,000 of them. Conversely, the United States Congress introduced almost 9,000 bills and less than 400 were signed and enacted within the same time period. That's almost 18 times less than the states.
Very few organizations are not touched by state legislation on some level. While you could get stuck fighting for a meeting with a single congressional staffer that goes nowhere or battling the huge amounts of money still flowing to the federal government, you could just as easily call upstate legislators or city councilmen personally, to educate them on your issue in a few strategic jurisdictions. If the policy is successful, it’s likely to get replicated in other states and could find its way into national debates as a model policy.
Leveraging technology to more effectively track and prioritize issues is a crucial first step. With a high volume of legislation and regulation moving across the country, your team can focus on ensuring faster, more reliable alerts to pending activity as well as updates to committee hearings, sponsorship, and amendments.
This is also where it becomes critical for modern advocacy teams to have a central place for keeping your proprietary notes and knowledge all in one place. In addition to tracking hundreds of bills, there are thousands of federal, state, and city legislators with whom they need to build relationships. Utilizing technology to track meetings, communications with members, staffer contacts, and sponsored legislation will help you to maintain strong ties to key decision-makers.
4. Build Your In-House Resources
Long gone are the days where letting the industry blindly advocate for you was a good move. Companies, in particular, are left holding the bag when their own industry abandons them on an important position or fails to handle an issue entirely.
To minimize the damage and ensure your organization or company is up-to-date and working on your issues specifically, look at growing your team or giving it an overhaul. Do you need a digital grassroots professional or advocacy campaign manager? Have you got a stakeholder or issues management title on your team? These professionals can operate the tools of the trade to manage your issues and give you the insights and knowledge to educate lawmakers (and your higher-ups) for better policymaking.
5. Operate for Consistency and Continuity
Just like business development teams store data and intelligence on prospective customers throughout the sales cycle in platforms like Salesforce, your government affairs teams can utilize technology as a single system of record to manage information. That eliminates the loss of legacy knowledge as folks leave the organization, and it’s also an effective tool to keep lawmakers and staffers (who also suffer from a high rate of turnover) up to speed on past meetings and positions.
For example, your team can gather contact information, notes on meetings with legislators, and information on communication with staff in one system for a comprehensive view of which actions were most effective, which relationships need to be strengthened, and which opportunities need to be pursued.
As your team grows and scales, you’ll have a comprehensive digital workplace where your colleagues’ work is housed in one place so that everyone can be aligned with the information that is critical to your organization’s success. Having a disparate team working from the same set of tools, as opposed to random spreadsheets, will allow you to access necessary information when needed, report up and down effectively, and keep everyone on the same message and moving forward.
6. Be Mobile and Agile
While the C-suite might see government and public affairs as a team based in DC, as a 2020 practitioner, you know it’s a global function with stakeholders spread across multiple states, cities, and even continents, all influencing the future of your industry.
As a result, your role will continue to evolve into shifting your stationary workstation and home base into that of a “road warrior”, most typically seen in other departments such as business development and account management.
By going to where your organization seeks to grow across the country and world, your team can become a revenue generator and ambassador for your organization. Government affairs extends way beyond the halls of Congress, and being a mobile and agile team can make all the difference for your organization or company. To do that effectively you’ll need a platform with an on the go app that lets you see all the inputs mentioned above in one place, from the palm of your hand.
7. Expand Your Network Beyond Government Relations
Remember your stakeholders are not just lawmakers and staffers. Finding new advocates based on the issues that matter most to your organization can make all the difference in trying to push your agenda forward. Local business leaders, influencers, coalition groups, employees, even frenemies who may have been against you on certain issues can be invaluable on others.
Capturing the behavioral patterns of stakeholders, such as their positions and priorities and voting histories over time is an effective way to broaden your organization’s network. These patterns serve as a guide, allowing executives to see who they should be reaching out to on a certain issue, or who they should build long-term relationships based on ideological leanings.
It’s imperative that your team looks beyond just legislators, their staff, and association leaders in building out their network of influence. As the world becomes more connected with technology, issues involve a greater range of non-traditional stakeholders.
Anyone with reach and rapport on any number of web platforms like Twitter or Facebook has the potential to influence public opinion on key issues ranging from gun control to personal data privacy from their mobile device or desktop.
Identifying and activating these non-traditional stakeholders can pay dividends when you’ve got an issue you need to squash or push through.
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