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Six Best Practices to Elevate Government Affairs Leveraging Technology

by Anne Wainscott-Sargent, FiscalNote

Two leading government relations pros share their tips on stakeholder management, optimizing resources, communicating more effectively, and building trust — and how tech can tie it all together.

In the last year, government affairs and advocacy teams have experienced a dramatic uptick in workload – be it policy monitoring, identifying emerging key issues, or prioritizing outreach that matters most to their organizations and stakeholders. At the same time, team sizes have remained small because of COVID-19 budget impacts. 

We recently caught up with Chuck Melley, senior vice president of government relations sustainability for learning company Pearsons Global, and Daniel Sepulveda, vice president of global partnerships and public policy for Wiley, a global research and education company. Both executives emphasized the need for government relations professionals to work smarter by embracing technology. 

Here are six tech-savvy best practices they have found effective to elevate issues management:

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Use Technology to Optimize Your Resources

Workload has definitely increased during the pandemic, according to FiscalNote’s State of Public Affairs report. In the survey of 300+ advocacy professionals, more than 77 percent of respondents said that the number of public policy issues their organizations are tracking has increased, with almost 40 percent saying that the number has increased significantly. Contrast that with the fact that 8 in 10 respondents work on teams with less than 10 colleagues and nearly half with three or less staff, advocacy organizations are left with a staggering amount of information to discover, monitor, and report on to internal and external stakeholders.

Depending on Tech 

From overseeing a team’s efforts to measuring success on an issue, Sepulveda has found using technology to manage workload has become the norm, with everyone coming out of the pandemic knowing how to schedule meetings or accessing common documents using technology. 

“Because we are physically separated, everyone’s been forced to step up their capacity to use technology — including myself,” he said. 

Melley agreed, noting that he has seen more advances in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software for contact tracking. “We have a better handle on who's engaging and what those folks are saying,” he said, adding that stakeholder management tools also help his organization from a compliance and reporting standpoint.

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Tap into Technology to Better Communicate Initiatives

Technology also plays a critical role when it comes to communication and managing interactions with stakeholders. Collaboration and workflow tools allow you to keep track of every meeting, every discussion, and keep your teams aligned internally.  

Discerning Policymaker Attitudes 

Melley noted that his group uses metrics and technology tools to constantly update stakeholders with numbers as well as key government relations efforts and accomplishments. 

“It gets back to the promise of CRM, where you have the ability to track what policymakers are saying and doing and using that to inform reports,” said Melley, who explained that his group often decides whether to participate in certain initiatives based on attitudes gleaned from stakeholder management reporting.

Another key benefit of stakeholder management and collaboration tools is the ability to monitor progress and results by zooming out to see the big picture, or by focusing all the way down to a single individual's engagement with a stakeholder. 

Keeping it Simple

Being able to communicate clearly to not only state and federal legislative leaders but also to your colleagues and members remains a key part of any advocacy organization’s mission. Sepulveda said his team strives to simplify the message and remove jargon that can serve to confuse stakeholder audiences. He explained that many times government relations professionals have their own language much like baseball has, which is why he strives to keep it simple: “I try to explain to people in common terms — what’s at risk, what’s at stake, and who do we have to mobilize to affect the outcome.”

Embrace Flexibility and Trust to Get the Job Done

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Indisputably, one truth to emerge from the global pandemic is the need for flexibility and trust in your team to get work done wherever they happen to be. Sepulveda said he is impressed by the degree to which his team has responded and worked so productively from remote offices, often relying on technology.

“Everyone is stepping up; we’re learning there’s a lot more we can do from afar,” he said. “I am much more comfortable giving people a greater degree of flexibility to not come into the office. I have significantly more faith in people’s ability to manage themselves.”

Long term, he added, “ I don’t think we’ll hire and staff differently, but I do think we’ll manage differently.”

Leverage Local: Sourcing Local Connections with Local Knowledge 

For his part, Melley said his own team has mostly been remote with Pearsons Global tapping local talent in key markets who understand the issues and public policy priorities and who have the local connections that can make an impact.

”One of the reasons we hire folks who are locally connected either in the U.S. or in countries around the world is for those relationships, those connections, and that knowledge,” he said.

When working with local staff, technology can be the fastest way to communicate that local knowledge back into an organization, the panelists agreed.

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The panelists consider social media a key tool, especially during the global pandemic. Issues management tools support social media monitoring – allowing you to track trending legislative topics and discern what stakeholders are thinking, as well as amplify their message in a cost-effective manner. 

Sepulveda said he’s become significantly more active on social media to maintain those relationships. “I’m really paying attention to what people are doing on LinkedIn and on Twitter,” he said. “I’m surprised by how much people appreciate it when you say well done or offer support.”

Demonstrate ROI

Of course, demonstrating value in your issues management is the ultimate end game, and that’s where reporting and communication become mission-critical. Over half of all professionals working on policy issues have to create reports or briefs for stakeholders at least once a month, with reporting frequency increasing on critical issues during the pandemic.

Ideally, you want to map stakeholders, track engagements, report on progress, and find solutions that allow you to gain a holistic view of your priority issues.

Building Buy-in by Overcommunicating

Melley recommends that advocacy professionals overcommunicate. “Communicate more because it’s necessary,” he said. “This brings stakeholders more into the fold. They realize we’re part of the same team, addressing the threats and opportunities.”

Sepulveda recommends tying everything the government affairs team is doing to the company’s mission. The Wiley team goes a step further, tying their work to the mission of each business unit, frequently tapping into research from nearby colleagues and universities that advance their advocacy goals. 

“[Academic institutions] are well viewed by policymakers because these organizations have a public interest mission as well,” he explained.

Leveraging Technology, Creating Trust

Their biggest tips for demonstrating the ROI of government affairs while being efficient from a cost and time perspective?

“Leverage technology and value your relationships. There’s nothing more valuable than your word and your ability to stick when things get tough,” said Sepulveda.

Added Melley: “Be honest and forthright. Build relationships throughout the business … at every level so you can get the buy-in but then also externally with all constituencies so that they trust you.”

Melley emphasized that trust is a two-way street: It demonstrates to stakeholders “that you are a reliable person who will tell them what they have to hear, not what they want to hear.”

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