The COVID-19 pandemic took government affairs out of their silos and gave them a seat at the table. Now, how do you get or keep buy-in to your mission from other departments going forward?
The key to an effective government relations strategy starts with getting everyone on the same message and pooling resources, human or otherwise. Here are six ways to work cross-departmentally and get buy-in for your government affairs team.
1. Government Affairs’ Impact on Business Development
Business development is not generally perceived to be a key activity for government affairs departments, but with the right technology and analytics, you have the opportunity to play a bigger role in the entire organization. Keeping track of appropriations bills at federal, state, and international levels that are likely to have an impact on the bottom line is the first step.
With cutting-edge search capabilities and automation tools, your government affairs department can identify potential growth opportunities by watching trends where legislation is moving, thereby transforming itself into an effective business development operation.
Savvy pros can take it one step further by using insights from legislator analytics to help inform an outreach strategy fueled by understanding which lawmakers are likely to help or hinder your efforts. Once you’ve identified the risks and opportunities for your organization, you can become more effective at turning them into business — or handing them off to your business development colleagues.
Getting a Seat at the Executive Table: Importance of Government Relations
Policy changes can significantly impact an organization's mission & bottom line. Read how government relations can get a seat at the executive table!
2. Measure Economic Value
Plain and simple, money talks. If you can show how government affairs has an economic impact for your organization, ears will start to perk up. Measuring economic value helps convert your passion and vision into a language every department can understand.
Government affairs professionals have to pay close attention to the potential economic impacts of pending legislation and regulation on their organizations. Whether the potential consequences would lead to increased costs or to new growth opportunities, that insight should drive the vision, alignment, and execution of the government affairs team.
Quantifying this impact for the C-suite or board of directors should be a top priority. To do this, government affairs professionals have to be able to link the actions of the department to legislative or regulatory outcomes.
Traditionally, the impact of the government affairs function was difficult to show when the focus was often on relationship building, spreadsheets, and email management. The good news is legislative tracking tools make it much easier to show return on investment for your government affairs department.
Meanwhile, workflow and collaboration tools tailor made for government affairs make it possible to collect and share these actions and outcomes within and across departments — a key step toward substantiating impact as a department.
How McGuireWoods Consulting’s Government Relations Team Impacts the Bottom Line
Measuring and proving economic value to the company and its clients is critical for MJ Keatts, business development manager at McGuireWoods Consulting (MWC), a public affairs and government relations firm. Keatts uses FiscalNote to modernize the company’s government sales strategy and provide new ways to increase revenue and generate business opportunities for its team of lobbyists and their clients, getting buy-in for government relations both internally and externally.
Through FiscalNote’s procurement dashboard, a visual representation of where government contracts exist across the country, MWC is able to gain insights on existing and upcoming contract opportunities and information on state and federal spending patterns in one central platform.
“FiscalNote helps us determine how far out we are from the next RFP opportunity for our client,” Keatts said. “By the time an RFP is issued, it’s too late. With FiscalNote, we know how long we have to get our client in front of key decision-makers. By helping our clients raise their brand awareness, they gain the upper hand.” Read the full story.
3. Break Free From Silos
No matter how big your organization is, working toward breaking down silos and building cross-department collaboration is critical, said David Feinman, government affairs director at the Conservation Lands Foundation.
“I think the first thing you should do is meet with each siloed department within your organization, and learn from them about what they need from you to understand your work better,” Feinman said. He encourages people to get to know every department and listen to them as they share their questions and concerns. “So it’s listening and then being flexible and understanding how to communicate with those people to translate the value of your work to their work,” he said.
In his own organization, Feinman has done this by helping people understand how having a government affairs director in D.C. can benefit the whole team. He strongly recommends avoiding “D.C. jargon.” Before you can prove your value, you must be able to explain “how you do your work in a way that’s understandable … so they can be advocates for the work you’re doing as well,” Feinman said.
Sometimes, outside consultants will “force this cooperation” too, said Habursky. “The consultants will sometimes create that cross-communication” to learn the issues and pull information from different entities of the organization, forcing silos to come down. “You’ll sometimes be forced by these outside consultants to work cooperatively within your own organization,” Habursky added.
Interdepartmental projects can be another way to get buy-in for your mission and increase enthusiasm for your department. “There are no- and low-cost ways where you can cooperate and build up that reputation and rapport with the other entities in the organization,” Habursky said. Some examples of interdepartmental projects could be events, reports, and white papers, advertising and op-ed placements, and highlighting issue area experts. These allow departments to pool their resources and work together for the success of the entire organization.
4. Set Realistic Expectations
The level of commitment you can expect depends on many factors. Not all stakeholders will be able to have the same level of buy-in, so it’s important to set realistic expectations.
“People participate on different levels,” Schuttauf said. “It’s helpful, in a corporate or association setting, to understand that [participation varies] based on their age or stage of life, or what time they have available.”
It’s necessary to set realistic expectations when making an ask of internal teammates. “When you’re talking to potential partners, it’s really important to recognize the investment you’re asking on their part,” Strieter-Elting said. “Everybody already has a full plate, so make sure these projects are mutually beneficial.” She recommends considering the following before requesting something from someone in your organization:
- What can I do that only requires a resource from another department, but no work on their part?
- What can I do that requires a little assistance from another department but will make them look good?
- What can I do that requires a true partnership with another department and will be a major project?
5. Provide Examples to Set the Precedent
Use internal or industry examples of when collaboration across departments can have a major impact. If you have internal examples from the past when government affairs buy-in was successful, bring them up, said Joshua Habursky, head of government affairs for the Premium Cigar Association, in a FiscalNote webinar.
“Schedule a meeting with your co-workers and say, we’ve done this three years ago, our departments worked together, this is why it was successful and this is what everyone brought to the table,” Habursky suggested. If you don’t have internal examples, use examples and anecdotes from organizations in your industry that are getting it right. Consider this one:
How PCMA Manages Multiple Team Members & Objectives
Leveraging the work his team members do, Randy Kane, senior manager of state affairs at the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA), can assess the implications of critical pieces of policies, identify trends, and inform forward-looking strategy. His team has many different needs — from policy analysts to lobbyists to managers — so alignment between teams is critical to keep things running smoothly.
“Say on any given month, we've seen the most introduced bills on this issue, but we've actually written the most common letters on bills related to this other issue,” Kane says. “I'll report these findings to our policy shop. From there, we'll work on whether or not we need to produce new advocacy materials, comment letters, things like that.”
With folks responsible for multiple states and high volumes of complex bills, having access to a single repository — keeping a record of all the moving pieces associated with their work — is necessary to drive alignment and increase efficiencies across team members. From policy developments to activity metrics, teams need an easy and reliable place to get the information they’re looking for. “If there is a new person that joins the team, they can get that historical perspective from the [FiscalNote] platform,” said Melodie Shrader, vice president of state affairs at PCMA who manages a nimble team of lobbyists.
Having a centralized policy hub is optimal for government relations teams managing complex policy issues across teams. It allows PCMA to prioritize developing issues, assess their impact, and take action accordingly — all while keeping teams on the same page. Read their story.
Approach it with that ask of ‘How can my team support you?’ And you’ll be amazed by what comes out of those conversations.Jessica Strieter-Elting, Arts action fund coordinator
Americans for the Arts
6. Lead With Passion & Vision
While data and technology are important, passion and a clear purpose are just as pivotal to achieving buy-in from stakeholders. “Whether you’re a corporation or an association, if you have passion, if you have the clear purpose in ‘we’re doing this because we really do make the world better,’” you will be more effective, said Erich Schuttauf, executive director of the American Association for Nude Recreation.
Passion for your organization’s success is something that can easily spread to other departments, especially when you show you want to help the entire organization succeed — not just your own team. “If you can approach this as, ‘I have a really innovative idea for some programming and partnerships, I really want you to be a part of this, and here’s how I think it could help both of us,’ that’s when you’re going to see some of these synergies start up,” said Jessica Strieter-Elting, arts action fund coordinator at Americans for the Arts.
Aligning your work with your organization’s goal and vision can also ensure buy-in. Strieter-Elting suggests meeting with the people in your organization who are “really getting things done” to discuss their vision for the next year. “Approach it with that ask of ‘How can my team support you?’ And you’ll be amazed by what comes out of those conversations,” she said.
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