With so many moving parts in government relations, it can be difficult to remember all of your stakeholders’ names, let alone their policy needs, recent conversations, and project developments. Without an organized approach, it can be tough to remember if your client’s new project was in Moose Jaw, Red Deer, or Salmon Arm. A strong stakeholder management strategy will clean up some of the scatterbrain associated with the profession and allow you to focus on keeping up relationships and advancing your policy issues.
On top of managing client engagement, there’s also the government side of things. Reporting and registering lobby activities is different at each level of government in Canada — and completely different from what’s required in the United States. Making sure you are organized and up to date on what reporting is necessary at each level of government is critical, and part of a winning stakeholder management strategy.
Here are our seven tips for successful stakeholder management in government relations in Canada.
1. Constant Communication With Stakeholders
This is perhaps the most important aspect of stakeholder management. Anyone who works in the field will tell you how vital it is to have an open line of communication with your stakeholders.
“As a member-driven organization it’s really critical for us to make sure that we have member backing on the advocacy work that we’re doing,” says Mark Agnew, senior vice president, of policy and government relations at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. “We are constantly doing member engagement and updating our members.”
Whether working as an in-house lobbyist or as a consultant, the importance of communication does not change.
“To me, it’s critical that the stakeholder and the consultant or firm are absolutely on the same page in terms of what’s the problem, what’s the fix, and where are we on the continuum towards a solution — and I find that’s best served with regular contact,” explains Hon. Joe Jordan, senior associate, PC at Bluesky Strategy Group.
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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.
2. Stakeholder Management Software
If you only have a handful of stakeholders, you can probably manage it on your own, but as your list grows your best bet is to incorporate a stakeholder management software or tool into your workflow.
“For a membership as large as ours there’s no way that you could remember every single one of our members’ companies by name,” says Agnew. “Having that robust customer relationship management software is quite important to know who works in the companies and who your members are.”
Having the right software is vital to tracking and managing your stakeholder engagement, as well as ensuring that you are complying with the different regulatory frameworks regarding lobbying in Canada.
3. Get In Front of Potential Issues Early
“Once a bill is introduced, there’s an over 90 percent chance that bill is gonna pass, so getting things early … that’s the real issue up here,” Jordan explains.
You don’t want to be on your heels when it comes to government affairs. Being on top of things before they manifest is crucial, and that’s done by engaging in regular communication with stakeholders on both sides of the fence.
“Too often what I find is that clients will contact us when they have a crisis. There’s maybe a bill in the House that they’re concerned about and they’re being very reactive,” says Marcel Wieder, president and chief advocate at Aurora Strategy Group. “The more successful organizations and groups are proactive, and they see ongoing relationships as the key.”
4. Know Where Your Entry Point Is
You need to know how to get your foot in the door. If it’s a cabinet minister or the premier that you want to meet with, these are some of the busiest people in the country and your phone call or email is likely to go unanswered. Instead, find the person on their staff that is responsible for policy related to your issue.
“Yes there is a minister, yes there is a premier, but they also have a sizeable staff that is supporting them and that is who to approach first,” says Ryan Mallough, vice president, of legislative affairs (Ontario) at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
“You look for those directors of stakeholder relations to make the introduction, you look for a named policy analyst that is on your issue. That is the person to reach out to,” he says.
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The right tools can help your organization make your voice heard, educate new stakeholders, and be a top priority for them.
An industry-leading stakeholder management software, such as FiscalNote, also provides a directory of MPs and their staffers so that you can make the right contact to get your foot in the door.
5. Understand How to Communicate With Government
When you find yourself needing help from the government, you have to know how to talk to them. Having a positive, prior relationship with government officials is step one, but knowing how to position your ask is crucial to gain their attention.
“One of the mistakes I saw from stakeholders when I was an MP is they don’t consider the pushback — they don’t consider who might think this is a bad idea,” says Jordan. “You can’t go in there solely in your own interests, it has to be more than that. Everybody’s throwing dirt in an elected official’s wheelbarrow. If there’s any way you can position your ask so that it takes dirt out of their wheelbarrow, you’ll get their attention.”
If you can show the government official that you understand their situation and can position your request in a way that makes their life easier, your chances of moving your issue forward will increase dramatically.
6. Build and Maintain Relationships Across All Parts of the Government
It’s important to build and maintain relationships with the legislators of the ruling party because they’re the ones making the decisions, but having positive relationships with all arms of government is necessary for a robust stakeholder management strategy.
“Calling up government stakeholders and saying that there’s an issue before the House or legislature or city council at the last minute and you have no relationship with them, it’s a much more challenging experience trying to win them over,” says Wieder.
And sometimes issues take years to resolve, spanning across different governments, so it’s also necessary to build relationships with the opposition and all parties in government.
“Just because the Conservative government is in power [in Ontario], doesn’t mean that we don’t meet with the Liberals, NDP, or Green party members,” says Mallough. “We make sure that we are talking to all parties because some issues that don’t happen overnight, sometimes they have to happen across governments and governments change.”
7. Stay Educated and Informed
Finally, keeping yourself up to date and informed on news, current events, regulations, policy, and developments in and out of the House will make you more valuable to your client.
“Try to keep up to date and read as much as possible. If you’re well informed, you’re an asset to your client. Don’t rely on social media as your only source of information,” says Wieder. “Every morning I go through two newspapers cover to cover. It’s not just reading the front section, it’s going through business, fashion, everything. You never know where you are going to find something that could impact your client.”
Staying educated and informed also means understanding the rules and regulations around lobbying activities at all levels of government in Canada, and how to register lobby activity with the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying. A stakeholder management software can remove the guesswork when it comes to registering government activities and ensure you are compliant with all lobbying requirements.
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