Parliament Flame by Richard McGuire

Government Relations for Small Enterprise

Government Relations for small enterprise can be a daunting situation. However, it need not be an impossible path to discover in your pursuit of being heard.

After 30 years in the corporate world, with the last half of my career in corporate affairs; I believe that I have a good handle on understanding government relations. It was close to 50% of my "accountability", as a Chief Corporate Affairs Officer. My success was also grounded in the relationships that were built over time. Through relationships, you build an opportunity to better understand each other; your needs, your desires, the barriers and the opportunities for success.

Make it Local

The first premise for me is to make it local. Whatever your issue or opportunity beholds, you will gain the most traction if it is seen as local by your elected official. This is true for all levels of government. If you can strike an emotional local tie related to your issue or opportunity, you have a good place in the starting gate of government relations. If your issue or opportunity has little to do with the person you are reaching out to, they will have a difficult time finding time to review your matters. The fact is, all politics is local.

"Government Relations"

What I find fascinating about understanding government relations is the constant evolution of the practice. With a continued push for much-needed transparency and public accountability, the "relations" side of the game has come under pressure and increased scrutiny.

Across Canada, provincial and federal governments and their ethics commissioners challenge the established models of "pay for access and influence". Lobbyists used to cozy up with clients at banquets, sporting events and fundraisers to enable a "meet and greet" with influencers. With new fundraising rules emerging, it now becomes more difficult to gain easy access to the ear of our elected officials.

Lobbyists and industry advocates will need to continue to build and maintain relationships with elected officials, their staff and the civil service. That is their business. Dialogue on issues is still required.

Many limitations have come into existence. There are now cooling off periods prevailing for the staff of Ministers. Watch dogs keep track of paid or volunteer work by lobbyists on campaigns. There continues to be cross party line squawking about who's influencing whom.  Political donations (where still allowed) are scrutinized to the absolute penny. Understanding government relations has become a much more complex game.

Even some municipalities have invoked lobbying regulations and process. However, in the hierarchy of the three levels of government, municipalities continue to have the most open accessibility to elected officials. I continue to be very impressed with ward staff at the municipal level. I guess it makes sense, based on my earlier point, all politics is local.

Access

Access has become a challenge. With the explosion of social media, and so many channels flowing into an elected official's office, it is no surprise that there need to be filters in place. Priorities need to be set. The tough part of this game is that "your priority" may not be "their priority". Without access, you will lack influence. Even sadder is that correspondence may never even reach the eyes of your intended recipient. Given the volumes, it is likely that a staff member handles this for the member. Sad, but a practical reality, given the multitude of requests.

Breaking Through

It takes hard work and determination to break through with your message, cause, concern or business issue. It takes persistence and multiple fronts of communication to get your matter on the radar. Email, phone calls, tweets are all required. I also think that the constituency office might afford you more assured access. By taking the time to raise your issue at their home office in their constituency, you might get a better return on the time you invest. It is back to the first premise of getting local with your issue or opportunity.

The "contact information" submission tools on elected official websites provide a filter but do not appear to provide a quick response.

Where the Parties Fail

Do you receive emails from a political party or elected officials? In most instances, political parties sending out propaganda tend not even to allow the recipient to reply. Another fault of the party propaganda system. If a party is going to send information to the electorate, they might as well open up the opportunity for the electorate to respond to an email. If pushing messaging is intended to garner support. I can only imagine that a conversation and dialogue about the message will help lead to that result. One-way "non responsive messaging" fails on that front. One area of influence however is that party executives have the ear of the elected members. Sometimes this can provide you with an avenue of accessibility.

Persist in Social with Your Voice

There is an opportunity, in understanding government relations, to tell your story and engage through social networks. Your blog, your post in Facebook, your article in LinkedIn, your tweet; are all communication tools that may help to position your issue or cause on the radar of the elected official. The old model would have seen a stack of "clippings" from news media dropped on a communications staffer's desk each morning. Today it is more likely to be a google alert or other social networking monitoring tools to catch the conversation in the moment. The key word most likely to get your attention is the name of that elected official in a post. Those mentions will be monitored closely in a context of issues management.

The Final Point

The final point to be made is that in understanding government relations, you must realize that getting the attention of government is a complex and multi-layered grid. If you are experiencing frustration in your efforts to break through, perhaps I can help with some counsel on getting your message heard.  Here's to simplifying working with our governments. Have an awesome 2017.  @FergDevins

 


toward a new year

December 28th and, amidst attending a few World Hockey Junior games here in Toronto I thought, "I can't pass up writing a blog before the end of the new year".

"Toward a new year" is an interesting theme. As much as my thoughts turn to things like re-start re-fresh, re-energize, prioritize, plan, systematize, organize, reach out, connect and network; I also look back at the past twelve months and give thanks for an awesome year. Toward a new year, is in many respects, a beginning; but it is also is a continuation of what has been accomplished, "or not", in the previous year. I suggest one celebrates the highs, acknowledges the lows, learns from it and puts a plan in place toward a new year.

2014 was, in many respects, a new beginning for me. In "semi retirement" I was delighted to continue to have an opportunity to work with my client Molson Coors through The Devins Network, on projects related to their business. It was also a great year to "pass the torch" to the new corporate affairs leadership and team at Molson Coors and to provide coaching where necessary and, given that I am out of the business, just simply "stay clear" when I should stay clear. After 30 years in the beer business it was really refreshing (sorry for the pun) to strike up new relationships with several new clients and their pursuits and goals. I also had terrific networking moments with folks from such a wide spectrum of interests and dreams. It was also very kind of the folks at National Public Relations and Capital Hill to offer up "real estate" if and when required. In "year one" I never expected to have an employee at the Devins Network, however...our client at Hockey Canada put together an awesome #CenturyTour caravan to criss cross the country and I needed a "Communications Lead" on the road. Charlotte Coulson joined the team and has networked her way from coast to coast and back again with the InMarket team and #CenturyTour for Hockey Canada. I also give thanks to several "associates" that helped with the achievements of the Devins Network in year one. Your attention to detail and delivering excellence is much appreciated James, JP, Beth, Bradley, Helena, Clark and Dea. Via a long time friend, I truly enjoyed seeing and experiencing the life and times of "the entrepreneur" through a few projects with Michael Smith at Integram Marketing. What a passion for client service and accomplishment ! I have had the honour and pleasure of assisting with the Vimy Foundation dinner(s) - a great cause recognizing a milestone in history that we should ensure that current and future generations of Canadians never forget. The Coney Island "Maybe Annual" Music festival drew more of my attention, and in spite of the high water on Lake of the Woods, we had an awesome Sixth "Maybe Annual" festival. The success is due in large part to my fellow founders, the Lake of the Woods Arts Community, our partners, patrons, talent, fans and families supporting the festival. In meeting my personal challenge of Bladder Cancer, I took on creating a walk in Kenora Ontario. Thanks to family, friends, volunteers, supporters and a great little community with a big heart; we were able to raise over $50,000 in support of Bladder Cancer Canada. It was also a year of transition personally with both kids now off to school and Kathy and I becoming empty nesters, a fun stage of life to be sure !

Toward a new year, I look forward to continuing to serve my clients through the Devins Network. I look forward to possibilities of new opportunities to modestly expand my work in communications and community through the Devins Network. I continue to have a strong passion and bias for actions that ensure clients have a strong voice for their cause, campaign or business. If you think the Devins Network might answer your call to action - give us a call. Toward a new year we will stage the Seventh "Maybe Annual" Coney Island Music Festival and continue to grow this great little festival at the north end of Lake of the Woods in Kenora, Ontario. Toward a new year I will take on a more active role in the challenge of raising awareness for Bladder Cancer Canada and assist the organization with communications and outreach. Toward a new year I will continue to provide support and counsel where required for those who, similar to me, believe in networking and fostering good will and relationships so that we can work at improving our communities by working together, like the Vimy Foundation. Toward a new year, I will have work / life "alignment"...because, as my friends Chris Brogan and Rob Hatch would suggest, the balance thing is less important than alignment (my paraphrasing).

So bring on 2015. I wish you and yours the very best for a happy, healthy and exciting year for your family, business, cause or campaign.

Toward a new year...cheers !

@FergDevins @DevinsNetwork


Political Campaigns "Social or Spam"

If you are interested in government affairs like me, you are likely subscribed to many different political party newsletters and social networks with numerous candidates. In government relations, one is quick to realize that we work with the "Government of the Day" and thus it is critical to keep abreast of all party policy development and platforms. It is also really important to build relationships with candidates in anticipation of them some day forming government. Getting to know someone on a personal level is still an important part of building relations. Social networks afford the political parties and candidates with that opportunity.

Political parties have long been known for their "between campaign" email, phone and fundraising efforts. There is a constant flow of direct snail mail and email solicitations and phone polling throughout the year.

That said, I think that many are truly missing the real opportunity that exists for them in "social" media. I find that the majority of emails, tweets or posts from political candidates are one way broadcasts, rather than seizing the opportunity to engage in dialogue. Have you ever responded to the email from the "campaign spokesperson" ? I find that responding usually does not result in any response back. Thus the "campaign spokesperson" is a mass generated one way communication to push a message and not engage in dialogue. It looked personal, they signed it, they wanted you to feel that it was personal...but it was totally impersonal and issued en masse.

How many potential supporters, volunteers or interested voters are sitting out there attempting to respond to this "spam" to no avail ?

I would suggest that Facebook and Twitter are also failing for many political campaigns in a similar regard. A quick scan across many party sites and candidate profiles would suggest that the dialogue is minimal, but the messaging and propaganda is rich and constant. Have you tweeted or commented on a candidate or elected official profile lately ? There are a few that are really great in engaging in dialogue, but the majority are still using the social network as a channel to push their message, not engage in dialogue. It goes back to my provocation that you need a "purpose" for your social network channels and profiles. Don't just have one because someone said you should. It needs to be managed to help you achieve your goals and political or party aspirations.

So...what's my point ?

My point is that I think that social media offers political parties and candidates a wonderful opportunity to actually engage in a conversation with their targeted constituents. Take the time and invest the resource in actually having someone monitoring and following up within these social networks to truly show that you care, that you listen and that you are willing to take action in the interests of the voting public and constituents, rather than just pushing your propaganda out through these social network channels. There are lots of channels for you to "advertise", social media is an opportunity to "socialize".

The result ?  Through engagement and conversation you will build a conversation that will eventually turn to loyalty. Or, the conversation will evolve to a point where you know whether the individual is supportive or not on side. At least at that stage there will be a data point to manage, rather than an assumption that the one way communication is having any impact at all.

If you have some examples of some "pros" at using social media in the political context, let's hear about them here !

@FergDevins