As we move towards a federal election (and with campaigning in full swing) I’m often asked how organisations can get on the front foot with their government relations strategy to engage the government and influence policy and programs.
My simple answer is ‘build a relationship’. This doesn’t mean contacting them once or sending one tweet, it means proactively reaching out.
Ensure your research is relevant
Give ministers and departments examples of stories, facts and figures that relate to their area of work. Help them understand the industry or community they are developing policy and programs for. Don’t assume they know the same information that you know. The secret to effective long-term communication is knowing what level of knowledge your audience has, what further knowledge they need and being sure to educate with empathy, not aggression.
Provide updates and briefings
Start by offering informal and formal briefings on your industry and key issues. Invite ministers, advisors or government officials to relevant events and send them email updates. Be sure to make every update relevant and informative — you want to be known as a good source of knowledge, not an annoying spammer.
If you’re holding an event that is designed to engage ministers, consider holding the event in Parliament House during a sitting week. Make it as easy for ministers to attend as possible. And make sure you consult someone who knows the ins and outs of arranging events in Parliament House — don’t be the person who ends up in a last-minute panic because you weren’t fully aware of how to get your event items into Parliament House.
Know who’s who
With government departments, find out the area and people who work on matters affecting your industry and make sure you are engaging directly with the people you need to, not simply through an ‘info’ email address. Public servants are there to help you. Don’t simply demand information from them. Have a conversation and express your appreciation for their time. Like you, they are very busy. Despite assertions that public servants simply sit around, they don’t. They work hard and they care, so apply empathy and show care for them.
It’s all about relationship building
Building a relationship based on information sharing can help you when a policy matter that affects your business or industry comes out. Having a relationship means you can pick up the phone and express your concerns to a Minister’s office or government department. Also, don’t be too shy to send a positive note acknowledging their great work in providing benefit to your industry when things go your way.
Bring in an external consultant
Consider engaging a consultant to help you develop and review your strategy when governments change, or key issues arise. When we work in an industry, we are embedded in the issues we are working on. Having a consultant lift you out of this internal view can help you develop a robust strategy and plan that can get you the relationships and results you need. Commtract can help you source an expert in government relations – contact us here to find out more.