There is a lingering perception problem around government relations: it is a tool for the big end town; for the fat cats with the wallets to match. Yet the backbone of both the New Zealand and Australian economies is small business. For this group, the challenge of juggling cash flow remains, meaning a significant part of our business communities skip-out on the important process of participating in government consultation.
As a small business owner, this didn’t sit well with me. I asked myself ‘How could I deliver value in government relations to this part of our economy that does not have money to pour down an unknown political engagement drain?’. The answer was simple: we need new modes of government relations delivery. I didn’t want to work closely with a business, just to up sticks and rip away their whole government relations strategy at my departure. My goal became to empower as many people as possible to be confident doing what I do: cost should not be a barrier to doing government relations, and doing it well.
So while still offering traditional hourly engagement, I created a range of programs to help businesses access meaningful government relations advice. These offerings are designed to encourage the SME community to build their own in-house capability and see political engagement as an opportunity, rather than an unwieldy, unnecessary cost.
If you’re in the government relations industry on either side of the Tasman, I encourage you to look at how you impute long-term value into those businesses you work with. Once you’re gone: ● Does the Senior Leadership Team have a realistic handle on your day-to-day activities and the time it takes to make inroads? ● Do the Board of Directors really know what it is that you do, and the true value of your contribution? ● Can the business leadership pick up where you left off? If your answer to these questions is no, consider how you are bringing businesses along on their government relations journey.
Unlike communications, government relations remains an enigma in the consulting space. For many it is too scary, too complicated, and far too expensive. But if this is your area of expertise, I know you’ll view the role as the best you’ve ever had. So when a business invests in my expertise, I invest in that business: I plan and prepare them for a time when I’m not there, rather than shepherding them along for the time that I am.
If you haven’t already, begin the move from government relations consulting to educating. We will not shake the fat-cat perception overnight, but we can move the industry from something exclusive, to one that everyone can access. Because when it comes down to it, I don’t think there will ever be a government accused of listening to its people too much.