By Constance Campanella, President and CEO
At a recent conference of state Attorneys General, a corporate advocate referred to the assembly of almost 30 state AG’s as the “farm team.” It was meant to juxtapose AG’s against Governors and was intended as a compliment.
Unfortunately, as a compliment, the reference fell flat. Actually, it fell right through the floor. AG’s were offended to be referred to as a “farm team” at their own meeting.
I also have occasion to work with someone (NOT a client) who constantly refers to state legislators as Members of Congress or State Congressmen. Despite repeated corrections, the reference persists.
For as long as I have been in state and local government affairs, I’ve dealt with the fact that the federal arena enjoys higher status. It is just the way it is.
And, sometimes, those who toggle between the vaulted chambers of the US Congress and our tiny world of 50 STATES, get confused. That’s understandable. Hey, we all make mistakes.
But, as professionals, it is our responsibility to ensure that the individuals we work with on behalf of our organizations or clients know that they enjoy our respect.
And, it works both ways.
If you Show Respect, you can Gain Respect.
My definition of lobbying has long been the “Delivery of Respected Messages. “
When I teach about lobbying, I talk about each of the main words in that definition: Delivery, Respected and Messages and what they represent.
“Delivery” comprises everything from timeliness, methods of communication, access, relationships and responsiveness.
“Messages” embraces content, values, negotiating stances, political pressures and perspective.
“Respected” is the fiber that holds it all together. Absent a respected messenger or a respected client, nothing works. A well-delivered, well timed message from a disreputable messenger is a waste of time.
Fortunately, having a disreputable client is not usually the problem. More frequently, it is the case that a lobbyist or their client is a stranger and must first acquire credibility and respect in order to be effective.
As consultants, we loan some of our respected status to clients while helping them establish their own positive relationships with government officials. Clients are not “going in cold” because we have laid a foundation.
But, you cannot loan what you do not own!
Obviously, in-house lobbyists or state government relations managers must likewise be respected and given the amazing turnover rate among state officials, all of us are constantly in the process of building new relationships and sustaining old ones.
If you are responsible for 5-10 or more states, that’s really hard work and often taken completely for granted.
Regardless of your role in State Government Relations, here are some suggestions for earning R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
Learn about your advocacy targets. Learn about the culture and the processes of the governing body. Learn the lingo, the culture, the Do’s and Don’ts and the Case Studies. Never go in cold.
Bring something to the table besides a winning smile. Know your company, business, industry. Be valuable because you are more than just a hand-shaker. Always be prepared to explain what other states or cities have done. It is the number one question lawmakers ask when confronted with a new topic.
Beyond being an issue expert, being “in the know” is another way to ensure that people return your phone calls and seek your involvement. Someone who can help government officials understand how an issue is being debated, who are the opponents and proponents and other forces at work is highly valued as long as the “sharing” is substantive and accurate. This is not about gossip.
Lobbyists have power when they can bring sides together, when they direct grassroots resources in an issue campaign, when they have relationships that put their clients “at the table,” when they help keep friends and allies in office and when their knowledge and expertise is sought after. Being powerful should be one of your goals.
Participation in government matters by CEO’s and other high-up executives is essential, especially when dealing with Governors and Mayors. It should be a goal to encourage this participation. Also, when the senior executives get first-hand experience of working with government, they often become more passionate supporters of government relations.
It usually falls to state government relations executives to bring together the disparate parts of an organization (company, association, coalition) to reach a decision about a policy. Being able to do that – repeatedly, reliably and in a timely manner – is a great skill and much appreciated and valued by government players.
Last letter. Most important. You must be trusted and trustworthy. Make promises and keep them. If you make mistakes, correct them. And, do not ever ask a public official to take a position you are not prepared to defend.
R.E.S.P.E.C.T., that is what it means to me.