Archive for the ‘Social Media’ Category

The Importance of State Trade Associations

October 25, 2012

By Steve Arthur, Vice President

I was surprised recently when, during a meeting with a state consumer protection chief, he remarked that his department receives fewer complaints about companies represented by strong state trade associations. He said he found that those industries with strong state level associations will work proactively with his department to resolve issues before they ever get to an enforcement effort.

The next day, in another meeting in a different state, an Attorney General also mentioned state trade associations without any prompting.  In this meeting as well, the Attorney General talked generically about how much better industries seem to be that have state trade associations that work proactively with that Attorney General’s office to find out what issues are percolating and take steps to keep them from becoming a concern to the Consumer Protection unit of the office.

These two unsolicited comments on successive days in two different states highlighted a sometimes overlooked, but very important, component of a successful state government relations program: a network of strong state trade associations.  A good state trade association is one of the most valuable allies any state government relations program can have in a state.

A solid state trade association can provide you and your company with support in a number of areas:

  • Solid in-state relationships.  A good association will have developed good relationships with elected officials in their states.
  • Effective industry advocacy.  They know the industry issues and elected officials will look to them to describe potential impacts of policy proposals.
  • Broad industry representation.  By representing both large and small members of your industry, they can speak about the impacts a policy could have on the entire industry rather than allowing policy makers to attack a particular company (yours?) that may not be popular in their state.
  • Local connection.  By representing both large national companies as well as smaller home grown companies, the association can put that local face on your industry to make it easier for elected officials to see your company as part of the community, rather than an out of state company.
  • Specific company assistance.  With their relationships with tax or regulatory agencies and their intimate knowledge of your industry, they can help you clear up an issue or quickly get to the root of a disagreement between your company and an agency.  If it is the latter, they can help you get to those root issues, so you can then step in to represent your company and build on what they have accomplished.

These state associations often provide benefits that are very valuable to smaller members who may operate only in one state or even one location.  These are important functions of trade associations, but I am focusing this discussion on the benefits to companies with a large national presence.

Some GR professionals may believe that Groups meetings can be a substitute for state association membership.  I would completely disagree.  The points above outline some of the key benefits of a state trade association, but the Groups meetings are just as important.  Relationships developed at those meetings are necessary to help brand your individual company in the eyes of legislative leaders and executive branch officials from around the country and there is no more efficient way to do that than at Groups meetings—and the state association can even help you at those meetings.

When you meet an elected official at a Groups meeting, you can immediately create a local connection by mentioning your membership (and active participation) in your state association.  The elected official may very well know the staff of the trade association and may recall an issue on which she/he was lobbied by that staff. This can help you pivot to an issue discussion where the official will continue to connect you to that in-state association.

Even with a strong state association and active Groups participation, there will still be times when you need to retain a lobbyist for your company.  Either when an issue is big enough that your trade association needs some additional firepower, or when there may be conflicting views among association members that preclude them from taking an active role on one side or the other.  That is the nature of a trade association and don’t forget that you will need them for other issues in the future.

If you have already joined your state associations, have you evaluated them recently? The list of services above is a good place to start, but here are a few things to ask about them:

  • What kind of relationships do they have with elected officials?
  • Do elected officials see the association as the “go to” place for information about your industry?
  • Can staff effectively explain your industry issues to those officials?
  • Does the association have a broad membership from your industry or does it rely on a few large members to keep it running?
  • Does it keep members updated about its activities on behalf of its members?
  • Does it reach out for advice on how to respond to particular issues?

Now ask yourself this question:

  • Are you and your industry peers providing the association with the resources necessary to accomplish those goals?

I ask because as social media and other forms of communication have made it much easier for advocacy organizations to raise money and mobilize their grassroots on issues that might harm your industry, many trade associations have seen their membership or dues decline.  There are reasons for this, but they need to be addressed.  Companies do merge and they don’t expect to continue paying both sets of dues.  Our budgets get cut, and that may force dues reductions or even drops in association memberships.

While those cuts are sometimes unavoidable, they can’t go on forever.  At some point, a state association is going to start becoming less effective because they simply don’t have the resources to maintain relationships, retain good staff and remain a well recognized force in their state. If that happens, it can take years and years and a lot of money to rebuild an industry’s reputation.

So, as you are putting together your budgets for 2013, make sure you become an advocate for your trade associations when it comes to your budget because they can be one of your most effective advocates in the states.  I would urge you to take a look at the dues you have paid to your trade associations over the past five years and whether you have increased your presence in their respective states.  If so, it may be time to start looking for ways to increase those dues.  The NGOs opposing your industry have almost certainly increased their membership and made their presence in the state capitals known.

Of course, in some cases trade associations might not be strong and you may not believe they can offer you much help.  Rather than simply defunding them, I would suggest that you work with your industry colleagues to develop a plan to strengthen that association.  Doing so can be time consuming, but it is well worth the effort to ensure you have an effective trade association representing your interests in the states.

***

Steve Arthur is Vice President and brings more than 20 years of public policy experience in both the public and private sector to his work at at Stateside Associates. Mr. Arthur provides clients with hands on state government relations support from strategic planning and issue management to lobbyist management and direct lobbying. He is one of the leaders of Stateside’s Attorneys General practice, guiding clients through the process of working with, and lobbying, state Attorneys General.

Small Scale Grassroots-Large Scale Impact

April 24, 2012

By Constance Campanella, President and CEO

Recently, my colleague Heather Williams and I helped our client win a major victory against a coalition of NGO’s intent on putting it out of business.  The “witches brew” bill, introduced at the mid-point of the legislative session, was poorly drafted and full of ridiculous mandates. It was supported by a broad coalition of community organizations, some prominent state legislators, the AG’s staff and some traditional media outlets.  The campaign supporting the bill was underway quietly for almost a year before it was introduced and a dubious “white paper” gave the endeavor an air of legitimacy.  Simply put, we were way behind from the start.

We quickly engaged lobbyists, but we knew that because of the NGO’s activities (tracked daily on Twitter through Social Media SNAPSHOT reports) we also needed a grassroots campaign.  Fortunately, we have confronted similar situations with this client in other states and we have a formula for putting an effective grassroots program in place almost instantly.

From start to finish the campaign lasted nine weeks, during which time hundreds of personal letters from employees and customers of our client and others in the same industry were written and delivered to the key committee members.  Hundreds of personal letters.  No emails.  No petitions.  No forms.  Just personal, from the heart, from experience, letters from real constituents.  One of the highlights of the campaign for me was listening to a state legislator during the first legislative hearing quote from the letters from his constituents.  He used his constituent’s own words to challenge a witness who claimed our client’s service had no value commensurate with the cost.

To safeguard client confidentiality, I cannot share too many details, but I can tell you that the client has storefronts across the U.S. and a broad, loyal customer base.  They also have a diverse employee contingent that works very closely with customers.  As a company, they have decades of experience fighting adverse legislation so the full management team–from the CEO on down–are well aware of the dangers and are committed to engaging.

But they do not have a formal grassroots program comprising both employees and customers and, in that respect, are similar to many other companies.

Wish lists for State Government Relations (SGR) programs typically include additional grassroots capabilities.  Why?  Because traditional lobbying has its limits and adding real constituents with real concerns and real messages to the campaign can make a world of difference.

However, the reality is that many organizations are not going to get their wish.  Large scale, institutionalized grassroots programs are expensive to create, costly to maintain and, on the state level, not used frequently enough to justify the cost.  As a result, many SGR programs go without.

That is unnecessary.

As we demonstrated in this case and in others across the U.S., almost any SGR program can stand up a legislative grassroots campaign quickly with a little advance planning, some ongoing “care and feeding” of the network and precise engagement.  Here’s how:

1.  Keep Lists Current – Maintain your most basic and important lists and keep them available.  Know store locations, manufacturing facilities and numbers of employees in each.  These are your honey pots for grassroots.  If your legislative monitoring or Social Media Monitoring alerts you to a problem, you should know within minutes if activating a grassroots component is possible.

2.  Work With What You Have – Identify the categories of colleagues within your organization that you can most easily reach and activate.  If that limits you to senior and middle management–take it, because they can work down into the organization.  If you can activate employees on the store or plant level without much trouble, go for it.  Too many times we beat our heads against walls trying to get direct access to everybody everywhere and some corporate cultures just eschew that.  Take what you have and build from there.

TIP:  Check with your trade association and inventory its ability to contribute grassroots action as well.  Other companies in your industry following the same model will multiply the impact.

3.  Communicate Strategically and Often – To build an active network, use whatever communication tools work best within your company.  Email and traditional employee intranets are the most common channels, although the social intranet is starting to gain ground.   Just pick the one used by most of the colleagues you must reach.  A brief weekly/biweekly report about issues of concern can be very effective in raising awareness of the pressures your organization faces.  That does three things: a) you are familiarizing your colleagues with your role, b) you are familiarizing your colleagues with issues that affect your organization and c) you are alerting them that their direct involvement may be needed in the future.  In other words, you are warming up the audience so that when you need them to stand or applaud, they will be ready.

TIP:  Most states require you to report grassroots expenditures on your lobbying reports.

4.  Identify Targets – As soon as you determine that you have to work a bill and have grassroots resources in that state, have your lobbyists identify the targets for grassroots.  You are the coach, but the lobbyists call the plays.

TIP:  Accept the fact that while most legislators hate grassroots contacts, they listen to them if they are genuine.

5.  Keep It Genuine – Customers and front-line employees are not going to be credible talking about the fine details and nuance of proposed legislation.  I have heard state government relations executives struggle with how to get sophisticated letters from “regular folks.”   Often, it ends up being an excuse for not deploying grassroots.   That’s a mistake.  What legislators need to hear from constituents is their experience, their loyalty, their concerns and the fact that they are watching the legislative process.  We, the professionals, can then take it to the next level with the lawmakers.

A few handwritten, from-the-heart, letters are worth a mountain of canned, grassroots-spam.

TIP:  Direct your letter writers to include full names, addresses and phone numbers on their letters.  Any letter without an address or at least a town will be thrown away.  And, include the bill number in the letter to make it easy for legislative staff to sort them for the lawmaker.

If you are working with customers and employees, do your best to get a copy of each letter before it is mailed or delivered.  Sharing excerpts internally–preserving the privacy of the author–is a great way to motivate additional participation.

6.  Reward and Recognize – When the campaign is over, take the time to thank all employees that participated and report the details of the outcome.  A thank you email or letter should always be part of the wrap up, and recognition amongst peers and supervisors goes a long way.

CONCLUSION:   While there are many excuses and reasons not to deploy grassroots, if your organization has the basic elements and you follow these simple steps, you can enhance the effectiveness of your state advocacy program.

Stateside Associates’ List of the Best Local Politics Blogs That Are Worth Reading

January 5, 2012

Dear Clients and Other Friends of Stateside Associates,

We recently published the latest in our series of FactPadTM inserts, the Best Local Politics Blogs. Our staff compiled a list of the best municipal and/or regional issue politics blogs in the country. You can view the press release here.

This list comes on the heels of our nationally recognized Best State Politics Blogs list and mirrors the rapid expansion of our firm’s local government monitoring service. We know you will find this list and many of our other reference materials useful.

You can download this most recent FactPad insert in PDF format here or you can visit our site to see the list in HTML format here. If you need additional FactPad mouse pads free of cost, please reply to this email.

With the new year comes new legislative sessions and increased political activity. Blogs have become an invaluable part of our work to stay ahead of the curve because they provide information in real-time and they help identify trends. Other reference materials to keep you ahead of the curve include the 2012 Bill Introduction Deadlines or a list of the Partisan Splits. These reference materials and much more can be found at www.stateside.com/FactPad.

As with all Stateside Associates materials, feel free to provide this information to your friends, colleagues and clients. We simply ask you recognize the hard work Stateside Associates staff has put into compiling these lists.

Have a prosperous and fulfilling new year.

Sincerely,

Constance Campanella
President and CEO
Stateside Associates, Inc.
2300 Clarendon Boulevard, 4th Floor
Arlington, Virginia 22201
703-525-7466 ext 228 (w)
703-623-2408 (cell)
twitter.com/ccampanella


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