Posts Tagged ‘state government relations’

NAAG MEETING: NIGHTMARE TO DREAM TRIP

June 12, 2014

By Steve Arthur, Vice President

parachute_hit_target_400_clr_14044My recent trip to the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) Summer Meeting reminded me that state government relations professionals deal not only with weighty public policy issues, but also with the choices we make about whether to attend a conference and how we get there.

We sometimes do take for granted the nice places we enjoy while attending Groups meetings. However, for anyone who has ever attended a meeting on Mackinac Island, Michigan you know that getting there can be a challenge even when everything goes well. And last week, everything did not go well getting to the NAAG Summer Meeting.

My day began with a 3:00 AM wake-up call to be on the road from Santa Fe to Albuquerque at 4:00 for the 6:00 AM flight to Minneapolis to catch the flight to Detroit to catch the flight to Pellston, Michigan to catch the bus to the dock to catch the ferry to island to get on the horse drawn taxi to the hotel. Just in time for a 7:30 dinner. At least that was the plan.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas. Due to severe weather, the Detroit to Pellston flight was cancelled, and some on the flight were told the first available seat would be two days later. In fact some meeting attendees seriously considered asking the airline to simply fly them back home. To their credit, NAAG staff quickly arranged a charter bus to make sure the Attorneys General, staff and the rest of us could arrive in time for the next day’s opening session.

So a 45 minute flight became a 360 minute bus ride after a two hour delay in leaving Detroit. That 7:30 dinner became an order of chicken fingers at the airport and a refreshment stop at a grocery store in Flint. Of course, the bus can only take you so far when your final destination is an ISLAND. Again, NAAG staff came through with a chartered ferry 5 hours later than the last regularly scheduled ferry.

Once the meeting started the next day, a couple of things became clear. First, while the number of Attorneys General and staff were down from previous meetings, over 30 states were still represented. The big change was the number of private sector attendees, which was well below normal. This made it much easier for those of us who were there to talk with everyone we needed to for business, and also allowed more casual discussions at the social events.

Second, the bus trip became the talk of the conference. While it was definitely not the best of travel days, it was a bit of a bonding experience for those on the bus, and it will likely be mentioned at future NAAG meetings for years to come. And this brings me to my point about how travel can impact our jobs. We all know that building relationships is an important aspect of our profession and when you spend six hours with people on an unscheduled bus ride, that can definitely be a long term relationship builder. We might even start a Facebook page.

The second, and just as important, lesson from this trip is to always attend the meetings that may be difficult to get to because your competitors might not be there. You persevered – they did not – you win. Imagine how you would feel if your competitor followed this advice and you did not?

State government relations is comprised of so many elements from Legislative Monitoring to Strategic Planning, Groups issue management and Lobbying. Until this meeting, I did not fully appreciate the value of the shared travel nightmare for building relationships.

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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 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.

Odds Are You Are Not Doing This

May 13, 2014

By Josh Fisher, Esq., Manager of State Issues

blog-silhouette-of-peopleEarlier this year, the Public Affairs Council (PAC) released its 2013 State Government Relations Benchmarking Report, which is filled with great information on the corporate and association state government relations (SGR) practices. In particular, the PAC report found that “SGR work is usually broad in scope and in territory covered, so those surveyed rely heavily upon external relationships and services for the fullest coverage and tracking of their particular public policy concerns.”

Examples of these external services include contract lobbyists and consultants. We are consultants at Stateside and much of our work involves helping clients hire and manage lobbyists. During the course of the year we provide dozens of qualified lobbyist referrals to our clients. Consequently, we know the importance of consultants and lobbyists to SGR professionals.

With that in mind, what really stood out in the report was the finding that about half of corporate and nearly three-quarters of association respondents have NO formal process for evaluating their contract lobbyists and consultants.

Let me cite some more figures to draw out why this is a surprising number. The PAC report found that for its corporate members the average SGR operating budget allocated 22% of its resources for contract lobbyists and 5% on consultants and vendors. Additionally, the ratio of contract lobbyists/consultants to total SGR staff is typically 2:1 according to the PAC report. Association respondents, on average, allocated 19% of their SGR operating budget to contract lobbyists and 9% on consultants and vendors. For associations, the typical staffing ratio is 1.8:1. These numbers demonstrate lobbyists and consultants outnumber your SGR staff nearly 2 to 1 and account for about a quarter of your budget. And there is no formal evaluation?

It is clear that a large portion of resources are devoted to contract lobbyists and consultants. And yet the report tells us that 54% of surveyed corporations and, even more striking, 73% of associations do not have a formal evaluation process. Both corporations and associations cited results as one of the top evaluation criteria for their contract lobbyists and consultants. It seems most people just want to know if the bill passed or failed. Bottom lines are impossible to avoid, but one day your bottom line may be in danger if you cannot justify the expense of a lobbyist or consultant you hired. To judge performance solely on outcome misses the mark.

In previous blog posts we have examined the importance of audits and the reasons you should use them. Let these numbers be a not-so-subtle reminder of the importance of being able to support your decision to hire a contract lobbyist or consultant beyond saying the bill passed. While the time for evaluations and audits is typically after sessions have ended and budgeting for the next year begins, now is a great time to gather the information you need as part of the audit process. Let’s be honest, how much of the whirlwind session will you remember come September?

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Josh Fisher is Manager of State Issues. His work at Stateside Associates has given him an intimate knowledge of the legislative process in all 50 states. He works with clients on a wide range of state and local government affairs issues and was most recently Manager of the Legislative Information Division at Stateside Associates.

Getting to Yes

May 1, 2014

By Michael Behm, Senior Vice President and Heather Williams, Vice President

Groups meetings and hospitality events present a myriad of opportunities to build relationships. You may decide to use such an occasion to invite a Governor or cabinet-level official to visit your facility, office or plant. That can be the brass ring for a government affairs manager and an excellent way to showcase your presence in, and contribution to, the state or local community.

But turning a casual acceptance of your invitation into an actual visit can be challenging. Yes, the governor agreed to visit your facility during a reception but that commitment must be confirmed. Governors (and other electeds) make a lot of well-intended commitments; many are over-subscribed by the very nature of the job and they are frequently over-scheduled by earnest, equally-busy staff.

Now the hard work begins for you. What you need is a plan to make this happen.

Identify Staff Contact

Your first step is to identify the right staff to confirm this site visit, whether that is the governor’s scheduler or chief of staff. It is important to recognize that you will probably need to extend your invitation again to the governor’s staff. This usually means justifying the trip in some more detail – number of jobs, revenue or tax contribution to the local or state economy, its location in the state and how that might factor into larger state economic development plans.

Meeting with these senior staff can be especially helpful in terms of beginning to advance the visit. This site visit might be important to your program or organization but it has to make sense for the governor’s office too. This can be a large time investment for a governor and staff, so begin by working around their schedule and priorities – coordinate the site visit with other travel plans, a prospective expansion announcement, significant changes to your facility or a community initiative or process change that aligns with the governor’s priorities (i.e, a new sustainability initiative, a new workforce training plan, community partnership or contribution, etc.). The point is, find something to highlight that is important to the governor or his administration.

Formal Invitation

Prepare a formal invitation for the site visit. While it is likely that staff will request this from you, do not overlook it. Many governors’ offices need this formality to start the calendar process. Some even have online forms that must be completed as part of the routine process. Ensure that you send the invitation to BOTH the governor and appropriate scheduling staff.

Detailed Briefing and Logistics

Be prepared to provide the staff with background briefing materials about the site and the visit logistics. Similar to the information you need to provide staff to start the process, you should prepare information about the facility, its location, number of employees, job types and skill level, taxes paid, contribution to local economy, average salaries and consider including the names of those employees who might be participating in the visit (if they are presenting in any way). And make no assumptions that the governor or his troopers know where your facility is located. Always share detailed directions.

Company Representation

Determine who from your company will participate and what their responsibilities will be. It is important that facility staff are included in the tour – local messaging always resonates. The presentation from non-local corporate executives may not be nearly as powerful as those staff who work at the site and live in the local community. Ask the governor’s staff whom he/she prefers to meet with on such visits and ensure they are a part of the conversation. No one can describe the work being performed better than those actually doing the work. And do not forget to ask the local management and employees if anyone personally knows the governor – it happens. A personal relationship goes a long way in ensuring the success of a site visit.

Company Briefing

Unless your facility is visited by your senior leadership, high profile guests or elected officials on a routine basis, the employees may be slightly uneasy about interacting with a high profile public official. Brief the entire staff about the visit and provide specific guidance to those that will directly be involved in the tour. Ensure everyone is comfortable and understands their role and the overall objectives of the visit. The facility should be at its best – clean and organized and fully aware that guests will be there.

We stated earlier in this blog that you should try to shape the site visit around a governor’s priorities, but it needs to be successful for you and your organization too. Determine what constitutes success. Identify your objectives, outline key takeaways and determine who is responsible for each message point. Choreograph the discussion you want to have during the visit. Encourage employee participation but work with them in advance about what they may want to say to avoid jargon and overly technical detail. Detailing the conversation will ensure goals are met, all messages are expressed and nothing is accidently left out. And be sensitive to the governor’s schedule – be sure to complete the site visit a few minutes earlier than scheduled, unless the governor continues the conversation.

Photography and Media

Ensure a photographer is present. Do not assume that the governor or staff will bring one and be sure to share photos with them. But you should also coordinate any media outreach or media advisories with the governor’s official staff – they will have their own protocols about media and might want to control that focus of the event.

Expect the Unexpected

And finally, be prepared to answer impertinent questions that might be asked. Anticipate questions about growth plans and priorities that might affect the state. We have heard governors invite companies with an out-of-state headquarters to move their corporate offices in-state – even posed as a flip question, you or your executives should be able to answer that with a serious answer. Alternatively, you might be asked about expansion plans in another state – why didn’t you consider the governor’s home state? Again, serious answers are required here to these sometimes off the cuff questions.

Have you had a public official visit your facility recently? What can you share about your experience?

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Michael J. Behm is Senior Vice President and a Principal of Stateside Associates. During his 20 years working at Stateside Associates, Mr. Behm’s advocacy work and leadership roles in the state officials Groups have brought him to many state capitols and local governments yielding an extensive network of relationships with legislative leaders and other public officials across the 50 states.

Heather Williams is Vice President at Stateside Associates. She works to help clients manage state and local government issues. She also manages client relationships with key Groups, including her “alma mater,” the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), where she served as National Finance Director.


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