Archive for April, 2012

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.

Cold Symptoms Acting Up? Red Tape May Be Between You and Relief

April 5, 2012

By Robert Holden, Senior Vice President

The term “access” is ever present when discussing health care policy. Access to needed care, be they services, pharmaceuticals, contraceptives, or medical supplies drives much of the current debate on essential health benefits and health insurance reform. But increased access sometimes runs counter to other policy goals.

State efforts to control illegal drug manufacture are one area in which policy goals have traditionally impacted consumer access to health care products. This winter, a satirical scientific “study” was put online, humorously demonstrating how “easily obtainable” methamphetamines could be converted into hard to get cold medication.

For those of us seeking cold relief in the form of a pseudoephedrine based medication, the point of the satire was clear. In an effort to cut down on the use of legal pseudoephedrine products as a base for illegal methamphetamines, states and the federal government have been adding numerous requirements and restrictions to purchasing what were at one time easy to obtain cold medications.

In ways that are both obvious and not so obvious to consumers, states continue to pursue numerous anti-meth production policies. In this legislative session more than 100 bills were considered in 31 states to address the issue, in a variety of ways. While many of these policies still affect consumers directly at the point of sale, increasingly states are moving towards electronic reporting and recordkeeping by the retailer to lighten the impact on consumers.

Amount Restrictions, Identification Requirements, and Log-books

Initial state efforts to combat improper use of pseudoephedrine (PSE) products in the 1990s and early 2000s directly impacted the consumer. Policies focused on restricting access to products through location and supervision, as well as recording transaction information: placing products behind a counter or in a location that could be monitored by a pharmacist or retail staff; signing log books to record purchases; restricting amounts that could be purchased; and requiring identification for purchases.

These requirements were applied uniformly at the federal level through the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 (CMEA) as part of the Patriot Act. As consumers know, these restrictions are an annoyance compared to the alternative: taking a product off the shelf. Furthermore, they impose additional work, training, and guidelines for pharmacists and retail staff. Nevertheless, however inconvenient and burdensome the restrictions, a perseverant customer can still walk into a pharmacy and purchase the product of his or her choice over-the-counter.

Prescription Requirements

As is often the case, federal legislation was not the last word on this issue. Many states found that the restrictions imposed under federal law were not addressing the problem. While restrictions and administrative requirements may have cut down on the illegal use of these products to some extent, they could be circumvented by determined methamphetamine manufacturers by purchasing smaller amounts and visiting numerous pharmacies and retailers to avoid arousing suspicion. Accordingly, states looked to more severe restrictions on access to these products: the requirement that they be prescribed by a physician.

Under federal law, PSE products have been available over the counter for more than thirty years. However, states have the authority to go beyond federal law in scheduling drugs as controlled substances and requiring prescriptions. In 2006, Oregon opted to use this authority to make PSE products legend (prescription only) drugs. That change posed a far greater burden on consumers, as it required that they schedule an appointment with a doctor or other medical professional with prescriptive authority.

This impact on consumers has limited the appeal of such a policy. While a considerable amount of legislation has been consistently introduced in other states, only Mississippi (in 2010) has followed Oregon in requiring a prescription for PSE products.

Electronic Reporting

As an alternative to scheduling PSE products, many more states have turned to electronic reporting systems and central databases to strengthen the weaknesses of existing identification and reporting systems. Currently, 20 states are using electronic tracking systems to monitor PSE purchases. While Oklahoma and Arkansas have systems unique to their states, the other 19 mandate the use National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) system to track PSE purchases. This number will likely grow to 21 as bills mandating NPLEx in Idaho and Maine are awaiting approval from their respective Governors.

The NPLEx system, which can be accessed for no charge by state law enforcement and retailers, allows the PSE restrictions adopted in the states to be enforced without resorting to a prescription—only model. It allows identification, product sales limit, and purchase logging information to be compiled and shared across state lines. Because it blocks potentially illegal sales at the retail level, it permits legal purchases without the consumer cost and inconvenience of a prescription.

Greater Health Care Trend Toward Electronic Communication

The use of electronic reporting systems like NPLEx reflects a larger trend in health care policy towards the use of electronic communications and records to address traditional health care transactions. State policy makers are active in addressing standards and requirements for electronic prescribing, prescription monitoring programs, and electronic health records.

As health care reform implementation continues, states will be engaging additional systems which, like NPLEx, act as an interface between health care consumers, providers, and regulators. One of the visions for state health benefit exchanges is that individuals will be able to shop for health insurance online, like they do for travel. As a result, there will be much more focus put upon access to other health products and services online, as well as an electronic flow of regulatory information to regulate them.