Getting to Yes

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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