Why and How – Basics of Government Affairs (Part 1 of 2)

“Don’t you know someone in the Governor’s Office?”

“You know the Senate President, right?”

“That woman we met at that Chamber of Commerce event last month, she is the Chief of Staff to the Assembly Speaker, right?”

After a lobbyist hears these words, most times the next sentence goes something like this: “We are having a problem with … and our CEO asked me to see what we can do in order to …”

Then the client relates to us the sad tale of a difficult piece of legislation, or regulation, or land use development that will negatively impact the client’s core business. The CEO then asks you to fix the problem and save the day. And more times than not, the final nail in the coffin necessary to sink the client’s business interest in this bill, regulation, or development is being acted upon by the government … in a matter of days.

In these types of cases, it is simply too late. Too late to begin to think about a government affairs strategy. The cake has already been baked.

These scenarios happen, unfortunately, more frequently than one would think, even among sophisticated businessmen and-women across a myriad of industries. It cannot be overstated that if your company is a serious player in your industry, you need to have a government affairs strategy in place years before the crisis hits.

Stated differently, government affairs counseling is not an expenditure reserved for when the proverbial “dung” hits the fan. Again, at that point, it is probably too late. Instead, a real government affairs strategy, which can be defined generally as a plan for actively engaging in the legislative and regulatory process, must be an integral part of your C-suite business plan. Failure to plan for future trouble (from competitors, from regulators, from prosecutors) can lead to policies and decisions that can affect your bottom line, or, at worst, put you out of business. Failure to use government processes to increase your success and stymie your competitors is akin to business malpractice.

At a minimum, almost every business must consider engaging a contract lobbyist or hiring its own internal government affairs agent (or both) who can help you maintain relationships with key members of the legislature (especially committee chairwomen and chairmen), establish new connections with the Executive Branch (especially when the governorship changes from one person to another), and stay alert for the right time to seize an opportunity that will benefit your business, possibly launching your company past your competitors who do not understand the legislative and regulatory processes.

Once your company moves beyond that minimum baseline of engagement with government, your business will be able to assist policy makers in creating laws and regulations that actually address problems with the business environment, rather than forcing you to play whack-a-mole with a litany of unending problems created by well-meaning but uninformed government bureaucrats. If you know your business best, you are a subject matter expert capable of shaping policy before it gets to the governor’s or commissioner’s desk.

In conclusion, the best time to add blueberries to blueberry muffins is before the mix is placed in the oven. Too often, businesses enter the legislative or regulatory process when the muffins are about to come out of the oven. By including government affairs as part of your ongoing, planning processes that occur in the C-suite, you can ensure that your company’s unique perspective is known months, and even years, before trouble begins brewing. And when trouble comes, you will have the relationships in place that are necessary to protect your business and your livelihood.

N.B. In a forthcoming blog post, we will provide some tips about how to integrate your government affairs team into your internal business planning processes. You will find out why your government affairs team should never say: “When was the company’s most important business unit going to tell me about …”

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