September 1, 2023

Roadmap for Government Relations Success

This guide offers a comprehensive roadmap for organisations looking to build effective, lasting relationships with government stakeholders.
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Roadmap for Government Relations Success

This article will provide a practical guide for navigating stakeholders, building relationships and fostering strategic communication between your organisation, government bodies and elected representatives for impactful short-term and long-term advocacy outcomes. This guide draws from the experience of Government Relations (GR) professionals. 

This roadmap covers:

  • Proactively navigating long-term issues 
  • Reacting to one-off issues
  • Tips for Successful Government Interactions and;
  • How to identify and communicate with key government stakeholders

There are no easy wins within government relations. It takes time, effort and intentionality. Relationships are the underlying current and can be the difference between achieving outcomes or falling short. The aim is to become a reliable partner. Your team must prioritise authentic and meaningful connections to position itself as a credible and trustworthy organisation in the eyes of government stakeholders. Therefore, organisations must remember the golden rule of GR: proactively build and maintain relationships.  

Why You Need This Guide?

Government Relations (GR) is complex and requires a deep understanding of the political environment, stakeholders, issues, opportunities and intended outcomes. This roadmap outlines how to effectively manage issues, build strong relationships, and balance your organisation's priorities with those of the government and the interests of society.

Successfully dealing with issues requires more than reacting to crises as they arise. Instead, it involves taking a proactive and strategic approach. The challenge for GR teams is picking the best approach for maximum impact and influence. This guide will help you practically navigate the intricacies of government, establish beneficial relationships and advocate for issues as they arise. 

Who are the Key Stakeholders?

Knowing who the critical actors and stakeholders are in the policy-making process is crucial to excel in government relations. These stakeholders often include elected officials, government departments, communities, think tanks, unions, industry associations, and NGOs.

Out of these stakeholders, the executive government and elected representatives are the most influential in the policy and legislative process. They can propose and approve legislation that notably affects businesses and organisations. On the other hand, government departments are responsible for implementing and enforcing laws and regulations. Navigating government relationships can be daunting, especially for businesses seeking to drive policy change, alter public opinion, or manage pressing issues. 

🔥Tip:  Use social media to congratulate advisers and Ministers on promotions to build a trusting relationship rather than engaging advisers only when you need something. 

How to Proactively Build and Maintain Relationships?

Building relationships with elected representatives, political staffers, appointed bureaucrats, and critical players in regulatory and legislative arenas is essential to protect your organisation's interests and influence public policy.

To do so requires ongoing investment and proactive engagement rather than just ticking it off a list. Engaging with external stakeholders who have already established strong ties with the government, such as community organisations, advocacy groups and peak bodies, could bolster your advocacy efforts. One way to build relationships with policymakers and government officials is to attend events and meetings where they are likely to be present, such as public meetings, fundraisers and other special occasions.

To maximise results, consistently update stakeholders on your organisation's latest initiatives, offer support when needed, and ensure your presence at critical events. Foster strategic alliances with representatives from all political backgrounds, including the opposition and cross benchers. Long-term influence and advocacy efforts depend heavily on leveraging these strategic relationships.

🔥Tip: Engage in soft-touch interactions such as casual conversations during sitting weeks or participating in parliamentary friends events to build authentic relationships with government stakeholders. 

Best Practices for Interacting with Government

Know Your Message

When communicating with government stakeholders, it's essential to have a clear message. Sharing your organisation's stance, objectives, and achievements is critical. A clear message with succinct communication will go a long way in bolstering credibility. 

🎯 GR Rule # 1: Come with a clear ask, but also know how that fits into the broader landscape of the day – what the media landscape is around that particular issue, where the public is on the issue, or more importantly, where does the government think the public is on the issue.

1. Be Concise

It is advisable to restrict the length of your correspondence to one page, even when dealing with complex matters. Begin your correspondence with a summary of the main request or issue. Correspondence with multiple requests or unclear 'asks' may get lost in the bureaucratic process.

2. Stay Consistent 

Maintaining consistent and transparent communication with internal and external stakeholders is crucial, especially when dealing with enduring issues. 

🎯 GR Rule #2: Do the early work and have things ready in the top drawer. Choosing the right moment to propose a policy can make or break its success. Be mindful of the government's readiness and the broader political climate. 

Know Your Targets

Successful strategic engagement involves the development of long-term relationships with Members of Parliament (MPs) from all political parties and levels of seniority, including cross benchers. While government MPs and Ministers wield considerable influence, it is crucial to establish ties with the opposition to maintain momentum and avoid starting advocacy efforts from scratch if there is a change in government. 

🔥Tip: To increase the visibility and influence of your organisation in an election period, offer your venue (like a childcare centre, office or factory) for announcements or press conferences.

Building trust and cooperation is crucial for your organisation's long-term success. To build credibility, teams must create compelling and intentional engagement strategies rather than relying on ad-hoc transactional interactions. 

🎯 GR Rule # 3: Stay updated on your target MPs' social media and news mentions to understand their priorities better and tailor your message accordingly. A political monitoring tool is great for tracking mentions and providing real-time updates.

1. Understand Timing

Before reaching out to someone, it is essential to understand their schedule. Avoid contacting government advisors, MPs or Ministers during critical times such as question time, estimate hearings, or political crises. By considering optimal timing, you can convey your message more effectively and show respect for their position.

2. Be Knowledgeable. Do Your homework. 

Remember, don't meet for the sake of meeting. Have a clear message you want the MP to take away. Illustrate the support your organisation has by connecting with backbenchers to create party-room support before escalating your issue. 

3. Build Your Support Base.

Identifying opportunities for collaboration with groups, competitors, and industry partners can lead to a unified and transparent policy platform. For instance, Coca-Cola Amatil, Schweppes Australia, and Cascade Beverages could team up to advocate for bottle recycling initiatives.

🎯 GR Rule # 4: Proactively provide collateral or case studies that outline how a piece of legislation or policy initiative impacts a particular industry, profession or individuals in the community. Using an insights tool is a great way to track trends over time and identify the most vocal representatives and parties on an issue.

Navigating Long-Term and One-Off Issues

The management of issues is a complex task that requires a nuanced approach. GR teams face an intricate world that needs proactive and reactive strategies—balancing long-term planning with swift action when necessary to manage these effectively. 

Strategic planning and foresight are essential for long-term issue management, allowing GR teams to identify potential challenges and opportunities before they become pressing concerns. However, sometimes, issues arise that require swift and efficient action. GR professionals must tackle these one-off problems head-on while still maintaining their advocacy efforts and strengthening relationships. It's a balancing act, but teams can successfully navigate the ever-changing political landscape with clear objectives and established relationships.

Long-Term Issue Management

Long-term issue management requires ongoing attention, strategic planning, and targeted advocacy. Developing and executing proactive strategies involves understanding the policy landscape, identifying potential obstacles, and embracing opportunities. Unlike one-off reactions, this approach builds strong relationships with key stakeholders to shape policy outcomes and enhance the organisation's reputation. 

This section outlines steps to manage long-term government affairs issues proactively.  It underscores the importance of forward-looking planning, intentional relationship-building, and strategic communication. Emphasis is placed on prioritising ongoing advocacy, focusing on long-term credibility over immediate results.

🎯 GR Rule # 5: Understand the environment in which the government is operating. Often, it's understanding that informs real and attractive policy change

1. Understand the Policy Landscape

A deep understanding of the policy landscape is essential for navigating long-term issues. Policy understanding involves monitoring relevant developments, analysing trends, and anticipating potential changes.

  • Stay informed about new legislation, regulatory changes, and political developments that may impact your organisation or industry.
  • Conduct research and analysis to identify the key drivers of policy change, such as public opinion, stakeholder interests, or economic factors.

🔥Tip: Producing employment figures or community engagement initiatives specific to an MP's electorate is a great way to show your organisation's impact and reach. 

2. Develop a Long-term Advocacy Strategy

A comprehensive advocacy strategy is essential for managing long-term issues effectively. This strategy should outline your organisation's policy objectives, tactics, and resources.

  • Clearly define your organisation's policy goals and objectives for the long-term issue.
  • Develop a multi-faceted advocacy campaign that may include direct lobbying, grassroots mobilisation, media outreach, or coalition-building.
  • Allocate appropriate resources, such as staff, budget, and time, to support long-term advocacy efforts.

🔥Tip: If the government makes positive budget announcements that align with your organisation's goals, be prepared to support the government with a media release as a third-party stakeholder. 

3. Measure and Evaluate Progress

Ongoing evaluation is critical to ensure your efforts have the desired impact on long-term issues.

  • Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the effectiveness of your advocacy efforts, such as the number of meetings with government stakeholders, policy wins, or changes in public opinion.
  • Conduct regular reviews of your advocacy strategy, adjusting tactics and resources as needed to address evolving challenges and opportunities.
4. Adapt and Respond to Changes

Long-term issues can evolve, and organisations must be prepared to adapt their strategies and tactics in response to changing circumstances.

  • Monitor the policy landscape and stakeholder dynamics for shifts that may affect your organisation's position on the long-term issue.
  • Update your advocacy strategy and tactics to respond to new developments, challenges, or opportunities.

One-off Issue Management

One-off government affairs issues are unique, time-sensitive situations that require prompt and effective action from an organisation. Unlike long-term issues, one-off issue management requires immediate action to mitigate potential negative consequences. This section outlines the steps to manage one-off issues successfully.

1. Rapid Response and Assessment

A prompt response and a thorough plan can make or break success when faced with a one-off issue. 

  • Establish a crisis management team for quick mobilisation to address one-off issues.
  • Assess the severity and potential implications of the issue, including possible legal, reputational, or financial consequences.
2. Develop a Tailored Strategy

One-off issues require a tailored strategy that addresses the specific circumstances surrounding the incident. This strategy should outline the organisation's objectives, actions, and communication plan.

  • Clearly define the organisation's goals in responding to the one-off issue, such as correcting misinformation, mitigating reputational damage, or resolving a regulatory concern.
  • Develop an action plan that outlines the steps to be taken by the organisation and assigns responsibilities to specific team members.
  • Create a communication plan that addresses internal and external stakeholders, ensuring that messaging is consistent, transparent, and timely.

🔥Tip: Leverage stakeholder mapping to find like-minded organisations and approach the government collectively. A joint approach can streamline and strengthen funding requests and advocacy efforts. 

3. Execute the Action Plan

Creating a tailored strategy and executing the action plan swiftly and efficiently is essential.

  • Mobilise the crisis management team and other relevant staff to carry out their responsibilities.
  • Monitor the Progress of the action plan and adjust as needed in response to new information or developments.

🎯 GR Rule #6: If you are unsuccessful in securing a meeting with a Minister, opt instead to meet with their advisors. GovConnex's Rolodex Pro contains verified political staffer details for federal minister's offices.  

4. Monitor and Adapt

As a one-off issue unfolds, monitoring the situation closely and adapting the organisation's response as needed is essential.

  • Stay informed about new developments, public reactions, or stakeholder responses related to the issue.
  • Adapt the organisation's strategy and actions in response to changing circumstances, ensuring the approach remains effective and targeted.

🎯 GR Rule #7: Only escalate a request to the Prime Minister or Premier’s office if all other avenues have been exhausted.

 5. Post-Issue Evaluation and Learning

Conducting a post-issue evaluation to learn from the experience and improve future crisis management capabilities is essential.

  • Debrief with the crisis management team to identify strengths and areas for improvement in the organisation's response.
  • Develop a report on the organisation handling the one-off issue, incorporating lessons learned and recommendations for future crisis management.

In Conclusion

Navigating the complex government relations (GR) landscape can be daunting, but this guide offers a comprehensive roadmap for organisations looking to build effective, lasting relationships with key stakeholders. From understanding the intricacies of policy and legislative processes to proactive engagement and issue management, success in GR requires a multifaceted approach. 

Building relationships is the foundation of all GR efforts. It requires ongoing investment. The guide highlights tips, rules and strategies for engaging with government stakeholders. Embracing strategies, like soft touch interactions and building strategic alliances across political spectrums, are low-effort, high-reward initiatives to achieve favourable outcomes. Likewise, targeted advocacy is necessary to achieve long-term policy outcomes or if faced with navigating one-off issues. GR teams must remain adaptable as situations evolve, mindful of the broader political climate and the government's readiness for change.

Maintaining a static approach in today's fast-paced and ever-changing political environment can lead to missed opportunities or potential crises. Effective government relations requires a mix of relationship-building, strategic planning, adaptability and problem-solving. To remain effective, it's vital for GR teams to continually assess their strategies, adapting to challenges and opportunities as they arise. 

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