This article was orignally published with The Manila Times on March 28, 2019.
In the previous column on the importance of government relations, I discussed how practitioners are effectively advocates and educators, working with, not against government, on behalf of their clients.
Today, I elaborate more on other key functions of the practice of government relations.
Government relations and public policy
In many instances, the job title is indicated as ‘government relations and public policy’. In some cases, these roles are kept separate. In practice, the two concepts are joined as they complement each other.
Although this will not be a complete description, think of public policy as something that would likely be the back-end actor–conducting research, compiling data, drafting statements and policy papers. They are all the government relations person–as your front-end actor–would need in dealing directly with stakeholders, legislators, regulatory bodies, opposition lobbyists, etc. The concepts are separated depending on the company’s size. Larger firms tend to have more workload for each job function, justifying the separation of the roles.
In my experience however, the best system is for both roles to be in one person. The two roles are so synergistic in nature that for an effective government relations campaign to be successful, the policy person and the advocate should work as one, or at the very least, they should work very well together.
Raconteur of sorts
For a government relations practitioner to be successful, he has to be able to communicate well. He has to communicate in a unique manner fit for those in power. Much
like the public relations practitioners, those in government relations deal with people, and thereby need to be able to communicate as well as anticipate and interpret the potential outcomes of that discourse.
Unlike public relations which often focuses on the general or consuming public or a sector of such, government relations relies on dealing closely with fewer individuals, specifically those with whom one will deal with depending on the needs of the client or the industry.
Role of data
The advancements of technology, the rise of social media and the advantages of digitization enhance the functions of a government relations practitioner. The rule of thumb is to never, ever, go to a meeting unprepared. The practitioner must conduct research on the key persons he needs to meet, discuss with and eventually convince.
Enter stage right, news articles, archives and social media. These help in establishing which persons have positions on certain issues and why. This information is incredibly useful in formulating the right strategy in discussing and advocating the client’s position.
Also, data made it so that the impact of policies and laws can be quantified, and therefore useful to corporations in tactically dealing with government. In an article by Tom Guthrie, he mentioned that the use of data in government relations is expected to transform the function from a risk-mitigating one to a profit-generating one. This is because companies can now foresee risks and opportunities as well as changes in government and the people within.
Customer is king
Lastly, and quite interestingly, the tech startups have shown that by getting your customers to love you, by changing the way people do things on a daily basis, the customers themselves become your advocates.
Consider the suspension of Uber in 2017, which caused an uproar among drivers and passengers alike, all calling for the lifting of the suspension in the interest of the riding public.
In a more glaring fashion, Uber in New York faced regulation that would cap the number of drivers on the road, a measure led by New York City Mayor de Blasio. In a somewhat cheeky move, Uber’s app had a “de Blasio’s Uber” feature alongside the usual other options, which indicated an empty map with no available cars or a wait time of around a half hour. It gave customers a first-hand look into the future if the regulation had passed (though it finally did last year). Customers saw how the regulation will affect them, and they rallied against the measure on behalf of Uber, emphasizing that by getting your customers to love you, they also become your ambassadors in dealing with government.
Government relations is a challenging work. It requires a multitude of skills and resources. But it is for those with passion for this line of work (myself included). It is definitely a worthwhile one.
The author is the Founder and CEO of Caucus, Inc., a multi-industry, multi-disciplinary management consultancy firm. He graduated MBA (De La Salle University), Juris Doctor (Far Eastern University), and LLM in International Commercial Law (University of Nottingham, United Kingdom). He also studied Mandarin Chinese Language and Culture in Fuzhou, China, was a Chevening-HSBC UK Government Scholar, a Confucius Institute Scholar, an alumnus of the US State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, and a Fellow of the Asia Global Institute – University of Hong Kong. The author may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.