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17 Aug 2015

MarCom Mumblings: Working With Uncle Sam

MarCom Mumblings: Working With Uncle Sam

The first MarCom breakfast features Gallatin Public Affairs talking about government affairs.

In my two main jobs as a professional, I have been able to experience work in government relations and have come up with what I believe are some good tips when it comes to working with local, state and federal governments.

Here they are, in no particular order:

Know thy enemy
There may be opposition to what you’re asking the government for. After all, government work involves public money. There may be naysayers and skeptics. Case in point: The WSU medical school. While we were lobbying the government for approval and funding for a new WSU medical school in Spokane (which we got – yay!), there was a lot of opposition from the University of Washington and its supporters. There was also skepticism from lawmakers on the west side of the state.

Knowing what the opposition was saying was important if we were to convince the government that we knew what we were doing. It sometimes required us to strategize responses to statements the opposition hadn’t even made yet. Being prepared with our responses showed the government that our plan was solid. Speaking of plans….

Have a thoughtful plan
Asking the government for something should happen only when you have thought about your plan a number of times over. A thoughtful plan ensures that there are no or very few questions unanswered. When lobbying for a WSU medical school, a number of west side lawmakers asked how it would help the people in their district. 

Our answer: our admissions process would put a priority on Washington students, our medical school would educate students in locations all across the state for the third- and fourth-year of medical school, and more doctors in our state’s rural areas would have a positive economic impact (a study form 2010 had economic data on each county in Washington, should the amount doctors graduating and staying in Washington increase).

We were able to show lawmakers from all corners of the state that our project would benefit the citizens in their district.

Be an orchestra, not a one-man-band

When someone brings an idea to the government that needs funding, they better have others who support the idea. A unified group that communicates a consistent message is much more convincing to the government then a small group or a single individual.

Petitions help. Letters do, too. Whatever you’re asking for, make sure you’ve garnered support from others before garnering support from the government.

Know how the government works
The wheels of the government grind slowly. Know when lawmakers are in session. Know when your local representatives are home and can meet. Follow key lawmakers on Twitter and sign up for their newsletters. Know how a bill becomes a law:

Thanks, Schoolhouse Rock.

Lobbying the government without knowing how the government works is a recipe for failure. 

Know the political landscape
Unfortunately, our local, state and federal governments deal in partisan politics to the point that both sides will oppose something the other side promotes for the sake of partisanship. Your project or idea may not be a partisan issue, but you need to accept the fact that the people who control whether you get funding or not are very partisan people. It’s a sad fact, but a fact nonetheless.

If you can position your project or idea in a way that gets support from both sides of the aisle, you will likely experience less heartache throughout the process.

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Those are some things I have learned throughout my jobs that involved government relations. 

It’s not easy work, but nothing big ever is.

 

By Kevin Dudley, Spokane MarCom Past President