I was recently on a call with a client and a government official. It was instructive. The meeting had been booked before COVID-19. It had since descended on us like the plague that it is. The official moved the meeting several times. He was then late for the meeting. When he came on the call, he announced that instead of the hour we had worked to get the he would now have to leave at the half hour, meaning our meeting would only be 23 minutes long, not 60. A rookie might have panicked in this situation, but not our client. She was a complete pro.
She breezed over the niceties and then made her points with great poise, never rushing and clearly explaining her positions. It was masterful. The official engaged completely and as the meeting wrapped, was apologetic. I suspect he was also deeply impressed. He committed to a full follow up. I have no doubt it will happen.
There are so many lessons to take from this:
- Government relations professionals need to be situationally aware. They need to know what’s happening around them and they adjust accordingly. Make sure that you can dump your deck (government speak for a PowerPoint presentation) and summarize as the situation dictates and in the time given.
- As the above point suggests, be prepared. Know your stuff. The best pitch is the pitch that becomes a conversation. It really can’t become a conversation unless you are fully conversant with the facts.
- Don’t be offended if meetings are cancelled or abridged. Elected officials get called away for votes and Ministers call their officials to meetings. It’s nothing personal.
- Maintain your cool. Let the official know that you understand. Don’t make them feel bad. Let them off the hook. They’ll remember you in a good way if you do.
- Remember that smart government relations isn’t a transaction, it’s a relationship. Elected officials and public servants shouldn’t groan when they see your name on their agenda for the day. Build a connection with them. Even when you disagree with them, show them respect.
- Understand the constraints that bind politicians and public servants. My client knows that in most cases you’re not going to an official for an on the spot decision, you’re usually there to ask him or her to commence a process. You need patience and persistence to be an effective government relations professional.
The COVID 19 crisis will not end soon. The pressure is building for both stakeholders who are trying to hang on and for our elected representatives who are trying hard to do the right thing. Respect, empathy, patience and understanding have never been more important.
-Hon. Monte Solberg, Principal, New West Public Affairs