Kick-off 2021 with the first in a four-part series by PoliTraQ founder Chris Moffatt Armes, on positioning your advocacy efforts. Published every Monday in January, this series will offer practical tips to apply to your next pre-budget submission or general advocacy campaign.
Part 4: Nothing Happens in a Vacuum
When Chrystia Freeland, Minister of… well pretty much everything, rose in the House on November 30 to deliver the Fall Economic Statement, you could hear every government relations professional in the country rushing to schedule meetings with their ministries.
What sent them scurrying?
Likely it was the pledge, about a third of the way through the document, to spend up to $100 billion (3-4 per cent of GDP) on post-COVID stimulus measures.
$100 billion - with a B.
For context, the last pre-COVID federal budget (which included a $19 billion deficit) contained a little more than $330 billion in total program spending. Incidentally, $330 billion is also roughly equivalent to the total spending on COVID support measures announced to date.
It’s almost hard to conceive of how large a number $100 billion really is. It’s much easier to imagine that money divided up into smaller tranches, and spread out through a number of programs.
Perhaps - with a well-planned campaign and some good fortune - the sort of program that would support whatever long-term project or idea your organization has been targeting towards for several years.
After all, when is the government going to be in a position to spend this much money ever again? The economy is hurting in ways we’ve never seen before, so stimulus is bound to be spread around more-broadly than one might ordinarily expect. Why shouldn’t you try and get a slice of the pie?
In the end, the worst that can happen is you’re told “no”… right?
Well, not quite.
Sure, at a practical level, it may seem harmless to go big. Depending on your industry, there may be a valid case for whatever investment you are proposing.
But if ever there was a time to “read the room” before meeting with key government stakeholders, 2021 is that year.
The economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have not been felt evenly across the country. Thousands of small businesses have either shut down permanently, or are teetering on the brink of collapse. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians have lost their jobs - some of which may never return - and nearly 20,000 individuals have lost their lives.
Meanwhile, for those in white collar positions and/or those working in the public sector, the impact has been much less severe. In many cases, their story of the pandemic consists of working (and continuing to get paid) from home, saving money on commutes, and spending more time with loved ones.
Now, I want you to imagine going to government with one of the following two competing program proposals:
- One aims to support out-of-work Canadians re-train and re-enter the workforce;
- The other - from a broader public sector organization - asks for funding to build a building. The building, which they have sought funding for several times, will be largely for its own usage - and will replace a similar building, built with public funds in the not-too-distant past.
Putting aside the question of “which project is a better use of public funds?” there’s a separate question that I think all government relations pros should be asking:
“Does this proposal make my client seem tone-deaf and/or disconnected from reality?”
Far too often, the value of a proposal is assumed to be self-evident. “We need X in order to do Y.” But stop for a minute and ask yourself who the beneficiaries of “Y” are? If that benefit is largely/exclusively internal, then you run into one of two problems.
- You haven’t made the case about (and may not fully understand) the real importance and impact of your ask; or
- The thing that you’re asking for has limited impact beyond yourself.
In the first case, really dial down on who the beneficiaries of your proposal are. It may be true that the funding sought will help you keep X number of jobs - but if those jobs are client-facing and deliver value to external audiences, then THAT is the rationale that you need to be communicating. It’s ok for your organization to receive government funding, but there needs to be a justification that goes beyond
In the latter case, ask yourself if this is really the proposal your client should be bringing forward at this time? Are there better ways you could show your recognition of the challenges facing our country, and position your organization as being able to help address these challenges? Is there a function within your organization that is already working to address these challenges, which could be bolstered by renewed/expanded funding?
Our job as government relations professionals isn’t just to get meetings, find funding and put out fires. At its most basic level, we’re tasked with managing the relationship between our clients and the government. Part of managing a relationship is understanding how your actions are received and viewed by others, and adjusting course when needed to prevent causing harm, or damage to one’s reputation.
When money - specifically, a LOT of money - is on the table, it’s easy to get short-sighted and let self-interest take the lead. This year, the opportunity to overreach is greater than ever before. As government relations professionals, it is our job to help our clients present themselves in the best light possible.
Sometimes, that means taking being the voice of reason - to steal a phrase from the upper chamber, to be the “sober second thought.”
By using a GR-focused CRM like PoliTraQ, you and your team will be able to make real, data-driven decisions, monitor progress on KPI’s and demonstrate the value of your advocacy efforts. To learn more or to arrange a demo, please visit PoliTraQ or email Chris@PoliTraQ.com.